Monday, July 10, 2006

Time To Go To The Museum Again Dah-ling -- Asian Portraiture and the Manga Connection & Contemporary Chinese Photography and Video

With the rise in popularity of the manga style of art in this country as well as abroad, it worth taking some time to reflect on its roots. In Washington DC, the Smithsonian Institution's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery takes a look at the history and development of Asian portraiture with its new exhibit. Facing East: Portraits of Asia recently opened and will remain so until September 4, 2006. The Sackler is on the Mall, next to the Smithsonian "Castle" and has a collection that primarily focuses on Orientalistic themes (Orientalism in this context is not a slur. It's a term that was used to discuss culture from Egypt east to Japan, encompassing all of Asia and the Middle East.). Truth be told, we have not yet seen the exhibit (but will be making a pilgrimage to the festering swamp that is DC in August, when we plan to visit it). However, based on reviews and descriptions of the exhibit on the Museum's website, we can make a few assumptions. Apparently, Western art historians have historically downplayed the importance of portraiture in Asian art. Sadly, we suspect this has more to do with feeling of cultural superiority and lack of scholarship than anything else. This exhibit clearly contradicts that. Although the exhibit doesn't appear to explicitly delve into the connection between traditional portraiture and contemporary manga, visitors could certainly make the leap in their own minds. From the facial structure to the over-exaggerated features, the seeds are all there for the current representations. The Museum is free and well worth the visit. Skip the overblown and super-crowded Air and Space Museum and check out this exhibit if you can. If time permits, check out the architecture of the new National Museum of the American Indian and the phenomenal collection of the Hirshorn Museum as well, both on the same side of the mall as the Sackler, heading toward the Air and Space Museum.

On a side note, we happened to visit the Santa Barbara (CA) Museum of Art over the weekend where there is a phenomenal exhibit on contemporary Chinese photography entitled Between Past and Future: New Photography and Video From China. Some of it is challenging to be sure, but some of it will just blow you away, particularly in the simplicity of composition and bold political statements. As usual, one or two pieces leave you scratching your head. We've said it before and we will say it again -- Those museum curators are a creepy bunch. If you're on the Left Coast, you might want to check that out. The Santa Barbara Museum of Art is free on Sundays. A brief video on the Museum's website shows a collection of images from the exhibit.


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