The San Diego Museum of Art Debuts State of the Art Galleries
“Art of East Asia” unveils rare and never-before-seen works in a dynamic display
San Diego –The San Diego Museum of Art proudly invites visitors to explore the art of East Asia in their newly renovated and reinstalled galleries, among the most sophisticated exhibition spaces in San Diego. The Art of East Asia opens on February 9, 2013 to coincide with Chinese New Year and features over 280 objects of Chinese, Japanese, and Korean art from the Museum’s Permanent Collection, more than 100 of which have never before been on view.
The exhibition animates the philosophical and creative traditions of Asian luminaries and everyday people across East Asian cultures. The story it tells moves both chronologically and thematically throughout the region illuminating cross-cultural influences, most especially between Confucian, Buddhist, Daoist, and Shinto beliefs, from antiquity to the present.
The exhibition design by the nationally-renowned firm of Staples & Charles Ltd. borrows environmental elements from the spaces that the objects were intended for: dim lighting and low ceilings, for example, suggest the close quarters of a Chinese tomb in a section devoted to funerary art, and backlit shoji screens set the stage for works found in an Edo-era Japanese home. The result is an accessible and dramatic presentation of the Museum’s outstanding collection of East Asian art.
“The reinstallation of this important part of our Permanent Collection is the result of years of studying our Asian art holdings,” said Roxana Velásquez, executive director of The San Diego Museum of Art. “Until now, many of these works were not on view. The major renovation of these galleries is our most extensive yet, and demonstrates our commitment to presenting the finest art in the most meaningful and exciting ways for our visitors, and speaks to our vision for the future of this institution.”
The works of art range from ancient Chinese bronzes and twelfth century Buddhist sculpture to Ming and Qing dynasty scholar scrolls and 19th century Japanese shrine doors. The Museum’s excellent Korean domestic art collection will have its own gallery, featuring, among other objects, exceptionally high-quality celadon—the pale green-blue fired ceramics for which Korea is justly famous.
In addition, educational components throughout the space create a uniquely hands-on experience. Asian art forgeries are integrated in cabinets alongside the display cases, allowing visitors to touch works similar to those on view and providing a unique opportunity to get a tactile understanding of objects normally kept under glass. At the end of the exhibition space, calligraphy stations provide a chance to practice writing Japanese, Chinese, and Korean characters, and videos show Buddhist celebrations throughout East Asia and a studio where Korean ceramics are created.
Occupying the space once known as the Asian Court, the galleries were extensively renovated thanks to a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts. Reclaimed teak floors, a new ceiling, and state-of-the-art lighting solutions create a unified and powerful environment for these exceptional arts.
The exhibition is divided into five main sections:
- Tombs: Art for the Dead in Ancient China: The works of art in this gallery were all recovered from tombs that range in date from 3,000 BCE until the eighth century CE. They pertain to the feeding, protection, and entertainment of the dead as they transition from life in this world to the next. The high-quality workmanship, artistry of design, and costly material resources that went into the creation of these funerary objects reveal the importance of filial piety—the duty to honor and care for one’s parents and ancestors as a social ideal—long before it was codified by the philosopher Confucius in the fifth century BCE.
- Buddhist Temples: Icons from China and Japan: The most popular goal of worshippers at Buddhist temples is to ensure prosperity for oneself and one’s future generations. Temples have traditionally been large public institutions to which devotees could come in large numbers, especially on festival days throughout the year. Visiting temples and venerating images of Buddhas and bodhisattvas—beings only one step away from total enlightenment—helped assure the efficacy of prayers.
- Temple, Tomb, & Home: Art of Korea:Geographically located between China and Japan, the Korean peninsula is home to people who have asserted their individual identity for more than two thousand years, even as they imported religious traditions and art forms from abroad. Buddhism officially entered Korea between the fourth and sixth centuries, and Confucianism was the official religion of the Yi Dynasty (also known as Choson, 1392–1910). The works of art in this gallery include Buddhist icons that display the distinctly Korean facial features, ceramic wares revealing Korean artists’ penchant for earthy vigor and spontaneity, and domestic arts made with local materials and handcraftsmanship.
- Hall of Harmony: Daoist Visions in Later China: Connoisseurs in China admired and collected objects that conveyed knowledge of the ancient past and incorporate ideals associated with Confucianism and Daoism. These works of art were exchanged as gifts, and they testified to the cultural sophistication of both the giver and the recipient. This gallery seeks to evoke the space of a public reception hall of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, in which objects on display incorporate Daoist ideals such as the pursuit of longevity, the achievement of harmony through balance of opposites, and an understanding of the life force believed to course through all phenomena.
- House and Shrine: Decorative and Sacred Arts of Japan: Shinto, Japan’s native belief system, is based on a reverence for the powers of nature, both benevolent and destructive. Even after Buddhism entered Japan from Korea, and aspects of Daoism and Confucianism were introduced from China, Shinto remained a constant fundamental component of Japanese culture. These diverse religious traditions have coexisted in Japan for centuries, with mutual borrowings of imagery, ideas, and practices. Such fluidity across religious boundaries is most evident in works of art made for personal devotions and for display within the home.
The San Diego Museum of Art provides a rich and diverse cultural experience for 350,000 visitors annually. Located in the heart of beautiful Balboa Park, the Museum’s nationally renowned collections include Spanish and Italian old masters, South Asian paintings, and 19th and 20th century American paintings and sculptures. The Museum regularly features major exhibitions of art from around the world, as well as an extensive year-round schedule supporting cultural and educational programs for children and adults. The San Diego Museum of Art presents exhibition displays in both English and Spanish.