Climbing to New Peaks of Creativity
8 February 2018 ~ Wall Street Journal
In 1711 Jeong Seon, a low-ranking Korean official with an aristocratic background and a scholar’s education, sparked a new, enduring genre of Korean landscape painting when he walked into the sprawling Mount Geumgang—or Diamond Mountains—equipped with paper, ink and brushes. Six of the 13 views Jeong (1676-1759) produced form the starting point of “Diamond Mountains: Travel and Nostalgia in Korean Art” at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. About 50 miles within today’s North Korean southern border, the mountain has been in the news as North and South Korea negotiate whether and where to host joint celebrations during the Olympics. Visit the show, and you will understand why this site is such a big deal. . .
Though not conceived in tandem, “Art of the Mountain: Through the Chinese Photographer’s Lens” at the China Institute Gallery offers a wonderful counterpart to the Met’s show. It focuses on the influence of mountains in Chinese art through a medium that could not be more “true-view.” The camera requires that artists observe their subjects, while choices in exposure, framing, or digital manipulation allow them also to convey emotion, tell stories, or comment on social issues. (link to full review)
A Magnificent, Magic Carpet
3 February 2018 ~ Wall Street Journal
Scholars may not know where in Iran the magnificent 16th-century carpet now on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art was made. Nor have they always agreed on its original purpose. But nobody has ever disputed that this 23 1/2-foot-long carpet and its companion at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London are the earliest dated Persian carpets and among the world’s most masterly floor coverings. Most scholars now believe they once lay side by side in a prayer hall attached to the shrine of Sheikh Safi al-Din, the founder of Iran’s Safavid dynasty (1501-1722). They are known by the town’s name: Ardabil. (link to full review)
Creativity Forged Anew in Japan
8 January 2018 ~ Wall Street Journal
Fourteen objects fill a wall in the Asian galleries of the Worcester Art Museum in a display titled “Last Defense: The Genius of Japanese Meiji Metalwork.” It is a simple installation in three clusters that bears beautiful witness to the mastery achieved in the Edo period (1603-1868) and the creative resilience that followed in the Meiji Restoration (1868-1912).
A handful of Edo pieces exemplify the range of techniques and designs workshops perfected as they filled commissions from samurai and supplied objects for Buddhist temples and home worship. Three works in particular illustrate the range. As bold as it is elegant, a helmet made in 1618 by the Nagasone school emulates the spiraling shape of a conch shell with spur-like projections. An 1855 helmet by the equally famous Myochin family sports on its brim an exquisite relief of curling waves. And in an incense burner made around 1850, another Myochin shaped the lid in the form of a miniaturized helmet topped by the sculpted figure of a dragon flying through flames. The censer reminds us that, as peace wore on and the economy thrived, metalworking studios also created accessories for samurai with sophisticated tastes as well as a growing merchant class with deep pockets. (link to review)
The Evolution of a Deity
3 January 2018 ~ Wall Street Journal
Don’t let the round belly fool you, nor the surreal charm of an elephant’s head atop a human body. The figure of Ganesha, arguably the most beloved Hindu god today, is mostly viewed as a cute, benevolent deity who uses his considerable powers to remove obstacles in believers’ paths. Believers invoke him at the start of endeavors, whether a wedding or the launch of a business, and many rub his tummy for good fortune. But, as a show at the Denver Art Museum reminds us, this deity has evolved over the course of two millennia, spawning many a tale and interpretation of his role. Although the title, “Ganesha: The Playful Protector,” and the invitation to rub a “Touchable Ganesha” reflect his popular image, the show’s 18 works thankfully provide a taste of the larger, more complex story. (read more)