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Smith College Art Museum marks 100 years of Asian collections

  • Takano Miho's stoneware, clay slip and enamel piece titled "Chattering Girls in Spring" is shown Wednesday, February 27, 2013, as part of Smith College Art Museum's huge display of its Asian art up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Takano Miho's stoneware, clay slip and enamel piece titled "Chattering Girls in Spring" is shown Wednesday, February 27, 2013, as part of Smith College Art Museum's huge display of its Asian art up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • A large Buddha is shown Wednesday, February 27, 2013, as part of Smith College Art Museum's huge display of its Asian art up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    A large Buddha is shown Wednesday, February 27, 2013, as part of Smith College Art Museum's huge display of its Asian art up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Curators Aprile Gallante, left, Fan Zhang and Linda Muehling of Smith College Art Museum's huge display of Asian art pose Wednesday, February 27, 2013, in front of Yong Soon Min's revision of the piece "Movement," shown behind. The collection is displayed in celebration of the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Curators Aprile Gallante, left, Fan Zhang and Linda Muehling of Smith College Art Museum's huge display of Asian art pose Wednesday, February 27, 2013, in front of Yong Soon Min's revision of the piece "Movement," shown behind. The collection is displayed in celebration of the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • A detail of Yong Soon Min's revision of the piece "Movement" is shown Wednesday, February 27, 2013, at the Smith College Art Museum.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    A detail of Yong Soon Min's revision of the piece "Movement" is shown Wednesday, February 27, 2013, at the Smith College Art Museum.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Curator Fan Zhang of Smith College Art Museum's huge Asian art collection talks about several small pieces on Wednesday, February 27, 2013. The collection was set up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Curator Fan Zhang of Smith College Art Museum's huge Asian art collection talks about several small pieces on Wednesday, February 27, 2013. The collection was set up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Curator Linda Muehling of Smith College Art Museum talks about the large Buddha piece displayed as part of the huge Asian art collection set up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art on Wednesday, February 27, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Curator Linda Muehling of Smith College Art Museum talks about the large Buddha piece displayed as part of the huge Asian art collection set up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art on Wednesday, February 27, 2013.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Nam June Paik's piece titled "Internet Dweller" is shown Wednesday, February 27, 2013, as part of Smith College Art Museum's huge display of its Asian art up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art. The piece features two vintage television cabinets, three KEC 9-inch televisions (model 9BND), two clocks, circuit boards and electric light fixtures.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY

    Nam June Paik's piece titled "Internet Dweller" is shown Wednesday, February 27, 2013, as part of Smith College Art Museum's huge display of its Asian art up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art. The piece features two vintage television cabinets, three KEC 9-inch televisions (model 9BND), two clocks, circuit boards and electric light fixtures.

    SARAH CROSBY Purchase photo reprints »

  • Sopheap Pich's "Seated Buddha--Abhaya Mudra"<br/>PHOTO COURTESY OF SOPHEAP PICH

    Sopheap Pich's "Seated Buddha--Abhaya Mudra"
    PHOTO COURTESY OF SOPHEAP PICH Purchase photo reprints »

  • Yue Minjun's "The Grassland Series Woodcut I (Diving Figure)"<br/>PHOTO COURTESY OF PETEGORSKY/GIPE

    Yue Minjun's "The Grassland Series Woodcut I (Diving Figure)"
    PHOTO COURTESY OF PETEGORSKY/GIPE Purchase photo reprints »

  • Hung Liu's "Judgement of Paris"<br/>PHOTO COURTESY OF SMITH COLLEGE

    Hung Liu's "Judgement of Paris"
    PHOTO COURTESY OF SMITH COLLEGE Purchase photo reprints »

  • Purchase photo reprints »

  • Takano Miho's stoneware, clay slip and enamel piece titled "Chattering Girls in Spring" is shown Wednesday, February 27, 2013, as part of Smith College Art Museum's huge display of its Asian art up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • A large Buddha is shown Wednesday, February 27, 2013, as part of Smith College Art Museum's huge display of its Asian art up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Curators Aprile Gallante, left, Fan Zhang and Linda Muehling of Smith College Art Museum's huge display of Asian art pose Wednesday, February 27, 2013, in front of Yong Soon Min's revision of the piece "Movement," shown behind. The collection is displayed in celebration of the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • A detail of Yong Soon Min's revision of the piece "Movement" is shown Wednesday, February 27, 2013, at the Smith College Art Museum.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Curator Fan Zhang of Smith College Art Museum's huge Asian art collection talks about several small pieces on Wednesday, February 27, 2013. The collection was set up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Curator Linda Muehling of Smith College Art Museum talks about the large Buddha piece displayed as part of the huge Asian art collection set up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art on Wednesday, February 27, 2013. <br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Nam June Paik's piece titled "Internet Dweller" is shown Wednesday, February 27, 2013, as part of Smith College Art Museum's huge display of its Asian art up to celebrate the 100th anniversary of acquiring its first piece of such art. The piece features two vintage television cabinets, three KEC 9-inch televisions (model 9BND), two clocks, circuit boards and electric light fixtures.<br/><br/>SARAH CROSBY
  • Sopheap Pich's "Seated Buddha--Abhaya Mudra"<br/>PHOTO COURTESY OF SOPHEAP PICH
  • Yue Minjun's "The Grassland Series Woodcut I (Diving Figure)"<br/>PHOTO COURTESY OF PETEGORSKY/GIPE
  • Hung Liu's "Judgement of Paris"<br/>PHOTO COURTESY OF SMITH COLLEGE

A hundred years ago, Smith College had become well-established as a center of liberal arts education, with some 1,700 students and a strong focus on the arts. A campus museum, then known as the Hillyer Art Gallery, housed a small but growing collection of American and European art, and art classes were a key part of the curriculum.

Asian art? That wasn’t really part of the picture — nor was it at most American colleges or private museums.

But in 1913, Smith received its first works of Asian art — and in the years since, that collection has grown to more than 1,700 pieces from China, Japan, Korea, Southeast Asia and Pakistan. To mark that centennial, and to signal its continued commitment to Asian art, the Smith College Art Museum is featuring a multi-tiered exhibit that offers a broad look at its collection — from ancient sculptures and painted silk scrolls to modern prints, paintings and video.

“Collecting Art of Asia,” which runs through May 26, showcases the long history of civilization in China and other Asian countries. Some of the exhibit’s oldest samples include carved jade figurines that date from China’s Shang Dynasty, circa 1700-1100 B.C., while prints from contemporary China reflect irony, black humor and other sensibilities that would have been unthinkable in Chinese art even 25 years ago.

“We think it’s a pretty special show,” said Linda Muehling, curator of painting and sculpture for the museum. “We’re trying to cover a lot of different material.”

It’s a big undertaking: 132 works of art, representing more than 80 artists, arranged on three floors in the museum. Muehling and two other curators, with input from Smith faculty and staff as well as contributors from the Five Colleges, have put the exhibit together to showcase the range of the Asian art collection — and to tell some of the history of how Smith began acquiring what was then referred to as “Oriental” art.

Co-curator Fan Zhang, a postdoctoral fellow and lecturer in art serving a three-year appointment at Smith, has researched the story of how United States railroad magnate and philanthropist Charles Land Freer, in the late 19th century, developed a close relationship with Dwight William Tyron, a painter and art instructor at Smith. That relationship led to the college acquiring its first pieces of Asian art.

As Zhang explains, Freer and Tyron, who met in New York City, were both interested in Asian art. In particular, they were drawn by work from the West and the East that shared common elements, such as color and tone, and Tyron incorporated some of the aesthetics of Asian landscapes in his own paintings. Freer, who became Tyron’s main patron, began collecting large amounts of Asian art at a time when very few Americans did so.

“It was really a meeting of East and West,” Zhang said.

The railroad magnate, who would later donate most of his holdings to the public — the Freer Gallery of Art, part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., houses much of that collection — lent some of his works for a show at Smith College in 1897, one of the earliest displays of Asian art in New England, Zhang says. From 1913 until his death in 1919, Freer donated numerous items to the college, including paintings and ceramics.

“That was the beginning of the college’s collection, a result of their collaboration,” said Zhang.

Zhang, Muehling and Aprile Gallante, the show’s third curator, note that much of the exhibit — as well as the museum’s overall collection of Asian art — consists of modern items, particularly from the 20th century and the last 10 years. Gallante, the museum’s curator of prints, drawings and photographs, says Americans brought back significant works from Japan after World War II, some of which were later donated to Smith.

“There was a real surge in Japanese print art at that time, which was known as the Creative Print Movement,” Gallante said. “It was the artists’ response to the war, and it sparked Western interest in a very big way, from about 1950 on.”

Breaking with tradition

The prints in the exhibit, which are on the museum’s second floor, reflect a wide range of styles and subjects; many are from Japan, but others are from China and Korea.

“Sand Nest,” for instance, a 1957 woodcut print by Munkata Shiko of Japan, offers semi-abstract images of cranes in black and white. But woodblock prints by Sekino Jun’ichiro, also of Japan, from that era feature rich colors and detail, such as the tiled roofs and narrow backstreets of a town, viewed from slightly above the scene.

Jun’ichiro, Gallante notes, was among a number of Japanese print artists who broke from a long tradition in the country in which the design of a print and its cutting and printing were done by different people. Jun’ichiro and others of the Creative Print Movement wanted to bring a new level of artistic integrity to the work, one that emphasized originality and creativity rather then basic production.

The exhibit also includes a 1997 abstract print by Shintoda Toko, who at age 99 is considered the most important woman artist in Japan, Gallante says.

There are also works by younger artists from China and Korea that reflect an ironic look at society and government.

“We are Here II,” a 2011 lithograph by Chunwood Nam of South Korea, overlays an etching of the Chinese and American flags on an image of Times Square in New York City. The words “made in money” peek out from the white stripes of the American flag, suggesting that China and the U.S. have much more in common than their cultural differences might indicate.

So far, the curators say, a particularly popular item in the exhibit has been a colorful woodcut print from 2008 by Yue Minjun of China, which features a laughing/grimacing self-portrait of the artist, suspended above a grassy plateau in a seeming dive. Yue, Gallante notes, is considered part of the “Cynical Realists” group of Chinese artists, whose work expresses the disillusionment borne of the Tiananmen Square massacre of 1989.

Continuing focus

On a more upbeat note, “Collecting Art of Asia” includes a last-minute contribution that has also been “a real drawing card,” according to Muehling. It’s a roughly 10-foot, open sculpture of a seated Buddha made of bamboo, rattan and plywood. Cambodian artist Sopheap Pich, who earned a bachelor’s degree in fine arts at the University of Massachusetts Amherst in 1995, made the piece for the Smith exhibition, Muehling says, because of his fond memories of his time in the Valley.

“We were so fortunate to have him do this for us,” Muehling said. “We actually installed it a few days after the exhibit opened.”

Muehling, who curated much of the modern segment of the show, has put together a particularly eclectic number of pieces.

“The Presence Between Things,” by Yasuki Masako, is an abstract tempera and oil painting based on a photograph of an unidentified bombed-out Japanese city from World War II. Another work is by Ushio Shinohara, a celebrated “bad boy” among Japanese artists who in the 1960s devised a technique of coating boxing gloves with paint and then pummeling a canvas to create abstract images.

And Huang Yan of China merges classical painted landscapes with a sort of performance art: He uses his own body as a canvas, either painting his face or having his wife, a fellow artist, paint his body. The Smith exhibit includes part of a series of photographs of Huang with colorful, hilly landscapes on his back, chest and arms.

The Smith curators say they plan to make Asian and other non-Western art a continued focus for the museum in the future.

“We think we’ve put together a pretty comprehensive show,” Gallante said. “But it’s not a one-off.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

“Collecting Art of Asia” is on view though May 26 at the Smith College Museum of Art. Admission costs between $2 and $5; free for children under 5, and for everyone on the second Friday of each month. Hours are Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.; Sundays from noon to 4 p.m.; and on second Fridays from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. For information, visit www.smith.edu/artmuseum.

Related

Smith College plans events for 'Collecting Art of Asia' exhibit

Monday, March 11, 2013

Smith College will host a number of events this weekend in connection with its “Collecting Art of Asia” exhibit. Here’s the schedule: Friday ■ 4 to 6 p.m., art museum — hands-on art workshop for children ages 4+ and adults (while supplies last) ■ 6 to 6:30 p.m., art museum — informal guided gallery conversation about an art object ■ … 0

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