First Look: Collecting Contemporary at the Asian
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco
4 September – 11 October, 2015
The Asian Art Museum—well known for its vast collection of antiquities—will surprise visitors with First Look: Collecting Contemporary at the Asian, an exhibition featuring highlights of its contemporary art collection acquired over the past 15 years. On view Sept. 4–Oct. 11, 2015 and organized by guest curator Allison Harding, the exhibition presents 57 artworks, many on view for the first time at the museum, that spark connections to Asia’s histories and traditions with the immediacy of contemporary ideas.
Today, the Asian Art Museum collection features more than 18,000 artworks, including more than 1,100 works created in the past 55 years. First Look displays a range of mediums from photography, animation and video to contemporary Korean ceramics, Chinese ink paintings, sculptural Japanese baskets, installations, drawings and more. A relationship to Asian art history and practices ties these diverse pieces together.
Works debuting at the museum include two digital animation pieces by Japanese technologists teamLab. Also on view is Untitled, No. 25 (2008), an iconic photographic image by the husband and wife team, RongRong and inri, depicting the couple with their hair braided together, literally joining them as one. Another museum debut is Ahmed Mater’s Illumination Waqf (2013), a diptych print in the form of an Islamic manuscript with decorated borders, shows X rays of two human figures, as if in conversation.
“To truly understand the contemporary, you must understand the tradition from which it emerged,” says Harding. “First Look embodies how tradition can inspire new works in the present and continue to impact contemporary life.”
Throughout First Look, visitors will experience artworks that explore the natural world and relationships between landscape and body; artworks that push the limits of material histories; artworks that showcase innovations in ink tradition; and artworks that refer to history with a contemporary vocabulary. These themes connect to threads that run throughout the museum’s collection galleries and activate the museum’s collection in compelling new ways.
“First Look introduces visitors to the Asian Art Museum’s expanding collection of contemporary art by some of the leading artists from Asia and America today. In First Look, you’ll see works by artists from Cambodia, China, India, Japan, Korea, Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Thailand and the United States,” says museum director Jay Xu. “Contemporary art is an integral part of the museum’s artistic vision and brand promise: awaken the past and inspire the next.”