Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Of Asian Art, and Authors…

It seems that in honor of the Olympics, every museum and gallery in the Bay Area decided to focus on some facet of Chinese or Asian art. This brought us an opportunity to explore many different aspects of Chinese art we don’t usually see, and to compare and contrast (every art historian’s favorite).

Particularly of note were two large museum shows, The Ming Dynasty show at the Asian Art Museum (closed), and the Dreams of a Half Life show at SFMOMA (closes 10/5). Although most of the contemporary works in the Dreams show reference modern China and the changes that have occurred since the end of the Mao era, the artistic traditions formed and carried forward from the Ming Dynasty still provide a foundation for many of the works on view. Through these shows I gained new insights into a culture that is so often misunderstood and yet inexorably entwined with ours.

Perhaps the Asian connection seems ubiquitous to me at the moment because I seem to be surrounded by friends talking and writing about Asia. Law Professor husband Marc has been relentlessly slogging through tons of research on China, calligraphy and intellectual Property law in the East & West in order to finish a law review article that he will be presenting at Tulane University in New Orleans next week. He did this while juggling law school politics, the beginning of the term and movie star clients. Even though we’ve been married for 10 years, I’m always impressed by his ability to put together amazing intellectual arguments under pressure. His next planned article, focusing on the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund, will also involve a panel at either WonderCon or San Diego Comic Con next summer.

Japanese Influence on Graphic Art Book CoverAnother friend, teacher and curator Hannah Sigur, accomplished the Herculean task of authoring a complex book while maintaining an insane schedule lecturing at SFSU, UC Davis and Berkeley Extension. Her book The Influence of Japanese Art on Design, published by Gibbs, Smith, will be out by the end of October. The press release says ” This stunning book explores the story of Japan as the catalyst of modern design in the Gilded Age. Sigur juxtaposes glass, silver and metal arts, ceramics, textiles, furniture, jewelry, advertising and packaging with a spectrum of Japanese materials ranging from one-of-a-kind art crafts to mass-produced ephemera, showing the ways that Japanese arts and ideas about Japan set the course to our modern design.” The advance copy I saw was absolutely beautiful. I had the good fortune to be Hannah’s teaching assistant for a class based on the draft of this book, and as a person who worked in graphic design for many years, I can say it was a real eye opener. So many of the graphic design elements we take for granted were borrowed from the Japanese aesthetic that it blows me away to think of it. The book will be available at many bookstores, museum stores and Amazon.

As Hannah has begun a series of speaking engagements related to the book, I am filling in for her at SFSU on Sept 25 (Thurs) from 9-10:30 in Burk Hall room 226. I will be doing my Chinese calligraphy lecture. In this lecture I establish some of the historical background of the calligraphic arts in China up to the Cultural Revolution, and then spend 80% of the lecture talking about Modern and Avant-Garde calligraphy, and artists that are using calligraphic traditions in installation art.

While we are on the subject of authors, Fred Glass, communications director of the California Teacher’s Association, is also teaching from a draft of his book (with Joanne Barkan), From Mission to Microchip: A History of the California Labor Movement. We (the class) have only read up to chapter 10 at this point but I’m very impressed with his research and plain-spoken explanations of complex issues. Hopefully all this intellectual activity will help me power my way through my own on-going book project (the Labor Labels project; currently I am writing about the history of the arm and hammer symbol).