I say it over and over, but the Asian Art Museum keeps proving me right – it is the best place to see modern art in San Francisco. This summer’s Phantoms of Asia show is filled with some amazing contemporary work from Asian and Asian-American artists. The show is not entirely a modern art show. The museum has juxtaposed traditional and contemporary art. Many of the pieces are hundreds and in some cases thousands of years old. But I confess, I was there for the new work. It steals the show.
The show takes up the main floor special exhibition space and is also referenced with exhibits throughout the entire museum. In the corner of the second floor, there is a room known as the Tateuchi Thematic Gallery. There is always something good here and I check it out on every visit.
For this exhibit you’ll find one end of the gallery filled with large paintings by the Taiwanese artist Lin Chuan-Chu. Rock V held me and kept pulling me back to look again and again. Lin has managed to create a piece that is both abstract and at the same time a photo realistic painting of carved stone. The other corner of the room is filled with the Japanese artist Aki Kondo’s epic piece Mountain Gods. Seven panels wrap around the far corner of the room. The piece is 5 feet tall and over 33 feet long (see above, left). Kondo is a true painter’s painter with a somewhat muted palette that harkens back to Picasso and Dali. Mountain Gods is a recent work (2011) and still has the smell of fresh oil paint. The smell, which I love, surrounds you as you walk into the corner and explore the painting. It adds a sensory experience to the work that will diminish over time.
If there is a “star” of the show, it would be the Tibetan-American artist Palden Weinreb (see above center). His work can be viewed on his website. It’s nearly impossible for a digital image to do justice to his work, which is graphite on board under a layer of encaustic wax. The show includes just one of his pieces, Envelop. I looked at the piece close up and then backed up and viewed it from across the room. I needed to move out of the way of a small, docent-lead tour. Now, I wouldn’t interrupt a docent, and she was technically correct when she described how you could be “drawn into” the piece. But truly, from across the room, Envelop does something much different. You look at and you start to feel you are floating above it. It’s like the sensation you have during a dream when you can start to fly. I’ve never had a work art give me that sensation.
Phantoms of Asia is up until September 2. Palden Weinreb is giving a gallery talk on June 28.