‘Phantoms’ takes a modern look at ancient Asian cultural beliefs

JUST ONE OF THE ‘PHANTOMS’ ­— Motohiko Odani’s “SP Extra: Malformed Noh-Mask Series: San Yujo” (2008) is one piece in a set of three. The Noh mask is made of wood, natural mineral pigment and Japanese lacquer. © Motohiko Odani. Courtesy of Yamamoto Gendai. photo: Keizo Kioku.

Exploring themes of life, death and beyond, “Phantoms of Asia: Contemporary Awakens the Past” is the Asian Art Museum’s first large-scale contemporary art exhibit. Examining timeless themes and questions of the cosmos, “Phantoms” features more than 150 artworks, combining 60 new works with objects from the museum’s current collection. This exhibit blends new perspectives of contemporary art with the cultural traditions, myths and rituals of different Asian cultures.

Co-curated by Mami Kataoka, chief curator of Tokyo’s Mori Art Museum and Allison Harding, assistant curator of contemporary art at the Asian Art Museum, they collaborated to put together a provocative and ambitions exhibition in its scope, featuring an exhibit with a wide variety of art mediums that opens itself to a range of diverse experiences for visitors.

Before even entering the museum, as you walk by San Francisco City Hall, you’ll be greeted by Choi Jeong Hwa’s “Breathing Flower,” a cheery, red, giant lotus, swaying and undulating in the breeze. However, once you enter the museum, the entrance to the exhibition takes a whole different tone, with Sun K. Kwak’s somewhat ominous looking, black swirl drawing, “Untying Space,” created with masking tape that freely passes through the space, climbing the walls outside the doorways to the exhibition.

By re-examining the religious unknown, “Phantoms” takes a modern look at ancient Asian cultural beliefs of nature, spirituality and the cosmos, sometimes hitting upon notes that may cause visitors to feel a bit uncomfortable, but will surely inspire conversation. “What Kind of Hell Will We Go To,” by Takayuki Yamamoto, undertakes a fascinating collaboration with Artseed, an afterschool program in San Francisco’s Bayview District. After being taught about Buddhist paintings depicting death, afterlife, and how it is believed that people are sent to hells based on their own unique flaws and sins, children were invited to create original dioramas of what their personal versions of hell would be like. Yamamoto also took video of them explaining their unique types of hells, with punishments that included ogres, sharks, and stabbings. The combination of the somewhat dark and adult theme of hell with children’s perspectives creates a fresh, slightly satirical view on sinning and its religious ramifications.

2020 Japanese Culture Guide

2020 Japanese Culture Guide

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