“Collecting Art of Asia” Opens at Smith

Zane Razzaq ’15
Assistant Arts Editor

Visitors to the Smith College Museum of Art have the opportunity this semester to see the Museum’s new spring exhibit, which focuses on non-Western art. The “Collecting Art of Asia” exhibit, consisting of pieces from Chinese, Japanese, Korean and South and Southeast Asian artists, will be on display in the Museum of Art from Feb. 1 through May 26.

“Collecting Art of Asia” commemorates the centennial anniversary of the noted collector Charles Lang Freer’s gift to Smith’s Hillyer Art Gallery. His gifts, in 1913, were the first Asian artworks to enter the collection of the Museum of Art. Freer’s gift came at a moment when Americans imagined “art” to mean European paintings and sculptures. Smith Professor of Art and one of Freer’s close friends Dwight William Tryon helped Freer organize a public showing of his collection of Japanese paintings and screens. This show attracted 600 visitors, according to research by Dr. Fan Zhang, a post-doctoral fellow who explored its history in the essay “Vision Beyond Borders: The Legacy of Dwight Tryon and Charles Freer.”

Freer’s gift gave Smith students the opportunity to study East Asian art and encouraged an international community of Asian art scholars to come to the campus as lecturers and advisors. “Many scholars believe the golden age of Asian art in America happened between 1890 and 1925, and Smith was right there at the beginning,” Zhang said.

In addition to celebrating Smith’s first hundred years of collecting Asian art, the exhibit is also one of the results of the museum’s renewed focus on non-Western art in the last 10 years. “We are making a statement with this show,” Jessica Nicoll ’83, SCMA director and Louise Ines Doyle 1934 Chief Curator, told the Alumnae Association. She mentioned her hope that the exhibit would shed some light on Smith’s long tradition of collecting Asian art and be a “turning point, where we [shift] our understanding of the scope of our Asian collection.”

Four galleries will be dedicated to the exhibit, displaying 140 pieces of Asian art, taken from the museum’s 1,700-piece permanent collection and promised gifts. The galleries each focus on a different section of Asian art: historical art, contemporary East Asian art, printmaking pieces and contemporary videos.

The historical gallery features a variety of art mediums, including paintings, sculptures, prints, ceramics, lacquers and metalwork. Among the artwork are gifts of archaic Chinese jades from the Ivan Hart collection and Japanese prints from the Rankin-Barker collection.

The contemporary section of the exhibit consists of artworks mostly from alumnae whose “collecting stories reflect their personal contact and engagement with the art of Asian cultures.” Included in the contemporary art display are works given by Joan Lebold Cohen ’54 and Jerome A. Cohen, who have a collection of post-Mao art from their travels to China. The contemporary art section also includes a collection of contemporary ceramics by Japanese women artists given to the museum by an anonymous alumna (class of ’65) and the major installation by Korean artist Yong Soon Min called “Movement,” known for “its colorful array of Pan-Asian recordings.”

The printmaking section of the exhibit features “culturally specific yet globally relevant” prints by Japanese, Chinese, Korean and Pakistani artists, created from 1950 to present day. Included in the prints section are examples of sosaku-hanga, or Japan’s Creative Print Movement, which “sought to reform the traditional approach to printmaking and introduce modern subjects.”

The video art section of the exhibit includes video works by different Asian artists. Internet Dweller: btjm.twelve.jhgd (1997) by Korean artist Nam June Paik is one of the first video-based works the SCMA ever acquired. Videos will be shown in rotation in the museum.

There will be a public lecture about displaying art of Asia in the 21st century held in Weinstein Auditorium on April 5 by Dr. Massumeh Farhad, the Chief Curator and Curator of Islamic Art at the Freer Gallery of Art/Sackler Gallery.

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