Saturday, September 20, 2008

The Power and The Glory

Pictures are NOT from the Special Ming Dynasty Exhibit,
 they are from the permanent collection....

This head is at least four feet high, 
both simple and massive it reflects 
a serene Buddha mind.

This recently passed Friday, having been abandoned at the very last minute by both son and boyfriend*, I set off on my own to the Ming Dynasty exhibit at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco. It was a glorious day to be driving up the coast, the ocean in my left and a clear blue sky above. The further north one goes the higher and wilder the hills get, mostly tawny brown and olive green this time of year. Here and there bright green geometric shapes of irrigated agriculture punctuate the wilderness. I arrived without mishap and dove my little blue car, known as "Little Blue", down  into an underground parking.
This Buddha seems a bit coy
with his hand gesture and asymetrical posture.

Paid for admission, stopped in the rest room, cleaned my glasses and set off, ready to be stunned by the exhibit subtitled "Power and Glory". I went to what was supposed to the last room first by mistake or just plain ignorance. Unfortunately photography is NOT permitted in special exhibits, just on the 2nd and 3 rd floors of the museum, so I cannot show you what I saw. (Not strictly true I could scan some images from the exhibit catalog.)  At first I thought "what is the big deal", dutifully, I read placards and gazed at six foot tall portraits; noting that the Minister Gu Lin seemed to suffer from strabismus (wall eye). The realistic portrayal of this way ward eye reflects the accuracy of at least the face portion of these hanging scrolls.
I have never seen a multi-armed Buddha before, 
but maybe I just haven't been around.

Most often painted during the lifetime of the subject, they were hung on a wall behind an altar table with incense burners for the family members to worship. Whether it was the bi-directional stare of the minister or my mind simply catching up with my body I suddenly realized that these people didn't have machines, or computer programmed lasers, or Photoshop, or even internet craft suppliers. The perfectly woven yellow silk robe, which I thought a bit garish and the scales on the dragon on the robe which I found very much too even, too machine made, wasn't machine made, but was a tribute to the honed and practiced skill
 of the human hand or more probably dozens of hands.
Isn't she just lovely? I'd have her over for tea
 but I don't know how many cups to put out.

Delicately executed ink brush tones, exquisite calligraphy, 12 foot long scrolls showing the pursuits of the nobility, a pillow made from purple mahogany in the shape of a lotus leaf, 
on and on. Not all was perfect dragons chasing the pearl of great price, there was a little wine cup which showed a scholar with his pet goose awaiting his mentor, a scroll that included 
a courtesan playing  soccer, a very popular game at the time.
This fellow sports spots and stripes; a tiger leopard ? 
He is certainly pleased with himself.

The Ming Dynasty had quite a fleet of sailing ships, the size of the ships themselves made Columbus' ships look like a mouse next to a lion. More perfect brocade and silk weavings and a ceramic lion gate piece, which alone seemed awesome but it was part of a 24 piece set. 
Boggled and starving I stumbled into the somewhat over priced museum cafe`. It all that perfection and refinement makes one feel very small and insignificant, but I suppose that is the point, isn't it?
Nice shapes make this camel and the face 
seems to disapprove of over loading.

After lamb curry with actual Asian green beans and basmati rice. which was not inspired, but seemed sustaining, I glided smoothly up the escalator to floors where photographer was allowed. On entering the Buddha room I felt better. Could have been the effect of food, but I do have a weakness for Buddhas. My real work started here, since I had failed in my true mission in the Ming exhibit. My true mission being to find rabbits.
This stag is from Northern Iran, 1200-800 BCE, 
I love his simple geometric shapes and earthy smoothness.

On the 2nd and 3rd floors I found some nice animals, and some multi- armed deities, for which I also have a pronounced weakness. Of course, Ganesha is always a hit with me, being both animal and a multi-armed. This particular Ganesha had a slot in his pedestal for offerings. I put in a handful of change. As a remover of obstacles his services always come in handy.

Next Time: Rabbits and Some Spots at the Asian Art Museum.

Isn't Ganesha very nice ?

* They both had fairly good reasons....


Rabbits' Guy said...

Oh boy .. maybe something else for the Sticky Buns exhibit???

Pretty impressive pieces of work there. Just even looking at hand woven baskets is so jarring these days.

Anonymous said...

are you sure it was a multi armed buddha and not just another buddha statue behind that one sticking it's arms out?!!

sounds like a great way to spend a day and make up for being abandoned ;-)

Anonymous said...

Ooh, I see lots of Sticky Buns possibilities there :p but I suppose the museum guards wouldn't be at all amused, lol!

Crafty Green Poet said...

looks like a wonderful exhibition,

tlc illustration said...

The animal sculpture in any ancient Chinese exhibit ranks amongst my favorite *anything*. I swoon over their animal forms.

And I always mean to look at the backs of those multi-armed statues - where do they attach all those arms?! Have they worked out the physical anatomy of bone construction so that that would possibly work?

M.Kate said...

Dearest Diana, BEAUTIFUL POST!!! There's a serenity in looking at each image..and I do know my friend in Sweden is a BIG fan of Lord Ganesha :D

btw...lucille died...maybe its for the better...too much suffering for her

hope you are having a good wee ahead :d

Mary-Laure said...

I love the delicate and graceful way the Buddhas hold their arms and hands. They're dancing, even though they're seated.

ilex said...

"The perfectly woven yellow silk robe, which I thought a bit garish and the scales on the dragon on the robe which I found very much too even, too machine made, wasn't machine made..."

It's funny how the industrial mind views ancient items, made before time equaled money. It's surely why we prefer a rougher aesthetic now- the human eye is bored with too much perfection. But before machines perfection was difficult to attain, so it was highly desirable. We've lost so much with the rise of machines.

Glenna said...

What a wonderful day--I'd have loved to do that. I particularly like the coy Buddha; he looks like he's gossiping.

YowlYY said...

A wonderful exhibition! Ganesha is my favourite :)
I missed the First Emperor's Exhibiton with all the Terracotta Warriors statues at the British Museum, but I plan to have a look at Hadrian before it closes down next month... I surely should go out more and find more sticky buns opportunities!!