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Asian Arts Council 2018-2019 General Meeting Lectures

Each month the Asian Arts Council presents a program featuring a distinguished scholar, curator, collector or Asian arts enthusiast of note. We meet the last Thursday of the month in the Museum’s Boardroom at 1:00 p.m. and begin with a brief business meeting before the lecture. Meetings are free for AAC members, only $10 for Museum members, $12 for non-members and $8 for students.

Archived lecture schedules

Click on any date line below to open a lecture summary from the Asian Arts Council Newsletter

Jul. 26 - 2018 Rugged Beauty: the Art and Evolution of Shigaraki Ceramics Meher McArthur, Scripps College, Claremont, Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Curator of Academic Programs and Collections, Curator at Storrier Stearns Japanese Garden,Independent Asian Art Curator, Author, Educator and Creative Director

AAC Newsletter – Aug. 2018, p 2      Lecture Flyer

As outlined in Meher McArthur’s lively lecture, Rugged Beauty: The Art and Evolution of Shigaraki Ceramics, this distinctive stoneware has been produced for almost 1,000 years from local clay rich in silica, iron and feldspar, giving it a rough surface with a warm natural glaze when fired. Local pine forests provided fuel to stoke the anagama, or climbing kilns, built on a slope to facilitate the rising of heat through the length of the kiln. The later developed noborigama kiln had a series of chambers, each with a stoking hole, for greater control of the heat. These kilns were stoked continuously for as long as a week or more, then allowed to slowly cool before removing the ceramics. The ash that falls on the vessels in the kiln interacts with the minerals in the clay, producing a natural ash glaze that can vary greatly in color, texture and gloss. The utilitarian uses of these vessels were evident by their shapes: tsubo – a narrow-necked storage jar for rice or soybeans; kame – a wide-necked urn for miso, vinegar or sake; and suribachi – a mortar for grinding grains. In the 15th century shigaraki wares became favored by the samurai class for use in the tea ceremony wherein the concepts of wabi sabi brought an emphasis on their rustic, imperfect and asymmetric qualities combined with a sense of restrained refinement. This led to shigaraki tea bowls and implements being produced specifically for use in the tea ceremony. Now, the austere, humble qualities of shigaraki ceramics are coveted by discerning collectors around the world.

Aug. 30 - 1:00 p.m. Repentant Monk: The Art of Chen Hongshou (1599-1652 CE) Julia M. White, senior curator of Asian Art at UC Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive

AAC Newsletter – September 2018, p 2-3      Lecture Flyer

The 17th century artist Chen Hongshou was brought vividly to life by Julia M. White, Senior Curator for Asian Art at UC Berkeley Art Museum, in her presentation, Repentant Monk: The Art of Chen Hongshou (1599-1652).The artist was born into a high status family and, in spite of studying assiduously, failed to pass the exams to become a government official.  Working in the tumultuous time of the collapsing Ming dynasty, he relied on his comprehensive skills as an artist to earn his living. In a set of 42 cards used for playing a drinking game, he skillfully created a detailed three-dimensionality of human figures, seemingly floating in open space, a difficult feat for many artists. His iconic manner of painting figures in the styles of earlier masters lends an aura of antiquity to his work, enlivened by expressions of irony, humor, and pathos. His landscape lecture image 3
Chen Hongshou, Self-portrait, 1635 
paintings reflect his vast knowledge of past traditions, and his bird-and-flower paintings display a remarkable freshness and modernity that has great appeal for viewers today. After the Qing dynasty took hold, he briefly sought reclusion from the
world, as a Buddhist monk, and for a period signed his paintings as ‘Repentant Monk.’  This reflected his state of mind during a time of social and political chaos and his disillusionment and regret over the deteriorating situation for artists loyal to the Ming, a condition that can be sensed clearly in his later paintings.

Sep. 27 - 1:00 p.m. The Fabled Silk Road: Travelers and Treasures Helen Anderson, independent scholar, intrepid traveler, longtime member of AAC and former Chair

AAC Newsletter – October 2018, p 2      Lecture Flyer

In September, Helen Anderson, former Chair of the Asian Arts Council (1993-1995) gave a fascinating presentation on The Fabled Silk Road: Travelers and Treasures. Helen, a former Navy wife, spent over 30 years living and traveling in Asia. She has traveled from the eastern to the western terminus of the Silk Road, by various forms of transportation - bus, car, train, plane and even camel! In this presentation, she shared her passion for China, Central Asia and Buddhist art, discussing a trio of early travelers - Alexander the Great, Marco Polo and Xuanzang; a trio of late 19th and early 20th century adventurers - Sir Marc Aurel Stein, Albert von Le Coq and Langston Warner; and a trio of robber baron collectors - John D. Rockefeller, Jr., William Walters and Charles Lang Freer. Helen highlighted one of the masterpieces in the collection of the San Diego Museum of Art, a calcarious marble statue of the Boddhisatva Manjusri. Manjusri, the boddhisattva of wisdom, is one of the major Boddhisattvas in the Mahayana Buddhist pantheon. Helen also discussed the Buddhist cave temples in which these treasures were discovered, focusing on Dunhuang, Bezelik and Kizil. Of all the foreign religions that entered China through the Silk Road, Buddhism has had the strongest and most lasting influence. Its art is among the most beautiful in the world.

Oct. 25 - 1:00 p.m. Art in an Era of Globalization: the Tang Dynasty Tom Dillon, AAC Study Group member, gave his presentation

AAC Newsletter – November 2018, p 2 & 3      Lecture Flyer

The Tang dynasty (618-907) was brought to life by AAC Study Group member Tom Dillon, Ph.D., who brought a global perspective to his presentation of Art in the Era of Globalization: the Tang Dynasty. While the Western world was in the dark ages, China - and the Abbasid Caliphate in the Baghdad - were thriving.  China expanded its borders into central Asia and welcomed trade from the west; its population nearly tripled; the capital was the largest city in the world; there was widespread prosperity and religious tolerance. Within the Tang Dynasty there was a hundred year (665 to 766) “golden era” where poetry, painting, the decorative arts and architecture flourished. In painting, Yan Liben is admired for his portraits of 13 earlier emperors, Han Gan captures the essence of spirited horses, and Li Zhaodao painted landscapes in the blue-and-green style. Tang poets Li Bai and Du Fu are still revered and read today.
One of the remarkable figures of this period was Wu Zetian who rose from being a lowly concubine to empress regnant through her shrewdness and wit. Much of the stone sculpture and architecture produced in her reign remains today: the Great Wild Goose Pagoda in Xian, Xuanzang’s Tomb Pagoda, and the magnificent Vairocana Buddha at the Longmen Grottos. Although she ruled with the same ruthlessness as the emperors, she avoided wars, insisted on the merit system of examinations for the imperial bureaucracy and reduced taxes. Only at the age of 82, was she deposed, and several years later her grandson became Emperor Xuanzong who presided over “the most brilliant court in Chinese history,” founding the Imperial Academy of Letters and promoting music, drama and the arts. The cultural glory of the Tang Dynasty ended with the Great Anti-Buddhist Persecution in 845 when much of the art and architecture of this golden era was destroyed.

Dec. 01 - 11:00 a.m. SAAC and AAC member get together

SAAC and AAC members as well as SDMA senior administration staff and UCSD faculty members enjoyed a delightful evening and a tour of Indian art.

Jan 31 - 2019 Asian Treasures from the Scripps College Collections Bruce Coats, Suzanne Ely Muchnic ’62 and Paul D. Muchnic Endowed Professor, Art History, Scripps College

AAC Newsletter – February 2019, p 2 & 3      Lecture Flyer variety and depth of art objects illustrated in Asian Treasures from the Scripps College Collections by Professor Bruce Coats, Ph.D., captivated the lecture audience. He explained that Scripps College was founded by philanthropist Ellen Browning Scripps in 1926, and over the years has been the beneficiary of a fascinating variety of Asian art collections ranging from Japanese and Chinese cloisonné, Japanese ceramics, lacquered hair combs and woodblock prints, and Ming and Qing dynasty Chinese paintings as well as sculptures. In the classes he teaches, the lucky students have the opportunity to view the art works in the classroom and even handle them (with white gloves), compare and contrast different works, and curate exhibitions using works of art from the collections. Some of the highlights shown were a 5000-3000 BCE neolithic Yangshao painted clay pot, delicate Meiji period cloisonné, an exquisite 18th century gilt bronze bodhisattva from Nepal, and a scroll painting possibly inscribed by the Emperor Qianlong. The enthusiastic reception of Dr. Coats’ presentation included inquiries about auditing his classes.


Feb 21 - 1:00 p.m. Onta and Koishiwara: Two Kyushu Folk Ceramic Traditions Meher McArthur, Asian art curator, author and educator

AAC Newsletter – March 2019, p 2       Lecture Flyer

For her presentation of Onta and Koishiwara: Two Kyushu Folk Ceramic Traditions, Meher McArthur told of the wares’ dramatic beginnings in the 17th century when kidnapped Korean potters were brought to Japan where their rustic rice bowls were revered for use as tea cups in formal Japanese tea ceremonies. The nearby villages of Onta and Koishiwara continue the centuries-old process of handmade ceramics today. The iron-rich clay is pulverized by a river water-driven pestle, then sifted before shaping into dishes on a kick-wheel powered potter’s wheel. A white slip is applied to the reddish clay dish, then decorated by a variety of techniques: incising a combing pattern through the slip; drawing indentations with fingers; drawing a slip-covered brush over a dish; nicking the surface as the wheel turns to form a repeating pattern. Glazes are applied to form spiral patterns, splashes or drippings of color, then fired in a multi-chambered climbing kiln at about 1280° centigrade, the upper range for stoneware. After a decline due to Westernized mass-produced ceramics, interest in these distinctive folk wares was revived in the early 20th century by the mingei movement begun by Yanagi Soetsu to recognize the beauty in handcrafted everyday objects. The wares created in Onta and Koishiwara were and are quintessential examples of mingei - made by local families, using traditional techniques, displaying a unique simplicity and beauty. nbsp;

Mar 28 - 1:00 p.m. Making Paintings like Japanese Prints: How Vincent van Gogh’s Obsession with All Things Japanese Transformed his Art Hilda Yoder, AAC member and Museum Docent

AAC Newsletter – April 2019, p 2      Lecture Flyer

A startling, new perspective was brought to light by Hilda Yoder, Ph.D., in “Making Paintings like Japanese Prints”: How Vincent van Gogh’s Obsession with All Things Japanese Transformed His Art. During the last few years of his life, Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890) became obsessed with Japanese woodblock prints, and in just two years completely changed his style of painting from dark and somber to bursting with color and energy. He wrote a letter to his brother saying that he was making “paintings like Japanese prints.” Having completely failed as an artist in the Netherlands, Van Gogh moved to Paris in early 1886, determined to make paintings that would sell. After one year, having no commercial success, he bought 660 Japanese prints from a dealer, and hung them in the café of a friend hoping to sell them at a profit. Although this also was a failure, he later wrote to his brother, “it gave me the opportunity to see a lot of Japanese art, at leisure and over time.” Soon he was totally immersed in Japanese art and ideas, not only through these prints but also through popular novels and magazines. Failing to find any buyers for his own paintings in Paris, he moved to Provence in early 1888 for he imagined that this far-away region was “as beautiful as Japan for the clearness of the atmosphere and the gay color effects.” He apparently did not take many of his Japanese prints with him, for he wrote to his sister, “I don’t need Japanese prints here, because I’m always saying to myself that I’m in Japan here. That as a result I only have to open my eyes and paint right in front of me what makes an impression on me.” He profoundly identified with the Japanese artists, who, he thought, were “so simple and live in nature as if they themselves were flowers.” Studying Japanese art, he believed, would make people “much happier and more cheerful,” for it would help return “us to nature.” In Arles, his work began to incorporate the bright, contrasting, flat colors of the woodblock prints, with black outlines, odd diagonals, trees and branches blocking the view, extreme close-ups, or the tilted landscapes of a ‘bird’s eye’ viewpoint. In his letters, he explained that he was beginning to “see with a Japanese eye and feel color differently,” and “reduce everything to lines and dots” as in Japanese prints. Having internalized this Japanese Wheatfield with Crows, Vincent van Gogh, 1890 technique, he would meticulously sketch a landscape using lines and dots, then paint the scene with a similar style of lines and dots. This carefully executed approach to his subject matter brings a new perspective to the paintings that seem so spontaneous and restless, and a new vantage point for appreciating this artist’s prodigious creativity.

Apr 25 - 1:00 p.m. Stuffed Buddhas Gregory Levine, Ph.D., Professor of Art and Architecture of Japan and Buddhist Visual Cultures, Department of the History of Art, UC Berkeley

AAC Newsletter – May 2019, p 2      Lecture Flyer

In his lecture, Stuffed Buddhas: Buddhist Sculpture and Interior Consecrated Objects, Gregory Levine, Ph.D., revealed the many kinds of sacred objects that may be ensconced within statues of the Buddha in Japan. Whether the statue is made from wood or bronze or clay, an interior space is created to hold a diverse array of objects: Buddhist scriptures such as the Lotus Sutra, small statues, locks of hair, woodblock prints with the image of the Buddha, names of donors, coins, and sometimes even a damaged statue is placed inside its replacement as a sacred relic. In the 17th century after Christianity was banned, some Buddhist statues have been found to have Christian symbols hidden inside. These hidden objects can be found by using X-rays or CT scans, or by simply opening the compartment. Depending upon the religious community, some are opened to satisfy curiosity, or ceremoniously opened on a special anniversary, or never opened. The statues and their contents have special meaning for each religious community, serving to bind them together. Artifacts have also been found inside Buddhist statues in China and Korea. Dr. Levine is Professor of Japanese Art and Architecture of Japan and Buddhist Visual Cultures in the Department of History of Art at UC Berkeley, and is the author of multiple books.

May 30 - 1:00 p.m. Fragrant Visions: Painting Chinese Buddhist Ritual Phillip E. Bloom, Ph.D., The Huntington Library, Center for East Asian Garden Studies, Director and Curator

AAC Newsletter – June 2019, p 2       Lecture Flyer

Although one often imagines Buddhist ritual to be a serene image of the Buddha in deep meditation, it is more often a lively scene of monks chanting, incense burning, gongs ringing, supplicants making offerings, and a master calling forth deities with specialized hand gestures and words. In Fragrant Visions: Painting Chinese Buddhist Rituals, Phillip E. Bloom, Ph.D., explained how the unseen aspects of the spirit world are brought forth in a series of paintings, called Five Hundred Arhats, by 12th century Song dynasty painter, Zhou Jichang. The Water-Land Retreat painting is divided diagonally with clearly defined foreground figures in colorful robes while the mysterious upper part is obscured in a dark mist where ghostly spirits seem to be emerging into the real world. The effect is skillfully created by paint being applied on the back as well as the front of the painting on silk. Another painting illustrated how the sights and sounds of the ritual and the mental visualizing by the monks create the real sense of the arhat’s presence. The ritual burning of incense allows the upward curling smoke to communicate the request of the arhat’s presence. Figures of arhats descending from enveloping clouds into the purified ritual space creates a sense of transformation of the unseen becoming seen. In a third painting, the arhats seem to be interacting in the same space as a figure of a Ritual Master who visualizes the deities becoming present in response to the ritual offerings. That he is seen from the back pulls the viewer into the space with the emerging arhats, dissolving the boundaries between the worldly and the divine. Phillip E. Bloom, Ph.D., is Curator of the Chinese Garden and Director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies at the Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens.

Jun 27 - 1:00 p.m. The Japanese Fan in the Hands of Modernity. Kristopher Kersey , Assistant Professor, Arts of Japan, UCLA

AAC Newsletter – July 2019, p 2       Lecture Flyer

Japan is credited with the invention of the folding fan in the Heian period (794-1185). Although Japanese women used the flat, round fan (uchiwa), the folding fan (ogi) was carried by men and was used by the samurai for signaling during battles. The folding fan developed from thin strips of wood, riveted at the base and threaded together at the top. Most familiar is the type of folding fan with painted paper covering the wooden strips. To extend the life of a folding fan, the paper could be stripped off and a new image could be glued onto the wooden strips. Some of the earliest evidence of the transmission of Japanese folding fans to the West, is a 16th century portrait of Maria of Portugal holding a fan. The Portuguese missionaries who were active in Japan in the 16th century are thought to have brought these fans back with them. As the folding fan became fashionable in Europe, it was viewed entirely as a feminine accoutrement, unlike in Japan. After the opening of Japan’s trade to the West, during the Meiji period (1878-1911), the folding fan became thoroughly Westernized when millions of fans were manufactured for the export market and they came to represent Japan in the minds of those in the West. The Japanese Folding Fan in the Hands of Modernity, was presented by Kristopher Kersey, Ph.D., Assistant Professor, Arts of Japan, Department of Art History, UCLA.