Saturday, April 23, 2011

Asia Society: Park Avenue and 70th Street

The visit to the Asia Society was just about perfect.  Friday evenings after 6 are free (normally $10 for adults and $7 for seniors) and they provide a guided tour at 6:30.  I don't know if it was because this was a holiday weekend, but the museum was also relatively empty--with just those several people who were really interested in the exhibits.  I would highly recommend dropping by for an hour or so and taking the guided tour. Currently the museum is only exhibiting pieces on their 3rd floor and a small video exhibit on the main lobby floor.  Check the website also for other information such as coming exhibitions, films, and talks at Asia Society Info.

I am not very interested in manuscripts and the hand-drawn illuminations therein -- I recognize that this is a true art form but it is just not my taste.  However, the current exhibit of the 15th century manuscript called "A Prince's Manuscript Unbound: Muhammad Juki's Shahnamah" surprisingly piqued my interest.  This U.S. premiere of one of the finest surviving Persian manuscripts of all time includes over 30 gilded miniature paintings illustrating Persia's most famous folk tales and "super heroes."  There is kidnapping, rescue, battles, demons and more--all graphically shown, some in gruesome detail.  I tried the cell phone audio tour, which added some color, but I thought you could get more at your preferred pace by just reading the accompanying descriptions.

The other main exhibit is a portion of the museum's permanent ceramics collection, donated by John D. Rockefeller III (see example above).  The ceramics currently displayed are from China and include some of the finest imperial ware (versus commercial ware or export ware).  Here, the guided tour was really helpful.  Our guide really knew her stuff and shared her information graciously.  We went through the entire room and she pointed out the progression of ceramic advancements, how each emperor affected the ceramics of their time, and the beauty and details of each piece.  I don't think I would have appreciated this collection nearly as much if I had just walked through on my own.  This guided tour was fantastic.

There are also a few items on display on the lobby floor.  I particularly enjoyed a video of black and white hand-drawn animation.  Something about the little girl jumping and dancing around in her dreams was appealing.  Of course, the lobby also includes some more permanent, "serious" art like the Indian statue of Ganesha (see left), but even that piece has a little whimsy, don't you think?  There is something about the way six of the 10 hands are "dancing" that is joyful.

I really recommend a museum visit to anyone interested in Asian art.  You'll learn something (like I did about how art in the Middle East and China are related in style and by imperial blood) and hopefully like at least some of what you see.

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