Reframing the question What is Asian art? in Seattle

Boundless: Stories of Asian Art brings together works from China, Japan and South Asia, and incorporates Islamic art for the first time © Ripple Fang and courtesy of the Seattle Asian Art Museum

After a two-year, $56m renovation and expansion, the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens on 8 February in its 1933 Art Deco building, now better integrated with the surrounding park and wider communities. The physical changes have been an opportunity for the museums leadership to rehang its prized collection and launch a new Asian Paintings Conservation Center that will serve the region—all with a collaborative approach.

“For a long time, the museum didnt have much of a relationship with a broad Asian American community in Seattle, and were trying to foster a more meaningful connection,” says Chiyo Ishikawa, the deputy director for art at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM).

SAM was founded in 1933 by the Asian art collector Richard Fuller in Seattles Volunteer Park. After the museum moved downtown in 1993, it created a satellite institution dedicated to its Asian collection at its original home. This landmark building, owned by the city, had been long overdue for climate control and seismic upgrades to help it withstand earthquakes. Its sandstone facade had also been sealed off from the Olmsted-designed park, so the Seattle firm LMN Architects has punched through the back with a modest glass-walled addition, creating almost 3,000 sq. ft of new gallery space for special exhibitions and views of the park.

“It allowed us also to start over with a fresh idea of how we wanted to install the collection,” Ishikawa says. This was informed by input from a group selected from the Asian Pacific Islander community, from which the Asian Art Museum had previously only solicited advice on special exhibitions. The museums curatorial staff has now developed a much more thematic presentation of its collection across time and geography titled Boundless: Stories of Asian Art, mixing works from China, Japan and South Asia and incorporating Islamic art for the first time.

“The larger questions were asking for this reopening are, Where is Asia? What is Asia?” says Xiaojin Wu, curator of Japanese and Korean art at the museum. “Were showing how the borders are fluid throughout history.” The 12 collection galleries, flanking the central courtyard, are divided between the material and the spiritual, with specific ideas explored in each, such as spiritual journeys, celebrations and festivals, clothing and identity.

In feedback from the advisory group on how to present imperial art, the museum heard, “This is so elitist—what does this have to do with our lives?” Ishikawa recounts. She says it helped the curators reframe the gallery around the question, “Why is this precious?” rather than focus just on opulence. They added other objects, including an austere bowl prized by tea masters, to tease out the value of art in terms beyond the purely monetary. “It was interesting for us to share the process with the community before we had committed ourselves to the final checklist,” she says.

Where possible, the curators have injected contemporary art into the permanent collection galleries to underscore current issues. TRead More – Source