Untitled (Legong, Djavan and Sadri), Arthur Fleischmann (Slovakian, 1896-1990), 1937-1939, Photograph. Collection of Andyan and Diane Ansberry Rahardja and Steven G. Alpert, Dallas, TX.
Terang Bulan: Art from Java and Bali
Saturday, May 25, 2013 - Sunday, June 23, 2013
Terang Bulan, or “Moonlight,” presents a selection of art from the Indonesian islands of Bali and Java. Brought together for a brief monthlong exhibition (on view for just one bulan, or moon), these objects help tell the story of the diverse arts that flourished in the kratons (royal courts) from the 18th through the 20th centuries. Batik textiles, sculpture, and paintings reveal the interconnected art forms that make up a visual symphony of aesthetic rhythms. These artworks as a group exemplify the confluence of historical and cultural influences brought together in Indonesia over many centuries, combining traditional Javanese and Balinese imagery with art from India, Southeast Asia, China, and Europe, including Hindu, Buddhist, Islamic, Christian, and animistic religious practices. The exhibition also features a rare set of photographs taken in Bali in the late 1930s by the Slovakian-born sculptor Arthur Fleischmann. These images are portraits of Balinese village life, from artistic studies to informal snapshots to documentation of classical legong dance and topeng mask drama, all interwoven elements of Balinese art and culture. From the private collection of Dallas philanthropists Steven G. Alpert and Andyan and Diane Ansberry Rahardja.
Yamantaka, (Gshin rje gshed), Remover of the Fear of Death
Sino-Tibetan culture, late 19th century
Copper alloy, gilded, and pigments
Crow Collection of Asian Art
Taking Shape: Fresh Perspectives on Asian Bronzes
Friday, April 12, 2013 - Sunday, September 01, 2013
This exhibition is presented in partnership with Mapping Cultures, a digital humanities seminar at Austin College. On display are pieces from the Crow Collection’s permanent collection that showcase the development of Bronze casting technologies across Asia. Sculptures range from small and intricately decorated Buddhist figures to a life-size Ming Dynasty Buddha sitting in peaceful contemplation.
In conjunction with the Crow Collection exhibition, Austin College students will be providing digital material to help with the investigation and understanding of Tibetan religion and culture, one of the sources of the bronze sculptures and devotional objects on view. For the first time, visitors to the Crow Collection can explore multimedia resources made available on iPads alongside works of art in the museum’s galleries.
Writing Box (suzuribako) with design of Ono no Komachi, Japan, circa 1800. Lacquer, gold, silver, carved purple glass, black lacquered metal, gold metal on wood, suzu (tin alloy)rims, The Jacqueline Avant Collection, Photograph Susan Einstein, Los Angeles.
Gold on Black, Japanese Lacquer from the Jacqueline Avant Collection
Saturday, March 02, 2013 - Sunday, September 15, 2013
The picture first appears as a spark flying from a dark surface. The glints begin to form intricate designs in colors of light: pink chrysanthemums, silver wrinkly skin, a golden kimono, a vivid touch of red on the lips of an elderly figure. Further away, in the upper right corner, appear misty summits of bronze, gold, and silver. A narrative begins to form from the darkness on a lid of an ink box.
This is one of among forty works from the elegant collection of Japanese lacquer assembled over more than a decade by Jaqueline Avant, a noted California collector of Japanese art. Selected by Hollis Goodall, Curator of Japanese Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the exhibition will be presented at the Crow Collection of Asian Art from March 2 to September 15, 2013.
Acquired by Mrs. Avant since the mid-1990s, this group of Japanese lacquers reveals the collector’s love for this art form so treasured through history by Japan’s elite. Many works on display originated from the dowries of feudal lord families, with family crests recording marriages of power and influence. Others were collected to delight wealthy merchants and reflect their personal tastes in dress and activities, from tea to smoking or composing poetry.
Recent finds suggest that lacquer has been employed in Japan as a protective film for at least 11,000 years. The lacquer is painstakingly harvested from twenty-year-old cultivated urushi trees; each tree is bled for its sap, producing less than a cup of liquid and giving up its life in the process of harvest. The lacquer is then filtered and applied in about thirty thin layers to a paulownia wood or lacquered hemp core. After each layer is polymerized in a humidor and then sanded, the upper layers are sprinkled with gold or silver powders and flecks to create designs. The final coat of clear lacquer is then ground down to reveal the metallic design. The care and skill required for application of both ground lacquer layers and design, and the rarity and expense of materials, meant that lacquer work was the most revered of family treasures in Japan, just as silver would have been in Europe or the Americas.
In her collecting, Mrs. Avant has often been drawn to lacquer works used by women and men for arts and entertainment, such as poetry writing, poetry matching games, enjoyment of food or smoking, ceremonial display, wear (mulberry leaf inro), or personal care, such as boxes for combs, mirrors, tooth blackening powder, or incense. Also on view are boxes to hold objects of religious devotion, such as Buddhist holy texts (sutras), and even weapons for self-defense, including a decorated baton or knife.
The curator opens the story of the woman on the ink box. She is Ono no Komachi, one of the Six Poetic Immortals identified by Ki no Tsurayuki in the 10th century. Ono no Komachi was a stunning beauty in her youth, who, after having rejected one more suitor, is condemned to live her life alone. The contrast of old Ono no Komachi silhouetted against the depth of the black lacquer reflects a state of loneliness and nostalgia. The natural elements of chrysanthemums and mountains remind us of the transient nature of all things (mono no aware). One poem by Ono no Komachi provides the theme of this box:
This abandoned house
Shining in the mountain village
How many nights
Has autumn spent there?
Seeing the moonlight
Spilling down through the trees,
My heart fills to the brim with autumn.
—Ono no Komachi poem
(translation by Jane Hirshfield and Mariko Aratami)
Disciples of the Buddha
Myanmar (Burma), Mandalay period, 19th century
Wood with red lacquer and gilt
Photo Courtesy of the Crow Collection of Asian Art
Peninsulas and Dragon Tails: Southeast Asian Art from the Crow Collection
Friday, November 30, 2012 - Friday, February 14, 2014
The Crow Collection of Asian Art is home to a small but engaging group of objects from places that are somewhat obscured by the collective term “Southeast Asia.” The name came into use at the end of World War II to describe a part of the world that had for several generations appeared on Western maps variously as Tonkin, French Indo-China (later North Vietnam and South Vietnam), Dutch East Indies, and various other names and boundaries that have disappeared with the reemergence of independent states, many of which have chosen names to contrast with the colonial period. Burma is officially Myanmar (although Burma is making an internal comeback), Cambodia is Kampuchea, the former Sultanate of Brunei is Brunei Darussalam, Singapore is independent from Malaya, and Malaya is Malaysia. East Timor—which was a Portuguese and Catholic outpost on the island of Timor, claimed by the Dutch after centuries of trade monopoly, invaded by Japan, handed back to Portugal, and then ceded to Muslim Indonesia—is now independent, with claims to large underwater gas reserves in the maritime (always murky) region that separates it from Australia.
Southeast Asia is a part of the world where boundaries continue to change, and the segments of this complex history portrayed in Peninsulas and Dragon Tails suggest the potential for enriched understanding of the modern world through greater familiarity with the region’s past and current cultural geography.
Lacquered wood sculptures of young monks from the Mandalay period of Burmese history conjure the missing object of their devotion, the historical Buddha, who taught renunciation as a path to bliss, even while British colonials expelled the last king and queen, cooled themselves on sultry porches, and oversaw immense plantations of rubber trees on land where there had recently been only forest. A textile from 20th-century Bali reflects ancient associations between fortune, misfortune, time, and spirits, mixed with advice on preferred market days for various goods, local cults, and Hinduism as imported with people arriving from Java. The Crow Collection’s 7th-century sandstone sculpture of four-armed Vishnu, a rare example of early Khmer culture in Cambodia, takes its place alongside several later sculptures from the period of the Angkor sanctuaries. As always, the sculpture seems to occupy more space than its actual measurements would suggest.
The scope of this exhibition touches on only a few times and places within the rich and complex history of Southeast Asia and its diverse cultures—ethnically varied, speaking localized languages, writing with different scripts, wearing different clothes, practicing different faiths, honoring different social structures. The objects shown are grouped by the modern countries with which they are particularly identified—Thailand, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Indonesia. The exhibition includes maps with boundaries of the shifting cultural spheres that produced the objects on view. The importance of geography to culture in this region emerges: the Himalayan mountains of the Eurasian continent branch to the southeast in fingers of land and terminate in the islands of the “Pacific Ring of Fire,” where the earth’s mantle shakes, and the land, rivers, and seas mete out judgments that are repeatedly honored.
Vajradhara in Honored Father—Honored Mother (The nion of Wisdom and Compassion). (Detail). Sino-Tibetan culture, circa early 19th century. Coppor alloy, gilded, red and black and other colored laquer. from the collection of Trammell S. Crow, L2011.64.
Noble Change: Tantric Art of the High Himalaya
Saturday, March 31, 2012 - Sunday, January 05, 2014
This exhibition of sculptures and textiles is the first presentation drawn from a collection of tantric art recently acquired by Trammell S. Crow. It inaugurates a series of presentations and programs that will unfold over the coming years, exploring the rich tradition of tantric art made in the Himalayan regions to serve the practices that developed there as Vajrayana Buddhism (in Sanskrit Vajra means “indestructible” and yana means “vehicle” or “path”).
The time is ripe. We are two centuries removed from the early Western fascination with or total rejection of tantra as titillating erotica or stultifying ritual, and more than fifty years removed from the crescendo of the hippie exploitation of tantra to pursue sexual pleasure and free-wheeling states of consciousness, like those offered by mind-altering drugs. In our time, we have a highly visible example of Vajrayana Buddhism in action in Tibet’s spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who is accomplished in the most advanced and subtle practices of tantric Buddhism. Followers consider him to be warm, precise, unshakable, generous, courageous, and firmly grounded in reality—its suffering and its nobility. He offers an invitation to come down to earth.
Tantric practices were first designated as distinct from those of other paths by extensive use of mantra. Vajrayana was sometimes labeled Mantrayana. Mantra (Sanskrit for “protection”) is the repeated vocalization of designated sounds in order to protect the mind from its ordinary ego-serving pathways and dedicate awareness to its original nature.
Tantric practices, unlike other Buddhist vehicles, explicitly use the body as the path. Visualization makes use of the power of sight to bring the outside in and the inside out, to dissolve the boundary of our body. Breath control, gestures (mudras), and positions of the body (yogic asanas) are tools to stimulate and direct the flow of energy, along with extensive ritual performances ordering and purifying space and summoning and dispelling energies. On images such as those seen here, as well as in paintings, drawings, and ritual tools, instructions for practice are mapped by a holder of knowledge. Each part of the image is a reminder of practice; art and ritual are memory palaces of teachings.
The effects of these practices are currently of great interest to neuroscientists who are investigating how we make our conscious world. Tantric practice observably changes patterns and places of activity in our brain, laying down new neural networks and reviving discarded pathways. They work with organs and channels in the body that control temperature, mood, circulation, growth, decay, and energy—all of great interest to modern science. And to those who realize the fruits of these practices, they expose a plenum of what is, free from delusions of ego-bound strivings, devoid of binding categories of self-reinforcing thought—vivid beyond our dreams and infinite in compassionate possibilities. This reality is held to be already here, inherent in all existence—its Buddha-nature—and available if we awaken to it.
The art you will see in this exhibition was made to support Tantric practice. It is not art made for art’s sake. Nor are the figures representations of deities with any independent existence. They are empty forms. Some are peaceful, some semi-ferocious, and some fierce. All are compassionate.