Sunday, January 22, 2012
the collecting gene...
As I was strolling through the Asian Art museum's wonderful exhibit of Korean Buncheong ceramics a couple of saturdays ago- dragged my kids too- who actually really liked it..I was reminded of how much I enjoy the simple Asian aesthetic that looms large in traditional and contemporary ceramics-
I have now seen a few exhibits of contemporary Korean and Japanese ceramacists who incorporate ancient tradition and technique but come up with distinctly modern interpretations.
On our way to the Korean exhibit, we passed through the Japanese section of the museum. For those who are not familiar with it- the Asian Art museum in San Francisco is housed in the old main public library. An extensive renovation took place- but you can't help but feel the history of book vaulting that lurks here as well as the hushed vibe all around-
We were all drawn to the netsuke pieces- the miniature sculptures that emerged as great vehicles for extreme folk art craftsmanship from the 17th century on in Japan--- as well as the screens that were hung all around. I felt instantly transported to my grandparents apartment on West 86th st in Manhattan. My grandfather spent a lot of time in Japan- living there half the year after he fell in love with the culture and the country following a stint as a war crimes attorney after world war II. He even owned a restaurant there and chose to immerse himself in the art and the aesthetic of Japan. Their apartment in NYC was chock full of Japanese art and each closet- and they lived in one of those huge old rambling upper west side apartments that you see in Woody Allen movies--was stuffed with tiny cardboard and wooden boxes, each containing a treasure from Japan. Some were quite valuable- netsukes along side cheap tourist fabrications. But they were all fascinating and you could tell that he had an almost impulsive need to collect. Perhaps as a way of remembering where he was- memento, curio--investment if it became more valuable later--and to surround himself with the culture he loved but could not live in all the time.
Every time we would go over to their house, he would let me and my 3 sisters pick one thing to take home. I delighted in it all- I was an aspiring collector after all and was in the home of the master. I recently came across some of these treasures--bronze figurines, tiny ivory carved bottles and my favorite- a small metal bottle with a finely crocheted silk tassle holding 2 miniature ivory dice pieces--
I was not particularly close to my grandfather as he could be somewhat ornery in his later years - but as we all do, in looking back at what elements in our past may have influenced us- I look to his ardent collecting and appreciation for both the high and low art that can represent a culture and offer up interesting iconography- as a supreme influence on my need to collect and transfer what I see to clay.