Thursday, August 21, 2008


Got hold of the library copy of this catalog today describing the special show now on view at the San Francisco Asian Art Museum.

There are blockbuster shows this summer at all the big museums in town (the Modern, the Legion and the deYoung). This is the only one of those blockbuster shows that is seldom crowded. Not a tourist magnet, but the Ming show is the one that best rewards repeat visits, gradually revealing both its harmonies and its inner contradictions.

Much of what is there to be pondered behind Plexiglas is tomb treasure (or tomb plunder) that has never left China before. Visiting us, here and now, these same long-buried aristocratic antiquities become political gestures. Actually, they always must have expressed these same two strands of opposed meanings even when they were created  1) the unworldly idealistic aesthetic strand, where the object exists to give pleasure  and, 2) the cold, pragmatic strand, where the object exists to represent the raw hierarchical power of the State.