Thursday, November 26, 2009


My first purpose in visiting San Francisco's Asian Art Museum on Wednesday afternoon was to see the new show (running until Jan 10, 2010) Emerald Cities : Arts of Siam & Burma. It consists largely of textiles, statues, furniture and paintings from the collection of Doris Duke, donated to the Museum only a few years ago by the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation and never displayed before. I could not take pictures inside that exhibition, of course, but good images are available through the Emerald Cities link above. Gigantic leather shadow puppets stand out in my memory, mirror-encrusted seating pieces with cushions of an amazingly intense green silk, smiling winged divinities presiding from pedestals, a flamboyantly scalloped court costume once worn by an actual royal but ultimately the property of an anonymous actor (after the British overlords wiped out the monarchy in 1885). There was a kind of double melancholy in contemplating all this booty, lost successively by the aristocracy that brought it into being and by poor Miss Duke at her demise in 1993 ("the richest girl in the world" as she used to be called, notoriously adventurous and notoriously unhappy).

I could not leave without also taking in my favorite part of the museum, the marble-vaulted arcade on the second floor where architect Gae Aulenti contrived floods of natural light for the ceramics in their cleverly inconspicuous plexiglas cases. There, photography is permitted, and I did the best I could, working around reflections.