Sky Blue

Star tile; Iran, probably Takht-i Sulayman, Il-Khanid period, 1270s; stone-paste painted under and over turquoise (copper-tinted) glaze, with gold leaf; Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, S1997.114

Star tile; Iran, probably Takht-i Sulayman, Il-Khanid period, 1270s; stone-paste painted under and over turquoise (copper-tinted) glaze, with gold leaf; Gift of Osborne and Gratia Hauge, S1997.114

Shades of turquoise and deep blue sing out on ceramics made in the Islamic world. Generations of potters throughout the region have shared the distinctive mineral colors of cobalt blue and copper green, using them as pigments to write and paint on clay or as colorants to saturate glazes. The vessels on view in Sky Blue: Color in Ceramics of the Islamic World, opening tomorrow, were created in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Uzbekistan, and span the ninth through the nineteenth century.

Over the centuries, potters have perfected a complex process to incorporate these colorants into their glazes. In Iran, for example, potters ground quartz pebbles into a fine powder to provide the silica (the “glass”) needed in traditional glaze-making practices. The ash of burned plants was a source of alkali fluxes that helped the silica melt. Silica and ash were usually combined and heated to produce a glass that was then shattered and ground into frit. This was mixed with water and other ingredients to make a glaze. Cobalt or copper oxide was added for color.

Dish; Iran, possibly Tabriz; Safavid period, 17th century; stone-paste painted with black pigment under turquoise (copper-tinted) glaze; Bequest of Adrienne Minassian, S1998.221

Dish; Iran, possibly Tabriz; Safavid period, 17th century; stone-paste painted with black pigment under turquoise (copper-tinted) glaze; Bequest of Adrienne Minassian, S1998.221

Typically ceramic vessels were first fired without glaze to harden the body. They were then coated with glaze and fired again at a temperature high enough to melt the frit mixture into a smooth, translucent surface. Lead and tin oxides were added if an opaque glaze was desired. Sometimes vessels were fired several times, depending on the complexity of the decoration.

The cheerful, eye-catching shades of blue and green belie the effort required to bring them forth. Abdul Matin Malekzadah, a potter from Afghanistan whose work is on view in the exhibition Turquoise Mountain, describes the blue-green glaze of his bowls as “the color of peace, the color of competence.”

See more of these blue-green bowls in "Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan."

See more of these blue-green bowls in “Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan.”

Q&A: The Silk Road Society

Silk Road Society reception. Photo by Albert Ting.

Silk Road Society reception. Photo by Albert Ting.

The Silk Road Society is the Freer|Sackler’s young professionals membership group. Our members are united by their passion for the wonders of Asian art, as well as a curiosity to explore the Washington, DC, area and meet fellow Asian art lovers. We gather together at least once a month for exclusive events including curator-led tours, previews of special exhibitions, artist studio visits, receptions, embassy tours, and visits to contemporary galleries. A year’s membership costs $150 and can be shared by two members, or a single member can use it to bring one guest to all non-ticketed events.

Earlier this year, Silk Road Society Advisory Board member Albert Ting spoke with A Creative DC about his experience as an SRS member. We’ve excerpted the interview below. Read his thoughts and see his fantastic photos for a sense of what it means to be in the Silk Road Society.

What’s the vision behind the Silk Road Society, and what led you to join? The goal is to gather a group of smart, well-cultured creatives who are interested in exploring classical and contemporary art of Asia and the Middle East, as well as the cultures of the regions the galleries represent. A friend of mine who is a gallery gal invited me to a Silk Road Society event about four years ago, and I was hooked! After living and working in Japan for a brief 2 year stint between 2007 and 2009, I had amassed quite a collection of Japanese ukiyo-e (woodblock print) artwork as well as some antiques that I found during my weekly jaunts through antique shops and festivals held outside shrines and temples throughout Kyoto. Silk Road was my gateway to the Smithsonian’s collection of Japanese art, which I personally find fascinating.

Silk Road Society reception for "Sōtatsu: Making Waves"

Silk Road Society reception for “Sōtatsu: Making Waves”

What’s been the most fulfilling aspect of membership? People attend Silk Road Society events for different reasons. Some people enjoy the social aspect of networking and sharing wine in a gallery setting; other people love the chance to meet face-to-face with artists and curators. For me, as an Advisory Board Member, I find my involvement as a small way to support the art world while having fun discovering new art with a group of friends I have a lot in common with – people who have the desire to learn and see different perspectives of the world, without even having to leave DC!

This past year, we attended exclusive curator-led tours at the Freer|Sackler and at local DC galleries. We went to the Textile Museum and discovered Qing Dynasty China through the lens of John Thomson, and in January, we saw masterpieces of Japanese art in the Freer | Sackler exhibit Sōtatsu: Making Waves. We also participated in cultural events at local embassies around town, including a private tour of the Embassy of Uzbekistan and the Ippakutei Japanese tea house at the Embassy of Japan. The Silk Road Society also sponsors gallery and studio talks in support of local emerging artists, like performance artist and photographer Naoko WowsugiHedieh Ilchi, whose work explores her cultural identity as an Iranian-American immigrant; Linling Lu, whose colorful and large circle paintings have been seen at City Center DC and Hemphill Fine Arts gallery; and Nara Park, a Hamiltonian Gallery fellow and sculptor.

Silk Road Society visit to "Shirin Neshat: Facing History"

Silk Road Society visit to “Shirin Neshat: Facing History”

You just came back from the Society’s Asia Week in New York. What exhibits did you all check out? Asia Week is definitely the highlight of my SRS experience each year! [In March,] a group of Silk Road Society members headed to New York for an exciting array of weekend programs (it was sold-out!). We toured the new Met Breuer (housed in the former location of the Whitney Museum) before it opened to the public, we explored contemporary Japanese art at the Onishi Gallery and the Joan Mirviss Gallery, we viewed lacquerware at the Erik Thomsen Gallery, and we had a private viewing of ancient Chinese treasures at the Gagosian Gallery. A Friend of the Smithsonian graciously hosted a lunch for us at the University Club, and our evening was topped off with a private tour (with an open bar, haha) at Sotheby’s.

Tour of the Japanese Embassy Tea House

Tour of the Japanese Embassy Tea House

 

Most Instagrammable part of the Freer|Sackler?
That’s a good question. The Freer is closed for renovation through 2017, but the Sackler is still open and has lots of lovely spaces. At the Sackler, I would say it’s the suspended sculpture called “Monkeys Grasp for the Moon,” which follows the museumgoer as they walk down the steps to the inner sanctum. The work is made up of wood pieces, each representing the word “monkey” in a different language, each piece linked to one another forming a chain that reaches all the way to the bottom of the museum.

Interview conducted by Savannah Harris
All photos by Albert Ting | @pootie_ting

Heart “Happiness” to Win!

Meet Kara Wai and Carlos Chan at the world premiere of "Happiness" on Friday, July 15.

Meet Kara Wai and Carlos Chan at the world premiere of “Happiness” on Friday, July 15.

Tomorrow, happiness is just a Facebook comment away. To celebrate the kickoff of our twenty-first Made in Hong Kong Film Festival, we’re giving away reserved seats to Happiness tomorrow night—and a meet-and-greet with its two stars, Kara Wai and Carlos Chan. To win, be among the first five people to comment “I heart Happiness!” on our Facebook post about the giveaway, which we’ll share at noon on Thursday, July 14. Then, get ready to spend Friday night at the National Museum of American History with a legend of Hong Kong film.

 

Review the full contest rules:

  1. Entrants must be natural persons, current US residents, and 18 years of age or older, except that entrants may not be a regent, officer, employee, fellow, intern, research associate, or volunteer of the Smithsonian Institution or a member of any of the foregoing’s immediate family or household.
  1. To win, be among the first five people on Facebook to comment “I heart Happiness” on a post about the contest, to be shared at 12 pm on Thursday, July 14, 2016. The contest is associated with the first film in the Freer|Sackler’s Twenty-First Annual Made in Hong Kong Film Festival.
  1. One entry per person. Multiple entries are void.
  1. The Smithsonian will award the same prize to five people. The winner and one guest together will receive a meet-and-greet with actors Kara Wai and Carlos Chan on July 15, 2016, at 6:15 pm, as well as two reserved seats at the film Happiness at 7 pm that evening (all times Eastern). Both events are held at the Warner Brothers Theater in the National Museum of American History at 14th St and Constitution Ave NW, Washington, DC 20001. Winners are responsible for any costs, including their travel to the prize events, associated with acceptance and usage of the prize.
  1. Smithsonian will notify winners via Facebook. Failure to respond within 24 hours means the winner forfeits the prize. Winners may be required to execute an affidavit of eligibility, publicity and liability release. Winners may not request prize substitution.
  1. The Smithsonian will announce the winners by name on Facebook.
  1. All entrants hold the Smithsonian, its regents, officers, employees, fellows, interns, research associates, and volunteers, as well as Facebook, harmless from and against all claims of any nature arising in connection with entrant’s participation in the contest, acceptance or use of prize. The Smithsonian and its regents, officers, employees, fellows, interns, research associates, and volunteers are not liable for any costs, damages, injuries, or other claims incurred as a result of entrants’ participation in the contest or winner’s acceptance and usage of the prize.
  1. The Smithsonian is not responsible for incomplete or misdirected entries, technical or network malfunctions or failures, or causes beyond its control. The Smithsonian reserves the right to disqualify any entrant whose entry or conduct appears in any way to: inhibit the enjoyment of others; tamper with the competition; violate these Rules; infringe on the rights of third parties; or act in an unsportsmanlike or disruptive manner. The Smithsonian reserves the right to cancel the contest or modify these rules at any time for any reason at its discretion. In the event of a dispute regarding the winners, the Smithsonian reserves the right to award or not award the prizes in its sole discretion. By entering this contest, entrants agree to be bound by these Rules and the decisions of the Smithsonian, which are final and binding in all respects. No purchase necessary to enter or win. Contest void where prohibited. Winner is responsible for all taxes on the prize, if any.
  1. This contest is in no way sponsored, endorsed, or administered by, or associated with Facebook, and entrants cannot hold Facebook responsible in any way.

Kicking off Made in Hong Kong

"My Young Auntie" screens Sunday, July 17, at 2 pm.

“My Young Auntie” screens Sunday, July 17, at 2 pm.

The Made in Hong Kong Film Festival is the Freer|Sackler’s longest-running annual event. This year, we are kicking off in unprecedented fashion with the world premiere of the film Happiness on July 15. Not only that, its stars Carlos Chan and Kara Wai will be on hand to celebrate, join an audience Q&A, and sign autographs. Hong Kong-heads will know Wai from her days as a butt-kicking martial arts heroine in many wonderful Shaw Brothers films. She will also join us on July 17 at a screening of one of her most famous films, My Young Auntie, for which she won her first Hong Kong Film Award.

Opening weekend is just the beginning, however. The last year has been an exciting one for Hong Kong cinema. Stephen Chow’s latest outrageous comedy The Mermaid broke box office records, the low-budget dystopian sci-fi omnibus Ten Years rose shackles on the mainland while resonating with Hong Kongers, and eminence grise Johnnie To finally released his very first musical, Office. All this and more awaits you at the National Museum of American History’s state of the art Warner Brothers Theater, where our festival will screen this summer.

The Man behind the “Mania”

A Theory of Everything: Dark Stupa; Walter McConnell (b. 1956) 2014 and 2004–16; cast porcelain from salvaged hobby industrial molds, zinc crystalline glaze, sand, and plywood shelving; courtesy the artist and Cross MacKenzie Gallery, Washington, DC

Detail, A Theory of Everything: Dark Stupa; Walter McConnell (b. 1956); 2014; cast porcelain from salvaged hobby industrial molds, zinc crystalline glaze, sand, and plywood shelving; courtesy the artist and Cross MacKenzie Gallery, Washington, DC

Owls, skulls, demure shepherdesses and bucking broncos: all of these figures and dozens more coexist in Walter McConnell’s monumental porcelain sculptures. These “stupas,” as he describes them, are part of Chinamania, an installation named for the craze for Chinese blue-and-white porcelain that swept London in the 1870s and still exists in the West. Coated in glistening crystalline glazes, the stupas are juxtaposed with Kangxi period (1662–1722) ceramics from our collection—as well as a piece made up of 3D-printed replicas of these historical objects. While installing the exhibition, which opens July 9, McConnell sat down with Bento to talk about his work.

Bento: Tell me about your travels to China. Why did you go?

Walter McConnell: As a ceramic artist, I was really interested in experiencing ceramic production in China. In the States, I had been working with this collection of recycled hobby industry molds, weird figurines, kitsch ceramic bric-a-brac, and the like. I had an invitation to participate in an international workshop held in a figurine manufactory in China, so I was curious to see what confluences there might be in terms of outputs from these different cultural milieus. Though the manufactory I worked in was mostly producing high-end items, they were also very good at producing kitsch novelties, like statuettes of Bruce Lee in various karate poses.

On that same trip, I had the opportunity to visit Jingdezhen, the source of the blue-and-white porcelains I rearranged for the Chinamania show. . . . I remember being enamored with the dizzying array of ceramic products on display in Jingdezhen market stalls, one after the other after the other—literally stacks of pots, enormous porcelain vessels, and figurines. So in China, I constructed an early version of my “stupa” sculptures by shopping the markets of Jingdezhen for seconds and castoff pieces. I built a piece called Pagoda—a tall, cylindrical stack of market ceramics, figurines, teapots, roof tile, etc. . . . with a waxed paper parasol on top, a motif often represented on the finial of architectural stupas as well.

Bento: Why do you refer to your works as stupas?

WM: The stepped pyramid architecture allowed for an arrangement of ceramic objects that is presentational: you can see them all at once as you circulate around the work. And then, of course, the structure bore a strong resemblance to the stupa and other Asian temple architecture. Furthering the analogy, they’re also, in a sense, reliquaries, housing cultural remains of North American popular ceramics.

An example of a stupa from our collections. This cloisonne stupa was made during the reign of China's Qianlong emperor (r. 1735–96).

An example of a stupa from our collections. This cloisonne stupa was made during the reign of China’s Qianlong emperor (r. 1735–96).

My interest really is in the way that these objects are evidence of a kind of collective consciousness, an encyclopedic display of a slice of popular culture at a particular moment in time. These things don’t have an explicit function; they’re objects of a momentary caprice, perhaps, a particular passion—[someone deciding] “I need this thing” to fit my home décor, my curio cabinet. So you find things in the mix that are readily familiar or completely arcane, objects that have gone in and out of fashion.

Take an inventory: There are vessels of all kinds, beer steins, adorable animals, neoclassical motifs, collectables, commemoratives, Americana, all markers of cultural heritage and class structure. There’s the pastoral, the shepherdess, garden ornaments, antiquities . . . All facsimiles, of course—relatively cheap, slip cast replicas. Ceramic has always been a medium for translating the aristocratic into the democratic, accessible, cheap, ubiquitous.

Bento: Do you collect anything?

WM: I don’t, at least nothing obsessive that we live with. Perhaps, intermittently, Fiestaware and pottery—but generally I’ve saved the compulsion for my artwork. The obsessive/maniacal part of this is in the accumulation, surely, but also in the arrangement. I think I’m a little obsessive compulsive about how these things get placed and displayed. But that’s what’s required, right? The meticulous arrangement really compels the audience to sit up and take notice. Otherwise, the objects are simply dismissible novelties. Coat them with a fabulously flamboyant glaze with blooms of crystalline zinc and accretions of sand and you get this sense of geologic strata, which allows the stupa and its collected relics to feel connected to nature in some way.

Detail, A Theory of Everything: White Stupa; Walter McConnell (b. 1956); 2014 and 2004–16; cast porcelain from salvaged hobby industrial molds, zinc crystalline glaze, sand, and plywood shelving; courtesy the artist and Cross MacKenzie Gallery, Washington, DC

Detail, A Theory of Everything: White Stupa; Walter McConnell (b. 1956); 2014 and 2004–16; cast porcelain from salvaged hobby industrial molds, zinc crystalline glaze, sand, and plywood shelving; courtesy the artist and Cross MacKenzie Gallery, Washington, DC

BentoChinamania complements Peacock Room REMIX, a contemporary take on Whistler’s masterpiece. How does your work relate to the Peacock Room?

WM: In one sense, they both say something about the psychology of the collector and collections, the need for systems and order. I’ve always been enamored with the aesthetic of abundance and ostentatious display in porcelain rooms that predate the Peacock Room. I’ve researched the history of porcelain manufacture and its migration and reinvention in the West—the aristocratic nature of the medium, the maniacal passion for collecting. In the eighteenth century, Augustus the Strong, Elector of Saxony, imprisoned Johann Friedrich Böttger to make lead into gold, and instead reinvented porcelain in the West. Augustus famously traded a regiment of soldiers for a collection of porcelain vases, a well-known early narrative of a kind of Chinamania.

Bento: How do your 3D printouts play into the installation?

WM: The connection between the stupas, the Kangxi porcelains, and the 3D prototypes is an interesting one. I was entertaining a number of things that I could do with your collection, yet I was somewhat stymied by prohibitions on actually handling the originals. I’d been doing some scanning and prototyping in another body of work, so I proposed to scan and prototype the blue-and-white collection. Now I can touch them; I can possess a complete set of these extraordinarily detailed facsimiles (but of course, not the originals). The digital clones are democratic, more accessible. That was the motivation, to bring about a question of how objects circulate like this in culture high and low.

I imagined the original Chinese porcelains displayed in a glowing case inset in a dark wall, floating as if an apparition, less tangible than their miniature clones. Those are now in the room at 40 percent of the original size, set in their souvenir boxed set, replicating with some precision the objects at a distance on the wall. So now the boxed set almost seems more accessible than the things that are illuminated in the case. You have more access to it. I was hoping to affect an oscillation between those states.

Chinese porcelains from our collection, produced in the Jingdezhen region of China during the Kangxi reign (1662–1722)

Chinese porcelains from our collection, produced in the Jingdezhen region of China during the Kangxi reign (1662–1722), and their miniature, 3D-printed counterparts.

Bento: What do you hope visitors take away from your installation?

WM: I think the “Stupas” have a lot of different entry points. You walk around them, you find something that catches your eye, evokes a memory, creates an entertaining, improbable narrative, provoking your delight or disdain. They do seem to compel circumambulation by the audience—again, an analogy to the Buddhist model. That kind of active engagement with memory, I suppose, becomes part of what they are.

I think you have to be astonished by their scale, the sheen, the meticulous stacking and improbable structure. Otherwise, they don’t work. The objects are perhaps overly familiar; you can find these things anywhere, an apartment window, your neighbor’s lawn. It’s aesthetic astonishment with the cumulative effect that rouses empathy for the collective consciousness on display here. I hope the work is capable of that.

Forever Kiarostami

Untitled; Abbas Kiarostami (1940–2016); Iran, 1998; color print; anonymous gift in memory of Philip L. Ravenhill, S1999.125

Untitled; Abbas Kiarostami (1940–2016); Iran, 1998; color print; anonymous gift in memory of Philip L. Ravenhill, S1999.125

Even in a year that seems to have taken a disproportionate number of world-changing artists from us, the news of Abbas Kiarostami’s death still hit me especially hard. I still remember how profoundly changed I was by seeing Through the Olive Trees (1994) in film school in the ‘90s. The film contained humor, compassion, tragedy, and a painter’s eye for the awe-inspiring power of nature. Yet it managed to blur—in a sophisticated, almost avant-garde way—the border between truth and fiction.

Since then, I’ve had the pleasure of both experiencing and presenting Kiarostami’s work many times. His 2001 traveling retrospective came to both the Freer|Sackler and LACMA, where I was working at the time. In addition to showing his films over the years, the Freer|Sackler also owns two of his photographs. And we exhibited his video installations The Ta’yieh (2003) in 2010 and Five: Dedicated to Ozu (2003) just last year.

Stills from "Five Dedicated to Ozu" (2003, 74 minutes) by celebrated director Abbas Kiarostami.

Stills from “Five Dedicated to Ozu” (2003, 74 minutes) by celebrated director Abbas Kiarostami.

In the Guardian’s posthumous tribute, Kiarostami’s fellow Iranian filmmaker Asghar Farhadi described him “a modern mystic.” Among critics and scholars, Kiarostami is rightly praised a modernist formal innovator, beginning with his groundbreaking masterpiece (the first of many) Close-up (1990), which blended truth and lies, real life and fiction in ways that had never been attempted on film. It was this modernist innovator side of his work that inspired Jean-Luc Godard’s famous quote that “film begins with DW Griffith and ends with Abbas Kiarostami.”

But what makes Kiarostami’s formal innovations so compelling is that they always derive from deeper philosophical, even spiritual concerns. They are not empty exercises in form for form’s sake. Even when he temporarily stepped away from feature filmmaking at the height of his fame in the early 2000s to concentrate on photography and experimental video work, his formal experiments still sprung from that mystical impulse Farhadi mentioned. His many photographs of trees in snow, studies in minimalist visual composition, also evoke the life lying dormant in the bare trunks and branches.

Untitled; Abbas Kiarostami (1940–2016); Iran, 1997; color print; anonymous gift in memory of Philip L. Ravenhill, S1999.124

Untitled; Abbas Kiarostami (1940–2016); Iran, 1997; color print; anonymous gift in memory of Philip L. Ravenhill, S1999.124

Kiarostami’s most rigorously pared-down film from this period, Shirin (2008), consists entirely of shots of actresses’ faces as they watch a play taking place offscreen. It would come across as a gimmick if it didn’t so unnervingly force the viewer to ponder how much each actress is performing for the camera and how much she is reacting with true emotion to the play. It emphasizes how permeable the line between self and performance truly is.

When artists die, one is always compelled to parse their work for their attitudes toward death. With Kiarostami, you don’t have to look far. Two of his most famous films, Taste of Cherry (1997) and The Wind Will Carry Us (1999), are explicitly about death. But they are not about being obsessed with or fearful of it. They are about what being in death’s presence teaches us about living. And for this, they are worth watching over and over again, because each viewing reveals something new.

In my early years on the festival circuit, Kiarostami was one of the people I was too in awe of to even approach. When I finally did get up the courage to talk to him, I found him to be, as Martin Scorsese put it in his tribute, “quiet, elegant, modest, articulate, and quite observant.” Though I hadn’t seen him in several years, just last month I had the pleasure of meeting some of his former students, recent graduates of an art school in Tehran where he taught, who stopped at the Freer|Sackler on a tour of the United States. In the passion and intellectual rigor with which they talked about their work, I saw the flame Kiarostami lit within them. May it burn on in them and in everyone who has been moved by his work, now that he is gone.

No Hungry Generations Tread Thee Down

Playing the Chinese qin. Photo courtesy of Bell Yung.

Playing the Chinese qin. Photo courtesy of Bell Yung.

Standing in front of the qin in the Freer|Sackler’s exhibition Painting with Words, I remembered the first time I saw one in my teacher’s house. I cannot recall the name of it, but the slim contour of its body stands vividly in my memory. Under the dim light in the living room, the metal markers shone in the most modest way. Seven strings emanated from the gum, then steadfastly went up along the surface, tied in seven delicate knots on the Mount Yue. My teacher played me “Flowing Water,” a song attributed to the ancient qin master Boya that is featured in the Painting with Words galleries. I remember he said, “It’s always the best piece to lure someone into the world of qin.”

Structure of the qin. Image courtesy of Beijing Musical Instrument Society.

Structure of the qin. Image courtesy of Beijing Musical Instrument Society.

Back then, I was thirteen. To the thirteen-year-old me, the qin was the bridge to the wonderland of ancient Chinese culture. The qin was essential to Chinese artists throughout history. Its significance during the Ming dynasty is clear in Painting with Words—several poets refer to the qin in their lines. Painters also often depicted men either playing or carrying the instrument.

As I started learning to play, I was deeply influenced by the cultural history the qin carries. There have been various schools of qin throughout history. The one I belong to is nowadays called Fanchuan 泛川, founded by Zhang Kongshan 張孔山 and fostered by Gu Meigeng 顧梅羹 in northeast China. My teacher liked to tell me the “inside stories” of the Fanchuan school as well as the history of each piece during our classes. Much of the background information on qin pieces is recorded in Qinxue beiyao 琴學備要, a collection of important qin music. Gu Meigeng hand wrote each character in Qinxue. Every time I open the book and read through the words, I am deeply moved by the master’s great dedication to the study of this enchanting musical instrument.

The book records many wonderful pieces that are representative of the Fanchuan school, including “Oulu wangji” 鷗鷺忘機 (Seabirds and No Ulterior Motives), “Pingsha luoyan” 平沙落雁 (Wild Geese on the Sandbank), “Yigure” 憶故人 (Thinking of An Old Friend), and “Zuiyu changwan” 醉漁唱晚 (Drunk Fisherman Singing at Dusk). Among them, “Flowing Water” 流水is the most essential. Fanchuan’s version of “Flowing Water” adds “seventy-two Gunfu 七十二滾拂” to the sixth section of the music. This change adds a sense of turbulence to the song, as if the flowing water has suddenly come to a dangerous valley and started to dance with its destiny. The contrast between this passion in the middle and the tranquility in the end is thus stronger, creating a more interesting narrative for the piece.

Following behind a robed gentleman, a serving boy carries a wrapped qin. "Walking by a Mountain Stream" is on view in "Painting with Words."

Following behind a robed gentleman, a serving boy carries a wrapped qin. “Walking by a Mountain Stream” is on view in “Painting with Words.”

Since NASA carried “Flowing Water” into space, I always like to imagine how an alien would encounter the song. I picture him walking along a riverbank, watching the beautiful sunset, wondering if there is another being who could enjoy this moment with him. Suddenly, among the thousand beats of water, he hears this music—just for one second, but it has indeed caught his attention. The music goes with the wave and becomes the wave. It achieves pure harmony.

Perhaps the alien in my imagination still does not have an affirmative answer to his question, but I do. Anyone who hears “Flowing Water” is not alone, because the piece transcends time and space. It is immortal, like the song of the nightingale in a poem by John Keats. The music you can hear in Painting with Words was heard “in ancient days by emperor and clown,” for “no hungry generations tread thee down.”

Artist at Work: Michael Joo

Over the past two weeks, artist Michael Joo has been in the galleries working on his latest installation. This Saturday, come in to see his silvered canvas and dynamic sculpture inspired by the rare Korean red-crowned crane.

Blooming Art

Flowers in the Sackler lobby

Flowers in the Sackler lobby

When I’m at the information desk, I’m often asked about the flower arrangements that greet visitors entering the museum. Since 1997, Smithsonian Horticulturalist Cheyenne Kim has arranged the flowers in the Sackler’s lobby. The vivid blooms are a continuing gift from Else Sackler, Arthur M. Sackler’s first wife.

Inspired by visitors’ frequent questions about the arrangements, I created this family activity for our in-person and online visitors. It’s designed to be a conversation between adults and children ages 4–8. Try it in the museum or at home with one of our many flower-filled artworks.

Pick one word to describe how the flowers make you feel.

What colors do you see?

Are the lines straight? Squiggly? Slanted? Curved?

Think about the smells. Are they sweet? Fresh? Spicy?

Draw your own arrangement. Choose flowers that have the colors, lines, and shapes that you want to see together!

Think about where you would want to display your flower creation.

Japanese Music for the Summer Solstice

Flowers and a brook; Japan, Edo period, 18th century; six-panel screens, color over gold on paper; Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1897.27–28

Click to zoom in! Flowers and a brook; Japan, Edo period, 18th century; six-panel screens, color over gold on paper; Gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1897.27–28

The seasons are frequent subjects of art, but the transitions between them can be difficult to capture. With spring formally becoming summer today, it’s an appropriate time to note the Japanese tradition of narrative paintings that portray seasonal shifts—and the work of a Japanese composer with a similar aim.

One of our Japanese screens from the Edo period (1615–1868), Flowers and a Brook, shows plants blooming in sequence along the shift from spring to summer (right to left). This technique is frequently employed in Japanese screen paintings to depict multiple seasons in a single image. In a musical parallel, Japanese composer Minoru Miki wrote his “Hanayagi” (The Greening) in 1976 as one movement in a larger work representing a year of changing seasons. According to the composer, this work for solo koto “sings in praise of the brilliant life-power of the seasons as they slowly shift from spring to early summer.”

You can listen to this gorgeous ten-minute piece on our concert podcast of koto virtuoso Reiko Kimura, recorded in the Meyer Auditorium in 1998, when she appeared here as part of the Music From Japan Festival (based in New York). Four years before this concert, Kimura joined the New York Philharmonic Orchestra for the premiere of Minoru Miki’s Symphony of Two Worlds at Lincoln Center. Skip to 39:38 and listen to the end to hear the sounds of seasonal change.