Tag Archives: Asian Art Museum

Grand Style Accessories Coming to The Asian Art Museum

20 Sep

Printing out the object list for the forthcoming Asian Art Museum’s smashing
next exhibit prompted an unexpected whimsical response. The exhibit, scheduled to open October 25, 2013 and close January 12,2014 is largely drawn from the Korean National Museum, with a few additional objects from other Korean Museums and Institutions. At the touring docent preview we were told the objects would number 110.

Wisely, the selections embrace the domestic life of the Joseon Dynasty as well as
seals, scroll painting of important figures and a number of memorial panoramas of state occasions, charming in their detail, staggering in what they represent in terms of numbers of participants, their elegant garments and the production of those elaborate state code vestments.

What caught my eye as I scrolled down past images of seals, umbrellas, document boxes, were some clearly feminine hair accessories, Even today, one can see a Korean woman, her luxuriant head of hair, an ornament cutting through her bun of hair with dagger- like resolution.

What makes them even more amazing to my eyes is the description with the statement “Important Folklore Material of Korea, National Palace Museum of Korea. Returned from the Tokyo National Museum in 1992.”

I counted eight such objects, adorned with jade, pearls, coral, silver plate.
Close to the end of the list were three accessory boxes, again with the
identification “Important Folklore Material of Korea, National Palace Museum of Korea. Returned from Tokyo National Museum in 1992.” The three are described as made of wood, silk, paper, gold and ivory. What the list does not say is just
when these feminine objects and containers left Korea for Japan, but one can easily speculate that some high level samurai in one of Hideyoshi Toyotomo’s two invasions purloined the objects taking them back to his wife or mistress, and perhaps in one of the three elegant boxes. Of course, the spoils might also have been the result of the Annexation of 1910; my fancy leans towards the former.

What enhances the connections for me is that Yanagi Soetsu was inspired by his
visit to Korea during the Japanese occupation to start what has become the Korean National Folk Museum, before returning to commence his collection of Japanese folk crafts comprising the Mingei Museum in Tokyo. Yanagi’s The Unknown Craftsman drew its initial inspiration from that trip to Korea.

Those hair ornaments fulfill most of Yanagi’s requirements for folk art which
include: made by hand; used by the general public; functional in daily life; characteristic of region where produced. The objects falter in two respects:
made by hand in quantity and inexpensive. Truly, who cares when embellishing
the head of a beautiful Korean woman.


R.I.P., Eva Michels

6 Aug

Eva Schonberg Michels died Saturday, August 3, 2013 of inoperable lung cancer, despite the usual radiation and chemotherapy. I do not know her exact age, but probably she was probably in her mid-seventies.

My friendship with Eva came about through dance. When my late, former husband was at sea, I took ballet class at the Academy of Ballet in the days when Guillermo del Oro was teaching Spanish dance and Carolyn Parks taught children. Eva was a student and soon became a member of Bay Area Ballet, if my memory for the organization’s name is correct. Del Oro renamed her Serrano because, as she said del Oro told her, “No dancer should be named Schonberg.” She also became Mrs. del Oro, if only briefly.

Physically, Eva was small, her face quite square, large expressive grey eyes,
a generous mouth and hair which she wore short as it greyed, a striking woman somewhere between pretty and distinctive, with a quick smile and laugh over irony and the absurd. satisfying to talk to, a pleasure to spend lunch and some
minutes with her in her home near Columbus Avenue.

My particular memory of Eva’s dancing were in two ballets, one by Marc Wilde, concerning contemporary youth and Eva was one of “the girls,” probably Wilde’s version of West Side Story. The other was called “The Cardinal’s Bracelet” and featured del Oro as the rapacious prelate, Eva as his mistress and Angene Feves as the young girl who becomes entangled with the red robed priest, is supplanted by Serrano, but cannot divest herself of the bracelet, i.e. she is somehow enslaved for the remainder of her life. All three were wonderfully dramatic and swept along the stage at the Marines Memorial Theater.

Eva taught for Alan Howard after he assumed direction of the Academy and may have danced in Pacific Ballet during its early history, but she left teaching ballet after a dispute with Howard over salary, going to work at what is now California Pacific. I lost touch with her for what was at least three decades, during which time she married again to Leon Michels, a physician she said still made house calls. She was widowed when we reconnected.

To backtrack, Eva was an only child, born in Berlin. With her mother, aunt and grandmother, she moved to Shanghai in 1939 to avoid Hitler’s roundup. The family spent the war years in Shanghai where Eva said “A Japanese soldier was posted at the end of each street, and you had to get a permit to go from one street to another.” She also remembered scouring movie magazines as a diversion. Jewish social agencies made it possible for the family of four women to emigrate to San Francisco at the end of World War II, and Eva ended her formal education at Lowell High School when it was still situated at Masonic and Hayes.

After she was widowed, Hanna Forester, who managed the Asian Art Museum’s slide collection for a number of years, persuaded her to volunteer for the Museum’s gift store when the Asian was still housed in Golden Gate Park. She was volunteering for Sudha Pennathur’s boutique during the Asian’s Tibet exhibit when we reconnected. It reopened a rich vein of memory.

After studying piano Eva stopped the practice to undertake sculpting in stone under the auspices of the City College of San Francisco’s studio facility at Fort Mason. She had already been attending for several years when we reconnected, and she continued until 2013’s spring semester, although she segued into ceramics when the stone sculpture class ceased with the teacher’s retirement. Her early stone pieces drew their forms from ballet, but gradually the figures were not just dancers, but interesting men and women, and she also ventured into the abstract. The stone sculptor teacher’s retirement spared Eva’s wrists and arms, which had taken punishment from working with the medium, but she had persisted because of the challenge and the pleasure she found with the results.

From her involvement in the art classes a Wednesday night pot luck dinner emerged, moving rather rapidly from weekly to alternate Wednesdays with anywhere from eight to ten individuals. Invited to join the group, I found it lively and an opportunity to prepare one of my favorite dishes or salads. The practice lasted about two years after I was included, terminating when Eva decided to remodel her kitchen, accomplishing it with her usual flair and elegance. Talk ranged from the qualities of stone purchased to class personalities, books and theater performances seen.

Next came New Year’s parties with a handsome spread, and for at least two years
catered by Stanley Eichelbaum, who became a tenant in her downstairs apartment. She laughed when she recounted how social Eichelbaum’s life had made her.

Eva loved shopping and was quite professional about it. Chasing a bargain was an art with her, particularly at Lohman’s where she was a regular, watching a particular garment discounted progressively until she felt it was sufficiently inexpensive to purchase. “It’s the challenge that I love of getting what I like for a bargain price.”

Eva also volunteered for a number of years for a shop on Sutter Street near Polk until the lease was lost and the shop activities ceased. To watch her wait on a customer during one of her volunteer hours was a lesson in subtle attention and salesmanship, for Eva had a way of engaging with a customer’s mood and interest. This volunteer salesmanship was as much a part of her routine as exercising at the Presidio YMCA or her Wednesday nights at San Francisco Ballet’s spring season. She frequently walked from shopping expeditions around Union Square and at Lohman’s home through the Stockton Street Tunnel and then along Columbus Avenue to climb the hill to her flat.

Interspersed there were trips to New York with a friend, a cruise to the
Mediterranean and last summer a riverboat cruise with her daughter-in-law.
She also supervised the remodeling of her flat’s two bathrooms.

In our last conversation, after she had her round of radiation, Eva laughed about purchasing wigs in anticipation of the chemo procedure. She mentioned her on and off days, gave me some specifics about the area of infection, but said she had been walking to North Beach and back, a round trip of perhaps twenty-four blocks.

We spoke of a lunch in a new place found before the diagnosis.The last week or two Eva crossed my mind and I reminded myself I would call when I had finished something or other. This morning Jocelyn Vollmar telephoned me with the news. Eva and I, alas, will not lunch together, that lovely, spirited, elegant woman.

Yuan Yuan Tan in Mufti

31 Aug

Coming out of the Asian Art Museum this afternoon following a docent briefing on the forthcoming calligraphy exhibit, I walked over to the shelter at the corner of Larkin and McAllister to wait for the northbound #19 Polk.  There in the shelter was a full-length image of Yuan Yuan Tan dressed in white shirt, narrow blue trousers and pale blue toe shoes, her right leg nearly at the six o’clock position encircled by her  right arm,  smiling nonchalantly in garments manufactured by THE GAP.  Being so close to the San Francisco Ballet headquarters, the ad made sense, doubly so with the cheek by jowl location to the Asian Art Museum, and an intriguing reinforcement to the forthcoming exhibit.  [More about that later.]

Looking at THE GAP Website, Tan appears at the bottom of  its main page,  recumbent this time if  repeating  her sense of ease.

It leads one to wonder whether THE GAP plans to utilize other San Francisco Ballet dancers.  It could do far worse.

Armitage Gone! Dance, The Novellus Theatre, May 19

21 May

S.F. Performances promoted Armitage Gone! Dance, its final dance presentation of the 2012 season, widely.  May 18 and 19 had its share of competition, Asian Heritage Day in front of the Asian Art Museum took up two blocks of Larkin and two of McAllister, forcing bus rerouting; a free event, it may have siphoned off the audience by the sheer size and number of its individual activities. San Francisco International Arts Festival was in its third and final weekend.

Novellus Theatre was nicely, if not totally, filled to capacity to witness the 2012 65 minute work for ten dancers  called Three Theories.  Labels indicated there were actually four divergent compositions in sections called Bang, Relativity, Quantum and  String.  Rhys Chatham’s  was an excerpt from Two Gongs;  Raga Jog; Vilambit Ektaa! employing violin and tabla [Sangeeta Shankar and Ramkumar Misra] ; an original score by Chatham and John Luther Adams’ Dark Waves.

Karole Armitage has attracted marvelous dancers, five having danced for her four or more seasons, one of them six, another nine, four Asian, one African-American. For an ensemble probably not permitting full seasons of performance or pay, it speaks well of this Balanchine-Cunningham exposed former dancer turned choreographer. Part of the longevity must be due to Armitage’s clear connection with these two major figures in twentieth century choreography. Each dancer was impressive if not mentioned specifically.

Armitage made no attempt to deny her  influences nor the use of classically trained dancers. Any one of them could dance up a storm in a professional ballet ensemble. It was frankly refreshing to see Armitage embrace classical technique with a highly sensual, athletic use of her dancers’ capabilities.  Six o’clock a la seconde abounded, frequently supported by an arm around the neck; splits supported, up ended, or stretched across the floor saw usage.  Random entries and exits recalled Cunningham; vertical lines upstage to down evoked Balanchine’s vocabulary.

Initially Armitage clothed the ten in the briefest of tights and bikinis, revealing well muscled bodies; beautiful pectorals in the men and lean torsos and legs in the women this side of  rib and spine showing, usual with dancers in ballet companies.

The Novellus stage was bare with the wings exposed; a light row at the back was low to the floor, sometimes raised; blackouts employed intermittently.  The body stretches at the shoulders were full, complete, torsos capable of undulation and reaches in all directions.  This was particularly true in the second section where the complex patterns of violin, tabla in a  raga
structure invited continuous filigrees of gesture extending the side or forward reach of the torso. This conveyed intimacy, improvisation, joy in the sensual thrust and coil of body and contact, reinforced by stroking of back, arm, thigh by Bennyroyce  Royon partnering Megumi Eda.

In the third section Marlon Taylor-Wiles and Masayo Yamaguchi paired off, Mutt and Jeff style, their exchange augmented by Yamaguchi’s acquisition of pointe shoes, Taylor-Wiles’ tossing and catching Yamaguchi augmented occasionally with her  dainty, skittering bourrees,  an encounter one of athletic glee. The pointe shoe  convention was shared by the other women with  a gradual transition into short white body suits and trunks for the men.

Mercifully, Armitage knows when to stop full tilt, non-stop exposition. The audience responded warmly, a number standing to demonstrate their approval.  Having seen bare stages and choreography abstracting the sensual at Novellus and elsewhere, my vote for the most satisfying to date  is cast with Armitage Gone! Dance even though I’m not at all sure of what
that title means.

Book Review: A Princess Remembers

16 Feb

Devi, Gayatri with Santha Rama Rau, A Princess Remembers: The
Memoirs of the Maharani of Jaipur.
London, Weldenfeld and Nicolson/Philadelphia, J.P. Lippincott, 1976
New Delhi, Tarang Paperbacks, 1990, 335 pp., illus., pbk.

With the Victoria and Albert Museum-organized exhibition Maharaja doing brisk business at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum until April 10 and with the prospect of an equally enthusiastic audience when it reaches Richmond’s Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in June, 2012, this memoir holds particular relevance. I forget where I acquired this disintegrating Indian-published paperback, but it’s a wonderful amplification of the 200 objects and videotapes temporarily housed at the Asian Art Museum, the one-time San Francisco public library adapted for displaying Avery Brundage’s gift to San Francisco.

While the Maharani dedicated her pages to the people of Cooch Bahar and Japiur, there is a special connection to parts of the traveling exhibit.  The Maharani was the daughter of Indira Gaekwar Devi, the only daughter of the Gaekwar of Baroda.  The Gaekwar, village-raised until he was twelve, was chosen by the Dowager Maharani to be the next ruler of Baroda.  Devi describes vividly the  force-fed education of her grandfather upon accession as Gaekwar;  he studied and mastered the Marathi, Gujerati, Urdu and English languages, English and Indian history, arithmetic, geography, chemistry, political economy, philosophy and Sanskrit. The Gaekwar, his wife and Indira Devi’s photographs are included in the exhibit.
The Dowager Maharani’s canny choice provided real gains for the citizens of the territory; roads, schools, colleges, libraries, a museum, education for women and continuing concern for improvements, a just administration, even introducing the concept of divorce. The Gaekwar even educated a Harijan, Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar.

Devi describes her grandmother’s durbar; sitting on the tradtional gaddi,  dressed in a traditional Maharati sari, laden with jewels and diamond anklets,  she received  Baroda’s noble women while the Gaekwar’s subsidized troupe performed bharata natyam at the end of the hall.

Indira, the Gaekwar’s only  daughter, was one of the first Indian princesses to graduate from college.  With her four brothers, they were presented to Queen Victoria.  In 1910 her parents informed her they had arranged a marriage with the Maharaja Scindia of Gwalior, another  major member of the historic Maharathi federation, but twenty years Indira’s senior. If consummated, Indira faced purdah and life in the zenana or women’s quarters, with just  rare occasions to enjoy access to her own brothers.

Enter the 1911 Delhi Durbar where George V and Queen Mary, the first British monarchs to travel to India, receiving homage from the Indian princes , and marking the  capital’s transfer from Calcutta to New Delhi, its buildings  on land  donated by a Maharaja of Jaipur.  At this historic event Indira met  the second prince of Cooch Bahar, a small principality on the border of Nepal, Bhutan and Bengal, noted for its tiger shoots and its rulers for close association with English society.

The pair fell in love; Indira wrote a polite refusal to the Maharaja of Gwalior,  enduring two years of separation and secret letters before the couple gained consent to marry, outside India.  Soon after, the Maharaja of Cooch Bahar, unable to marry an English woman of his choice, and an actress(!) drank himself to death with champagne.  Indira’s husband became the Maharaja. In their brief  nine years  together, Indira bore two sons and three daughters. Gayatri,  known as Ayesha, child number four, was born in England.

With Indira as regent for her seven-year old son, Bhaiya as Maharaja, the ‘Twenties and ‘Thirties for the family were years of study and enjoyment of a comparatively casual existence in Cooch Behar.  Gayatri describes a life alternately of simplicity and vast protocol and complexity: three cooks – English, Bengali and Maharati; separate kitchens, assistants and those procuring and preparing the food for cooking.  The grounds required twenty gardners; twenty stablemen; twelve for the garages and almost a hundred for the elephants; sweepers; a professional tennis coach, his assistant, ten ball boys and the guards.  She estimated the staff at four or five hundred.  She and her sisters each had a maid in addition to a governess, while the young Maharaja had four servants and Indira added a secretary.  Seeing miniatures of Indian princes with enormous entourages, this recitation clarifies the why’s and wherefores of such crowded paintings.

The habits of affluent and  extended Indian families are vividly described, along with childhood pleasures in this small principality; riding, tennis, tiger hunts; traveling to visit Baroda relatives; summers in Darjeeling, her mother’s fastidious habits and famed capacity as hostess. Gayatri also discusses her fascination and connection to the mahouts, the men who trained, rode and handled the elephants, shooting a tiger when she was twelve.

Gayatri was very small when she first met Jai Singh, the Maharaja of Jaipur.  The family traveled to Ootacamund, where the Baroda relatives had a house.  A visit there spanned a thousand miles, required a week’s travel by train and an entourage of a hundred, thirty horses, several trucks of luggage.  The trip included narrow and standard gauge rail travel, overnight stays in Calcutta and Madras and finally automobile to 7000 feet to “Ooty,” a replica of  Victorian style England.

Gayatri was five when she met Jai Singh, Maharaja of Jaipur at Ooty; then thirteen he was primarily interested in getting Indian food.  Jai Singh, adopted by his father’s cousin the Mahajara,  had acceded to the title when he was eleven.  His first marriage to a Jodhpur princess occurred when he was twelve. A daughter was born in 1929, his first son in 1931.  His second wife, another Jodphur princess, occurred in 1932; both lived their lives in purdah, confined by custom to the zanana.  Gayatri  became his third wife in 1940, destined to help liberate Jaipur’s women.

It is an extraordinary tale, filled with the notables of history, from The Prince of Wales, Lord and Lady Mountbatten, Queen Elizabeth and Prince Phillip to Mohatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, Gayatri’s creation of a girl’s school, her election to Parliament, Jai Singh’s transforming Rambagh Palace to a hotel,  the inexorable march of Indian history and family tragedies.  It  is evocative and beautifully written by Santha Rama Rao, herself a magnetic figure and one of the early Indian women to graduate from a American  college.  If you can manage to acquire a copy, you’ll be greatly rewarded.