Proximities 1: “What Time is it There?” at Asian Art Museum

by Admin on 06/13/2013

In “Proximities,” a three-part exhibition through February 2014 at the Asian Art Museum curated by independent writer, critic, and educator Glen Helfand , audiences encounter a multiplicity of perspectives by some of the San Francisco Bay Area’s most compelling contemporary artists, creating artworks that stimulate dialogue around myriad themes about Asia and its visual culture. On view through July 21, “Proximities 1: What Time Is It There?”  participating artists Elisheva Biernoff, Lisa K. Blatt, Ala Ebtekar, James Gobel,Tucker Nichols, Larry Sultan, and Andrew Witrak respond and explore themes related to the aesthetic nuances of the Asian landscape, imagined and real. Proximities and its artworks, both individually and a whole, debuts with success in its mission to include contemporary experiences of Asia, as well as actively foster and examine local audiences’ relationships with the continent as it is mediated by the Asian Art Museum.

Exploring and identifying such fluid identities and cultures seems to be a trend as of late. Themes in Proximities 1 parallel closely to Yerba Buena Center for the Arts’ upcoming exhibition Migrating Identities (which also includes Ala Ebtekar). Yet, rather than overlapping, the two exhibitions are complementary explorations within the multiple layers of many complex issues surrounding cultural associations distances away from place of origin, especially pertinent to contemporary United States audiences. Proximities’ first iteration, says Helfand, was purposefully organized around the concepts and themes of distance from place, imagining that which is far away such as Asia is from the San Francisco Bay Area. In this manner, he immediately acknowledges its audiences and the exhibitions’ surroundings, in many ways making this a forefront issue tackled by the exhibitions. “In Proximities, we are viewing the concept of “Asia” from California, in a museum that is very much a constructed presentation of culture and an institution beset with unavoidable cultural baggage,” he says.

The exhibition’s major strengths begin here; at Proximities’ erudite, subtle commentaries about the relationship between contemporary art and ideas in tandem with their presentation within cultural museums, and its effects. The Asian Art Museum has pursued similar ideas before, at its successful Phantoms of Asia exhibition this time last year, but whereas that exhibition included an assortment of  contemporary artwork from Asia that engaged Asia with the Bay Area, Proximities may be said to activate ideas within the Asian Art Museum’s immediate community.  Whether it is before or after viewing the two-storeys of Asian Art Museum’s permanent collection, viewers of Proximities are faced with moment of reconciliation and reassessment of the common perceptions  and presentations of Asia–  that the visual and material culture within the Asian Art Museum, like the artworks in Proximities, create relationships with Asia with foreign audiences. Re-imaginings of Asia takes place not just in Proximities, but also throughout the museum itself.

Proximities also directly contends with one of the most pertinent issues of cultural museums that exhibit material and visual culture, like the Asian Art Museum; the inclusion of contemporary artwork and exhibitions. The exhibition’s colorful, dynamic space immediately adjacent to conservation-advised dimly lit exhibition galleries containing artifacts of “early Japan and Korea 1392-present” instigates a significant conversation about how not only Asian culture here, but many others are presented in museums by means of antiques or artifacts. Understandably, what are terms “traditions” and “culture” are largely established only in the wake of Time’s travel, for contemporary art and material culture remain the choppy waters as yet to be determined how it may be navigated. Yet, as seen in Asian Art Museum’s recent successful contemporary exhibitions, perhaps to embrace this unknown and the novel enlightens and revives a museum’s perspective on the culture it represents. Not only does it bridge that essential gap within visual and material culture museums of “then” and  “now,”  ideas and themes become more relevant and engaging for a twenty-first century audience.


Proximities 1: “What Time is it There?” will be at the  Asian Art Museum through July 21.