Thursday, 3 February 2011

Asian Art Museum in San Francisco

International travel is all about "hurry up and wait". Things happen an planes leave at strange and utterly inconvenient times that don't fit with any human-normal schedule. This means that sometimes you can have four or even five hour dead period - a period too long to spend at any aiport, although sometimes, when the airport is kilometres from anywhere (Narita, Dulles, Stansted, for example) it's unavoidable.

When I was recently in SF I had a significant dead period between the end of the meeting and my flight's departure. So, rather than hang round the airport, I checked in, then took myself off to the Asian Art Museum, a mere 20 or so minute ride on the BART to Civic Center station.

I must admit I don't have a strong fascination for a lot of Asian Art, except perhaps some of the hill tribe carvings and hangings from Laos, I do find the rugs and textiles from Turkey and Central Asia quite fascinating, and also the reflection of external cultural influences in the art.

Now while the NGA here in Canberra has some quite nice bits of Gandhara art from the Afghanistan/Pakistan area - basically art showing the greco-bactrian influence as a result of Alexander the Great's exploits, the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco does better with some very very hellenistic carvings of the life of the Bhudda. Some of the carvings, shorn of context, would pass for work from further west in the hellenistic world proper.

Unfortunately, as they don't let you take reference photographs, I can't show you exactly what I mean.

However there are some quite good example images from the on the museum's website [example1] [example2] which give a flavour of it. If you want to look at the rest of the gandhara images in the collection, go to the museum's website, select 'search the collection' and type in gandhara.

Suffice to say, if you're interested in this stuff and find yourself in SF with a couple of hours spare a trip to the top floor of the Asian Art Museum is worth the twelve bucks entrance fee.

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