Collection

There is a funny parody; #mce_temp_url# that somebody sent me about  a show at the Asian Art Museum in san francisco.

The artist casts kind of a wide net, maybe too wide, but anyhow it got me thinking about that museum.

It just seems like a lot of  rich people like ” collecting”.

Collecting money, objects, people.

And then hoarding, protecting, and preserving.

In fact i wonder if the same people who maintain the collections also maintain the museum owners.

I find the rich people who own and stock these places to have the kind of perfect

skin that comes from frequent polishing and waxing.

You can never tell how old they are.

There are  kept in a climate controlled environment.

Nothing gritty, stressful. or too real is allowed to get near these folks.

And they have a whole culture around their toy collection.

There’s  a  caste system with directors, docents, boards, all the way down to the volunteers , security guards, and janitors.

They get to stage lots of “events” in an attempt to enhance their social status.

So they spend a lifetime collecting these fetish objects, then ” bequeath” them to

the public by creating a huge building and  ” foundation”  ( tax write off ) with their name on it.

I’m sure they are torn between clutching their treasures and letting the grubby

plebes near them.

But if you cant show them off, then who will envy you?

I’ve always been  slightly uneasy about the orientalism fetish there.

If you close your eyes, you can still  get a faint whiff of pith helmets.

Collecting art  is collecting culture is collecting a people.

To boil it down, the Asian Art Museum is about white people collecting asian people.

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11 Responses to “Collection”

  1. xensen Says:

    I get your general point about wealthy collectors, and I think there is a degree of truth to it. But actually the Asian Art Museum is an educational nonprofit. The collection is owned by the city of San Francisco. Its director, Jay Xu, was born in Shanghai. And the curator of the samurai show is a Japanese scholar named Yoko Woodson.

    I know, because I work there (but I’m speaking for myself, not the museum) — I do their publications. Not sure where that places me exactly in the “caste system.”

    Come judge for yourself.

    • mrpoopypants Says:

      OK, Fair enough.
      But this is after all a blog and not the new york times.
      Still, i don’t want to be totally irresponsible.
      I stand by my overall impression of the museum as started by a wealthy white collector,
      who donated his collection to the city in exchange for setting up a museum to display his stuff.
      According to the museum site, it looks like still roughly a third of the objects are from his collection.
      I’ve been going there since i was a kid, and i do appreciate this and all museums for both their role as
      conservers and also for the potential to educate.
      Maybe i’m too sensitive, but i’ve always got that vibe that asian culture was being presented as
      exotica.
      I mean, it’s not like the museum was started by asians for asians.
      Notwithstanding your examples of two people of asian heritage who are prominent in the museum currently,
      what does the overall membership, staff, and administration look like?
      I’m not trying to reduce this to a scorecard of ethnicity, just saying if i went to the opening in 1966, would i have seen any asian people there?

      And i will stick to my overall impression of the museum world.

      of course, i’m not totally immune to reason, so feel free to post more comments.

  2. xensen Says:

    Mr. PP. I think that you are right about the museum’s origins. At that time the museum staff was, I think, mostly white (one exception is Terese Tse Bartholomew, who recently retired after about 40 years here). It probably had all of the problems you list.

    Today’s museum is not much like that one. To answer your question about the make-up of the staff, it is very diverse, with many people of Asian descent. I don’t know the statistics, but going over a few departments in my mind, I can say that 2 of the Marketing department’s 4 people are of Asian descent, 4 of the 8 people in the Education department are of Asian descent, 5 of the 10 people in the Curatorial department are of Asian descent, 4 of the 7 people in Finance are of Asian descent, and I could go on.

    I am sorry that you get the impression that our exhibitions are presented as exotica. Our curators mostly have doctorates in Asian studies departments, and they are generally pretty sensitive to issues of orientalizing. For example, Qamar Adamjee addresses such issue in a current show of 19th-century photographs from various places in Asia. Of course, orientalism can be insidious, and it is certainly possible that we get things wrong sometimes, and I don’t claim that we never succumb to stereotypes, much as we try to avoid them.

    Since it sounds like you are local, feel free to come visit me and chat. You can reach me by following the commenter link.

    • mrpoopypants Says:

      Thanks for the offer to chat, i’m always open to being more informed.

      I don’t want to give the idea that i am obsessed about the Asian Art Museum, just giving my impressions in a blog.

      And my impression is that the museum is ossifed and dated.

      I’m sure that it has value for scholars, but it could easily be renamed The Dead Asian Art Museum for the lack of stuff from the last
      hundred years.

      If it is at least partially taxpayer funded, there should probably be more conversations about the mission of the museum.

  3. That’s Not My Name: Lord, It’s The Samurai! intervention « beyondasiaphilia Says:

    […] mrpoopypants’ post (scroll down to the comments to read as an AAM employee defends the museum) […]

  4. Collecting culture « asians art museum's samurai blog Says:

    […] Collecting culture 29 08 2009 Musings on “Collection” at mrpoopypants blog: […]

  5. xensen Says:

    Mr. PP, you are mistaken about the lack of contemporary art programming at the museum, but I feel I have been taking too large a share of this discussion, so I will leave it to others to finish the conversation if they choose. Best wishes and happy blogging.

  6. Samurai pwned! + More Blog Buzz « asians art museum's samurai blog Says:

    […] mr poopypants:  with comments from xensen, the AAMSF’s Director of Publications, Thomas Christensen. […]

  7. How we made “Not Art” « asians art museum's samurai blog Says:

    […] mrpoopypants:  with replies by the AAM’s Director of Publications […]

  8. Exbaby's Blog Says:

    […] mrpoopypants’ post (scroll down to the comments where an AAM employee defends the museum)  […]

  9. beyondasiaphilia Says:

    […] faux-site has travelled far and wide around the blogosphere. Here are a few links: CBS5’s post mrpoopypants’ post (scroll down to the comments where an AAM employee defends the museum) sfist post 8asians post […]

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