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Life by Design


Recognizing the Third Mind

Posted by Carren |

A glimpse of Guggenheim Museum’s 'The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia: 1860-1989'
Text by: Carren Jao

Guggenheim's current exhibition brings together approximately 250 works from more than 100 artists, writers, and musicians. No wonder my friends and I weren’t able to finish the whole exhibit. Curated by Alexandra Munroe, having herself grown up partly in Japan and studying for three years at the Daitokuji Temple, her comments on various publications reveal a personal stake in the exhibition.

The Third Mind exhibition proffers another interpretation of American visual art history as seen through the lens of many artists’ Asian influences. Coming from a small archipelago where art is considered a Western invention and still wrestling with the idea of what Filipino art is, the timely exhibition offered me an intriguing proposition. The Third Mind argues that not only has modern, contemporary, avant-garde American art been shaped by its relationship with Europe, it has also drawn inspiration from the other side of the Pacific.

True enough, as we begin our ascent up the stately spiral floors of the Japanese-inspired Frank Lloyd Wright building, we were slowly exposed to American visual artists, their appropriations of Asian thought, and its resulting works. Entering the lobby, we were greeted with Paul Kos’ sculpture Sound of Ice Melting; two 25-pound blocks of ice are surrounded by microphones, raising the question of silence’s existence and strangely reminding me of the oft-cited and satirized Zen koan, “What is the sound of one hand clapping?”

On the second spiral, the farthest we would reach within such short period of time, were the works of Mary Cassat. Impressed by the Japanese exhibition show at Ecole des Beaux-Arts, her succeeding works including The Bath, showcased the flatness and proportion evident in many Japanese prints. Her clean lines and genteel colors also evoked the same kind of peaceful quality reminiscent of the style. Emulating the same style as ukiyo-e but translating the Eastern tool of Japanese woodblock to drypoint and copper plates, she continues to echo the same themes of women's daily lives, which can be seen in her Japanese inspiration.

On the wall opposite hung works from James McNeill Whistler. In particular, his Nocturne: Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge set side by side with a reproduction of Hiroshige’s Bamboo Yards, Ky_bashi Bridge clearly demonstrates Japanese art’s influence on his work though he never traveled to Asia himself. Whistler forgoes the realism of the scenery that lies before him for a visual interpretation of the foggy, cold, and wet atmosphere he was exposed to while sketching.

One of the most memorable for me was seeing Arthur Dove’s Fog Horns. Forgoing all depictions of reality, he instead paints the inner landscape of sound. With concentric rings flowing out of three different points, he represents the loud wail of foghorns amidst a misty morning. Lacking any passionate movement, his strokes simply creep outside of its center, as inexorably as sound passes through most media.

The exhibition goes on to showcase works from Georgia O’Keefe, Jasper Johns, John La Farge, and Ezra Pound; for the uninitiated the exhibition can be quite confusing, plunging one from one historical context to the next. What is required is an extended period of concentration and wealth of time for contemplation—one of which, my friends and I did not have.

Leaving the exhibition, I came away with an appreciation of how Eastern thought influenced Western art. Confronted with Hinduist and Buddhist principles, many artists often emerged with another view of reality, which affected their art making. The Third Mind also left more questions on attribution. If even Western art drew inspiration from Asian influences, what art can truly be attributed to one source, especially in today’s globalized world where ideas flit from one continent to another in the blink of an eye? Perhaps none, making the many forms of art the physical manifestation of a convergence of ideas.

Credits: Arthur Dove Fog Horns, 1929
Oil on canvas, 54.6 x 72.4 cm

Colorado Springs Fine Arts Center, Anonymous Gift

© The Estate of Arthur G. Dove

Paul Kos
Sound of Ice Melting, 1970
© redakcja + autorzy 2004 - 2008

Mary Cassatt

The Bath (The Tub), 1890-91

Drypoint, soft-ground etching, and aquatint on cream laid paper
Cameron Art Museum, Wilmington, North Carolina, Gift of Therese Thorn McLane in honor of Samuel Hudson Hughes and Zelina Comegys Brunschwig

James Abbott McNeill Whistler
Nocturne in Blue and Gold: Old Battersea Bridge, 1865
Oil on Canvas, 19.3 x 26.4"
Tate Gallery, London, UK
Photo Credit: AKG Images

Utagawa (And_) Hiroshige (1797-1858)
Bamboo Yards, Ky_bashi Bridge, from the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo
Japan, Edo period, 1857
Polychrome woodblock print, approximately 35.7 x 24.1 cm.
Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, William Sturgis Bigelow Collection


Catherine said...

Cool, I love this post, I wish I were there to see the art and the museum too! :P

Carren said...

Thanks for dropping by! :) Yeah, it was pretty cool. I think you would have liked it too!

Jen Laceda | Milk Guides said...

Yeah, cool indeed! i wish I could see them. Currently in Paris on vacation with the family--a much needed one! Keep in touch!

Carren said...

Yes, I saw your pictures in Paris. They're beautiful! I wish I could see that too :)

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