Saturday, January 31, 2015

The Traveler's Eye: Scenes of Asia

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through May 31, 2015

When I went into this exhibit, I was fearful it would be so large that I'd be rushing through in order to get back to work.  No such thing - each room has only a few items in it, so I was able to make my way along at a leisurely pace.

This show is concerned with pictures of Asia  that are geared towards tourists, either people who would be inspired by the pictures to take a trip, or armchair travelers, who use the paintings or illustrations or photographs as a substitute for actually visiting the places depicted.

Pictures that are widely available of far-off lands end up defining what is worth seeing in those locations - the roads traveled become the roads that others wish to travel, so that they can see the things in person that they've seen reproduced.  I found myself looking at some of the photographs of India on display towards the end of the show and thinking, "I'd like to see that."  It's not just the Victorians who were likely to fall for this kind of propaganda.

Imagine my delight, long time readers, to see several book illustrations by my great favorite Hokusai!  Although these were not part of his Mount Fuji series, I was happy to see them nonetheless.  Whenever I see one of his works, it's like meeting an old friend.  I also very much enjoyed the paintings by Hiroshige of the Tokaido, a road traveled by pilgrims and high-level dignitaries, but generally not by casual tourists.  Depicting scenes from this road allowed those not able to use it to experience it - to see what all the fuss was about.

At the very end of the show is a display of postcards.  Apparently, they are falling out of favor now, as people just take snapshots with their phones, but I always liked them.  When I lived in London during college, I sent lots of postcards back to family members, as I traveled around Europe.  My grandfather told me it was like taking a vacation himself.  Ah well, we must keep up with the times!  As scrolls gave way to books, which gave way to postcards, which are giving way to phones, the important thing is to keep sharing those pictures of one's travels.

Verdict: An interesting and thought-provoking exhibit.  A combination of both traditional and contemporary Asian art, which one does not often see.

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