Where: Sackler Gallery
When: through July 9, 2017
As many readers may know, the Sackler Gallery is my favorite Smithsonian museum. I've loved it for years, full of beautiful Asian art, both in its permanent collection and in the special exhibits it hosts. I'm always excited when I see a new show is coming, as it gives me an excuse to visit once again.
My visit yesterday was a melancholy one; the museum is closing on July 10 for three months. So no Sackler to welcome me into its cool interior through the heat of the DC summer! You will doubtless recall that the Freer has been closed for quite a while now (I think about 15 months, although it seems much longer...). Now that the big renovations are done there, both spaces will be closed for a time in order to reorganize and reinstall the entire collection.
It's hard to view this closure as a good thing, but as much as I will miss it in the short run, in the long run this is the right thing to do.
I saw many things while on this visit, including the exhibit of three immense paintings by Utamaro: Snow at Fukagawa (missing for nearly 70 years before turning up in Japan recently), Moon at Shinagawa (purchased by Charles Lang Freer and now in the Freer's collection) and Cherry Blossoms at Yoshiwara (owned by the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut). Reunited after 140 years apart, these three paintings would be wonderful separately, but are astounding together. Each piece bears close examination; if you saw them every day, you would find new elements with every look. The entrance to the display is marvelous - big banners with examples of both Western and Asian art, all of tall, beautiful women.
I thought it a nice touch that, at the end of a show glamorizing the "pleasure quarters" of Edo, the Sackler included some information on the reality of these women's lives. Needless to say, the truth is rather less pretty.
This is the Cosmic Buddha, a Chinese work from about 575. I love antiquities and the connection they provide to people living so long ago, in circumstances so different than our own. One thing we have in common is art, and this is a lovely example. Although the sculpture is old, the technology now being used to study it is new - 3D printing is allowing scholars to examine this piece in great detail. There's a bit you can actually touch (and you know how much I love tactile exhibits) that's been printed with a 3D printer, and you can even order your own Cosmic Buddha online!
This is Ganesha, one of the most popular Hindu gods; his elephant head makes him easily identifiable. He is revered as the remover of obstacles, which is probably another reason for his popularity - who doesn't need some help removing obstacles in life? He and this Buddha below (I really like his blue hair) are part of the permanent collection. I hope they'll be back on display in October.
The last piece I saw on my visit was this one (see below) from Michael Joo. It's in the entryway, so you can't miss it. I took the time to read the wall notes, and it's a representation of cranes that winter in the DMZ between North and South Korea.
Verdict: Visit the Sackler before it closes for renovations. And be sure to visit again in October when it re-opens!