Thursday, February 20, 2014

Yoga at the Asian Art Museum

Yesterday morning the Asian Art Museum gave a press preview of Yoga: The Art of Transformation, which opens this Friday. Yoga is one of the few mainstream movements I actually follow myself, so I was disappointed that museum director Jay Xu did not lead us in 5 sun salutations before the gallery walkthrough.

Debra Diamond, curator of the original exhibition at the Smithsonian, & Jeff Durham, the Asian Art Museum’s assistant curator of Himalayan Art, led the press tour. The show occupies 3 galleries & comprises sculptures, paintings, illustrations, photos, books & films, spanning 2 millennia. The Osher Gallery contains spectacular sculptures & paintings from India, such as these 3 sensuous female deities from a 10th century temple.

Ms. Diamond pointed out that the shimmering surface of this 19th century painting, depicting the Absolute, is best viewed by looking up from below. She was delighted that visitors would thus fall to their knees in front of it.

The gallery also displays delicately drawn pages from the 1st illustrated manual of yoga poses, made in 1600. Interestingly, it was produced for a Muslim court, & the explanatory texts are in Persian.

A 2nd gallery contains many exquisite drawings depicting the fanciful adventures of magical yogis.

There's also fascinating depictions of yogis by the 1st western observers.

A set of studio photographs from the 19th century is provocative for its mix of cynicism & sensationalism.

A small 3rd gallery shows yoga entering mainstream western culture through the promotion of its medical value. I overheard yoga devotees in the press corp questioning the curator because they felt the show did not reflect their own experiences with yoga.

The exhibition starts Friday, February 21st, with an opening night party, followed by a day of yoga events on Saturday. There is a surcharge above general admission for the exhibit.

§ Yoga: The Art of Transformation
Asian Art Museum
February 21–May 25, 2014


Civic Center said...

Nice account and pics.

Interesting that local yoga people were telling the curator that this had no relation to their experience. Yoga in California is where the discipline flowered most abundantly outside of India in the 20th century, and so we actually have our own long tradition that an exhibit from the Smithsonian is going to be clueless about.

Axel Feldheim said...

Thanks. Yes, those were interesting comments to hear. If nothing else, it showed how invested people are in the practice. To be fair to the curators, there is a "Yoga in California" time line poster, though it's outside the exhibit proper. The exhibit technically stop at around 1940, with rising interest in postural yoga. Hopefully every yoga practitioner will at least get a buzz of recognition from seeing diagrams of the chakras, which are much discussed in the yoga classes I go to!