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This Preview story by Pat Summers was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on October 14, 1998. All rights reserved.
Asian-American Art Summit
The spacious and marbled modern lobby at Summit Bancorp, in Carnegie Center, gives way to an art gallery area that currently invites visitors to enter the varied and colorful East. In mediums ranging from wood and metal through prints, paints, and photographs, nine Asian-American artists share their "Images of the East" in portraiture, landscapes, sculpture, and even calligraphy.
Curated by DeLann Gallery at the Princeton Meadows Shopping Center, this is a crowded but worthwhile exhibition of 79 works marked by diversity far beyond the artists' native countries -- India, China, Japan, Tibet, and Malaysia, are among the counties represented. All but one of the artists represented are now New Jerseyans. The exhibition remains on view at Summit through November 25. An invitation-only reception will be Wednesday, October 21, from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m.
Since Seou-Chu See's framed calligraphy is either the first or second work in this show -- depending on where Mayumi Sarai's large wooden sculpture, already moved once, is located at the time -- start with this Malaysian artist, whose entries include two more calligraphy works and landscapes in watercolor. Both art forms are closely related, with the skills requisite for one evident in the other. For instance, framing her vertical calligraphy for "Dragons Fly, Phoenixes Dance" and "Happiness in Studying" (the second, puzzlingly dry-brush in execution) are landscapes whose tree limbs and other lines echo their brush strokes.
See's largest piece in the exhibition, "Shangri-la," suggests a mountainous world with just a few colors, a few brush-stroked lines, while her "Doctrinal Debate" shows a group of monks whose red robes pull the viewer's eyes to the foreground, past blue mountain ranges and a red-roofed building. Minimalist yet telling, "Spring, Osaka Castle" softly suggests the season through the muted greens and pinks of flowering trees, the suggestion of a pagoda roof, and a few framing branches.
Landscapes, yes, but no more figurative than necessary for recognition. Happily for her product, See violates coloring book tenets and colors outside her own prescribed lines; in fact, color probably precedes the linear elements of her pictures. If "hard-edge" is a fair descriptor of some artists' work, that of Seou-Chu See might be considered, admiringly, "soft-edge."
Hiroshi Murata, a native of Japan, shows prints, oil pastels, and gouaches produced over a nearly 20-year period. Essentially abstract, Murata's woodblock prints, "Tsukiyo," with cool shades in a tile-like grid, and "Momigi," with warm orange and gold tones, illustrate his work of the early 1980s. His "Red I" and "Red II," oil pastels from late in that decade, go in a different, linear direction. A few large lithographs maintain the look of earlier works, and three small gouaches from 1995, "Night Shift (Red, Blue, and Orange)," pick up on the grid motif.
Curator Judy Caracio of DeLann Gallery vividly describes sculptor Mayumi Sarai as "a tiny woman who hammers iron into submission." Her wood and metal works command attention, and "Concave, Convex No. 1," the largest piece in the show, has occupied two different areas of the exhibition space. Initially installed in the center of the lobby, the wooden sculpture was then, inexplicably, moved between two trees at the lobby's perimeter, where it seems to be in hiding -- if it's possible to conceal two massive, egg crate-patterned cross beams that rest, tilted, on a base of two waist-high, solidly unmatched "legs."
Considering its forested position, this sculpture's "please do not touch" sign is superfluous -- except in suggesting the other sculptures can be touched. Viewers who know better than to touch two-dimensional art while reaching out to sculpture, would like that.
Sarai has also produced a number of smaller works, displayed either on pedestals or hanging. The wood and metal "Growing Ball," has densely inserted nails that follow the curves of a bulbous, skull-size hunk of wood. Despite the tough material, the effect here is almost hair-like. In the hands of a lesser hammerer, those hundreds of nails would not wave with the wood.
Sarai's "Art Book" is a wood block made to resemble an OED-sized volume, and mounted on a wooden stand. A relief carving on one cover resembles a portrait of Van Gogh, in a shirt of sheet-metal, and another relief carving may represent his room. On the open pages, rows of tiny nails suggest text, while another page offers a landscape, with pegs, holes, and other carved shapes. And Sarai's "Flower" is a giant open rose in an unusual shade of "raw wood;" however, its cross-sectional wood cuts with scalloped edges stop short of smelling like a rose.
This versatile and ingenious sculptor has also produced wall pieces, which include an intriguing series of three "steel drawings," depicting "Snow," "Cloud," and "Rain" through different ways of working the black metal rectangles, which are irregularly curved and resemble unmounted paper. Four framed wood works, featuring two novel images of "Fireworks after Hiroshige," complete Sarai's wall hangings.
Lustrous paintings on silk by Cecilia Sharma lend further color and texture to the exhibition. This Indian artist has handled such an array of subjects that her entries might have been edited to better effect. Although her accomplished florals are appealing, with vibrant jewel tones, careful definition, and smooth shading, other pieces, such as "Village Scene" and "Medieval Times" seem more like juvenile sketches. Her two-panel room divider, "Birds," is unattractively framed in wood; perhaps the only piece for which a heavy wood frame is apropos is Sharma's free-hanging "Window with a View," which lives up to its title.
Teresa Prashad, who is Sharma's sister and sister-in-silk-painting, has framed her tropical, turquoise-grounded "Floral Room Divider" in narrow black wood strips. These suit. A second, more traditionally Eastern screen, features foliage plants and one small gold bird on sheer ecru silk that covers latticed rosewood or teak.
This varied and wide-ranging show is bound to provoke a host of questions. How representative of each artist's oeuvre are the works in "Images of the East"? Where else have these artists exhibited their work? Where did they train, and with whom? What does Seou-Chu See have to say about the connection between calligraphy and landscape? How have their national origins affected their work? And have they consciously influenced one another?
For now, the answers to such questions must wait. Beyond wall labels that offer only title, medium, and price, further printed information about the artists and their work will not be available until the reception on October 21. A pity, for both the title and range of the show will prompt viewers to want more information.
Caracio of DeLann is convinced. In the future, she says, informative material will be on hand from day one of any show. She's so high on the caliber of work represented in the show that she accepted the majority of pieces submitted. She learned of some of the artists through referrals; others came to her attention through visits to area exhibits. With Ralph Finaldi, an associate art consultant who works with her on projects, she anticipates DeLann's second "Black Artists' Exhibition" at Summit early next year. Also represented in "Images of the East" are Min Chen, from China, whose watercolors are on view; Shu Leu, of Taiwan, who paints in acrylic; Zhou Yong, from western China, whose portraits and landscapes are shown; and Sonam Zoksang, a Tibet-born photographer.
-- Pat Summers
The Summit Bancorp Gallery is located at the Carnegie Center, Route 1 North, near Princeton. Visitor parking is available behind the building, via the Carnegie Center Boulevard jughandle. Entering from visitor parking, the gallery is located in the large headquarters building to the right; enter through its main door, near the portico. Gallery hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
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