For the Kalamazoo Gazette, 08-29-10
New KIA gallery hosts Asian art
In Western paintings, artists typically fill the canvas with color. But in Chinese works, Joy Light explains, often some blank space is left.
She points to a piece on her living room wall that depicts a snowy mountain. The rocks are dark. But what of the white space surrounding them?
“That could be snow, clouds, the sky. The empty space,” she smiles, “is what you imagine.”
The Kalamazoo Institute of Arts now offers a permanent place to contemplate such nuances of Chinese art as well as other works from Asia, in its new Joy Light Gallery for Asian Art, which opened yesterday. As part of the debut, some 135 pieces in three exhibitions of Chinese and Japanese painting and calligraphy are on display.
The gallery is a gift from longtime KIA supporter Timothy Light, in honor of his wife. The Lights also established an acquisitions fund, which allows for purchases for the permanent collection and pays for exhibitions borrowed from private collections, universities and other museums, says Vicki Wright, KIA director of collection and exhibitions.
For example, after the close of the “Strong Women, Beautiful Men” exhibit, with its 18th through 20th century work, the KIA will host a show of contemporary Japanese prints, Wright says.
The gift “enables us to represent the diversity of cultures here (in the Kalamazoo area) and around the world,” she notes.
“We live in an increasingly global world, and the lines between what is considered ‘American’ and what is deemed Asian, African-American, Hispanic, native American and so on are becoming more blurred as each culture continues to influence the life styles and arts of the other,” KIA Executive Director Jim Bridenstine adds. “America is the melting pot of the world, and the KIA is proud to reflect that reality.”
Timothy Light agrees, and he cites the KIA itself as another reason for creating the Joy Light Gallery: “The KIA, as Jim Bridenstine has said, is the most important museum between Chicago and Detroit.” Expanding a collection of Asian art helps grow the reach of the KIA, which is known primarily for its American and some European holdings, Light says.
And then there is the “inherent beauty” and great diversity of Asian art.
“For China alone, in American museums there are pieces back to … 1700 BC,” Timothy Light says. “The huge volume of different mediums is so immense, if you had a museum (representing all of Chinese art), in somebody’s lifetime you wouldn’t cover the waterfront.
“The same is true of (the art of) India, and probably for Southeast Asia.”
The Joy Light Gallery is intended to bring work “from everywhere in Asia. Next year, we’ll have Indonesian art. Eventually India and Pakistan.”
He also points out Asia’s growing economic and political importance — “It’s two-thirds of world.”
The gallery itself resides in the KIA’s lower level, in the room formerly occupied by the interactive gallery, which in turn has been relocated down the hall.
Its entranceway boasts dark bamboo on the floor. The patterned carpeting for the rest of the gallery is a green-gray, with oatmeal highlights, and the walls are almond colored.
Care was taken “to maintain a peaceful, kind of meditative quality,” the KIA’s Wright explains, in keeping with the art that will be displayed there.
After all, adds Joy Light, who with her husband was involved with the design of the gallery from the beginning, “Chinese painting is not a thing to jump at you.”
Meet the Lights
Joy Light was employed as a social worker until she became interested in art, taking classes at the University of Arizona and Ohio State University. She operated art galleries in Tucson, Ariz., and Columbus, Ohio, and has curated four shows of Chinese art.
She and her husband are longtime collectors of Asian art and financial supporters of the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts — “generous” is the adjective KIA Executive Director Jim Bridenstine uses.
Timothy Light is a former provost of Kalamazoo College and Western Michigan University, as well as having been president of Middlebury College in Vermont. He began his teaching career at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and served as a faculty member and director of the University of Arizona’s East Asia Study Center and chairman of Ohio State University’s Department of East Asian Languages and Literature.
A great-grandson of Upjohn Co. founder W.E. Upjohn, Light holds the title of professor emeritus of Chinese religion at WMU.
Shows feature painting, calligraphy from China, Japan
To celebrate yesterday’s opening of the Joy Light Gallery for Asian Art, the KIA presents three exhibits:
• “Beauty Amid Thunder: The Past Two Centuries of Chinese Art,” on the KIA’s main level, running through Oct. 17
• “Wondrous Ink,” in the Joy Light Gallery, through Dec. 5
• “Strong Women, Beautiful Men: Japanese Portrait Prints From the Toledo Museum of Art,” on the main level, through Oct. 31.
“Beauty Amid Thunder” features 65 illustrated hanging scrolls, albums and fans, all examples of ink and water color on paper, says Vicki Wright, KIA director of collection and exhibitions. The 20 works in “Wondrous Ink,” all ink on paper, are mostly 19th and 20th century scrolls.
Landscapes as well as images from the bird-and-flowers tradition and of Buddhist figures are depicted, she says. The shows also present examples of the art of calligraphy.
Both exhibits are from the Chinese art collection of Richard Fabian, an Episcopal priest and co-founder of the Church of St. Gregory of Nyssa in San Francisco. Fabian will speak at a KIA members-only event Sept. 17.
“Strong Women, Beautiful Men” covers three centuries of Japanese printmaking. It features 50 ink-on-paper wood-block print images of courtesans and kabuki actors.
Among the artists represented are Kitagawa Utamaro (1753-1806) — “one of the greats, known for his sinewy figures of women,” Wright notes — and Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), whose “figures of peasants and farmers represent everyday life.” Hokusai is perhaps best known for “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa” color woodcut.
All three exhibits are free. A KIA members reception is set for Sept. 17.
For more details, go to www.kiarts.org or call 269-349-7775.
Fish prints to the erhu
A variety of events — from lectures to movies and woodcut demonstrations — are planned around the unveiling of the Joy Light Gallery for Asian Art at the Kalamazoo Institute of Arts and the dedication of the Timothy Light Center for Chinese Studies, a Western Michigan University academic research site that also opened this month. The happenings are under the banner of “Celebrating East Asia.”
Here are some highlights:
Sept. 10-Oct. 30, “Celebration of Woodfire” — An exhibition and other events featuring the Anagama Kiln, at Midtown Gallery, www.midtownkalamazoo.com.
Sept. 16, “The Art of Japanese Woodcuts” — Mary Brodbeck demonstrates woodcut carving and printing techniques, in the KIA auditorium, www.kiarts.org.
Sept. 19, “Journey to Japan” — Demonstrations of origami, calligraphy, fish prints and Kendo (Japanese sword fighting), at the KIA.
Sept. 22, “The Good Earth” — Discussion of Pearl S. Buck’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel and screening of the 1937 Oscar-winning movie, in the KIA’s multipurpose classroom.
Sept. 24, Tokyo String Quartet — Presented by Fontana Chamber Arts, at WMU’s Dalton Center, www.fontanachamberarts.org.
Oct. 9, Ikebana — Susan Bagge holds a workshop and lecture on the Japanese art of flower arranging, in the KIA auditorium.
Oct. 12, ARTbreak — Joy Light talks about collecting Chinese art and about the artists she has come to know, at the KIA.
Oct. 13, “Strong Women, Beautiful Men” — Lecture by Carolyn Putney, Toledo Museum of Art curator of Asian art, in the KIA auditorium.
Oct. 19, ARTbreak — Two documentaries, on Chinese brush painting and on the evolution of the Peking Opera, in the KIA auditorium.
Oct 21-Nov. 24, “Yellow Terror: The Collections and Paintings of Roger Shimomura” — Works by the painter, at Western Michigan University’s Richmond Center for Visual Arts, www.wmich.edu/art/exhibitions/galleries. The artist will speak on Oct. 21, in the KIA auditorium.
Oct. 22, “Fall Evening” — Part of the Kalamazoo Symphony Orchestra’s Epic Evenings series, soloist Chen Shiyou plays the erhu (a Chinese two-string violin), at the Cityscape Event Center, www.kalamazoosymphony.com.
Some events require a fee, so check before you go.