On Smith's "Modern Images of the Body from East Asia" Exhibit

Smith Art Museum Exhibition: February 2 – August 26

Even in pulling mainly from the Smith Art Museum’s permanent collection, the exhibition “Modern Images of the Body from East Asia” exemplifies a multifaceted and engaging experience which seems to far exceed the small gallery space.

The exhibit is divided into three distinct subjects, including Bodies of the Other, which studies how Westerners were depicted by East Asians in art and vice versa, Bodies at War, which seeks to display the manner in which conflict is viewed and presented by East Asian artists, and Bodies in the Plural, which focuses on how national identify, minority culture, and a sense of larger community has defined art and expression. These seemingly disconnected subjects are woven tightly together through gallery’s use of space and an overlying theme of exploring how the view of bodies by and of East Asians have changed from the nineteenth century to the present. This time period of great transformation and often turmoil is clearly visible through the art presented in the exhibit, as it follows the effects of colonialism, globalism, changing and persisting ways of life, individualism, and modern technology.

In addition to its important purpose as a space in which to discuss and examine culture and social identify, however, the exhibition also presents a view of art in the astatic sense, with varied and engaging mediums, including video and sound displays as well as photography, print, sculpture, repurposed technology, glassware, clothing ware, and painting based materials. One of the central pieces, Three Cemeteries, for example, features both visual and audio components, with photographs of three cemeteries near the North Korean border enhanced by a backing of sound taken from the same site.

In this diversity of mediums and perspectives, however, there are shortcomings as there are with every gallery and art show. Some perspectives are left behind in the course of selection, some pieces do not deliver the intended impact to the audience, and, of course, it pays to bear in mind that this show is the work of a single main curator. However, in keeping with Smith’s position as an institute of learning, the exhibition, as a whole, performs remarkably in presenting a space in which unique perspectives and differing ideas are structured to be engaging, thought-provoking, and overall enjoyable for a diverse audience.

The Mount