Flutterby™! : Geisha

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2004-09-27 03:29:44.75387+00 by Dan Lyke 1 comments

This weekend was the first one we've had where we weren't struggling to finish something, so when I got home from the hike Charlene was raring to go out. We settled on a trek down to the San Francisco Asian Art Museum to catch the last day of Geisha: Behind the Painted Smile. We were both disappointed.

I realize that large art museums aren't in the business of entertainment, nor really education, they're in the business of hyping up the art of their large donors so that said donors' collections will have greater value, but the context and content of this exhibit were the most disappointed I've been since the Ansel Adams exhibit at SFMOMA. And unlike the Adams exhibit, I wasn't really familiar with the subject matter.

Beyond the basic problem, that with better flow control and exhibit layout they could have increased their viewer throughput dramatically, it came down to my usual complaint: All curators should be required to read the basic texts of information design. Start with consistent language and if you're using terms that differ because of cultural context from their normal meanings, then define them; this applies specifically to "courtesan" and "prostitute". If you're expecting huge crowds, where people will be standing in front of works reading each legend, how about making larger panels up above with detail information so you don't keep repeating "Edo (now Tokyo)". How about some maps so that when you talk about regions of Edo, we have some sense of geography? If it were just one section, like Yoshiwara, then fine, give me a label and move on, but especially if you're going to reference geography, then I want more information.

How can you have an entire exhibit about how geisha weren't sexual despite constant pairings with "courtesan" and "prostitute" and not mention shunga, even once for context?

And while it's great to see a kimono hung flat, one or two on mannequins for a little more context, even if they were modern day reproductions, would have been really nice to see.

Overall we came away with more questions than we went in with, feeling like the descriptions and prose had glossed over large chunks of history and context with some sort of agenda.

[ related topics: Sexual Culture Dan's Life Bay Area Sociology Art & Culture Graphic Design Education Maps and Mapping ]

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#Comment Re: made: 2004-09-27 13:02:51.307599+00 by: meuon [edit history]

Good comments about many museums, especially about the 'increasing the value of a donor's collection'. Perhaps that is really why the local Hunter Art museum has mediocre art with prominent local's names as the donors. I just thought it was stuff from their attic that the museum was storing. Of course, there is some good stuff as well.

Re: Geisha. Clem (Caving and )^( friend) reccomended Memoirs of a Geisha as a good read. I read it, and although technically fiction, it is based on a few realities and gives a good perspective into the various roles and societal levels of Geisha, specifically in the 30's and 40's. Just like modern American 'companionship for money' trade, classy beautiful intelligent and talented women get high dollar and are more of a public/semi-public fashion accessory and pleasantly skilled diversion/entertainment. On the low end.. $5.00 on E. Main in Chattanooga will get your rocks off, but even dipping yourself in bleach won't cure the "free extra's". And in the middle, a wide variety and level of escorts, hookers and whores (ho's). Some you'd take out in public.. and some you won't.

Shocking side story.. I kept seeing this guy at the Stone Lion with one or two striking women, different every time. When G. went to the bathroom one time, I was a little drunk, so I commented to the beautiful and conversant young lady "How does G. do it, is he THAT good?" - She just handed me a card... she was an "escort", and G. liked to take them to the Stone Lion Tavern to show off before taking them back home.