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Asian Art Museum grooves with ‘Flower Power’

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A 19th century Thai watercolor of Buddha overcoming a demon — and weapons transforming into lotus blossoms — is on view at the Asian Art Museum in “Flower Power.” (Courtesy Asian Art Museum)

Embracing the flower as a hippie-era symbol of love and peace, “Flower Power” at the Asian Art Museum links 1960s themes and ideals to those found in centuries-old Asian art and culture.

Coinciding with the Summer of Love 50th-anniversary celebration, it’s an uplifting, eye-pleasing exhibition.

Curator Dany Chan has assembled about 60 pieces from the museum’s collection with projects by contemporary artists. Titled after a slogan coined by poet Allen Ginsberg, the exhibit focuses on six flowers significant in Asian culture.

First up is the lotus, which symbolizes transcendence and purity. A key lotus-themed work is a 19th-century Thai painting depicting the Buddha’s defeat of the demon Mara. The earth goddess creates a flood. Weapons transform into lotus blossoms.

Chan has paired an image of 1960s flower power — Bernie Boston’s photograph of a hippie placing a carnation into the barrel of a rifle — with the Thai painting.

The plum blossom and cherry blossom represent spring and transience in China, Japan and other places. A 15th-century Chinese lacquered tray with inlaid mother-of-pearl captures the flower’s beauty, picturing blossoms under a crescent moon. A 17th-century Japanese screen depicts the popular activity of cherry-blossom viewing.

The chrysanthemum, an autumn flower with a long blooming season, symbolizes longevity and reflection in East Asia. Chrysanthemum highlights include a 1776 red lacquered cup and lid from China and two 18th-century Japanese multi-flowered folding screens.

The tulip and rose, with their sophisticated look, proved popular not only in Ottoman-era Turkey but in Europe as well, after their introduction there. A colorful ceramic dish from 16th-century Turkey features the tulip along with other flowers. A rose represents culture and nonviolent side of a Mughal prince and warrior in a painting created around 1700.

Contemporary selections, containing social, political and environmental themes, provide a sense of urgency and groovy fun.

Ayomi Yoshida’s “Yedoensis,” an installation considering how climate change might affect the cherry blossom, consists of thousands of woodblock-printed flowers on two-dimensional tree-branch imagery.

Silkscreen prints by Takashi Murakami, whose inspirations include Andy Warhol and traditional Japanese printmaking, feature the artist’s trademark smiling daisies and address the issue of branding.

“Cold Life,” an animated digital work by teamLab, illustrates the therapeutic power of flowers, trees and butterflies in stressful times.

In Lee Mingwei’s “The Moving Garden,” fresh flowers fill a narrow waterway in a granite sculpture. Visitors can take a flower but must give it to a stranger, in the spirit of generosity.

In “Flower Interruption,” her Summer of Love-inspired pathway, local political muralist Megan Wilson uses pop-style flowers to symbolize peace and joy.

Special activities held in conjunction with the exhibit include ikebana lessons, artist presentations, and, on July 15, “Lotus Alive,” an attempt to create the largest-ever “human flower.”


Flower Power
Where: Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., S.F.
When: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays-Sundays, except open until 9 p.m. Thursdays-Fridays; closes Oct. 1
Admission: $10 to $25; free for ages 12 and younger
Contact: (415) 581-3500, www.asianart.org

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