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Emerald Cities main exhibition | Exhibition review by Gary Gach | The Doris Duke Collection


Asian Art Museum, San Francisco October 23, 2009 - January 10, 2010


Thailand and Burma, neighboring countries approximately the same size in area and population, have many cultural features in common (Theravada Buddhism above all), but have traditionally been adversaries. Burma conquered the primary Thai kingdom in 1767, but within a few decades their fortunes began to reverse. Burma lost a series of wars with the British and was eventually overcome and reduced to a colony. Thailand - then called Siam – recovered and became more powerful than ever, and, though it faced enormous pressure from both the British and the French, was able to maintain a large degree of independence.

The 1800s saw a brilliant flowering of all the arts in Siam, under the patronage of both the aristocracy and wealthy merchant families. Burma’s arts flourished similarly in the early part of the century, but patronage was unsettled by increasing British encroachment, the eventual fall of the Burmese monarchy, and annexation by Britain in 1886.

As was true all over Asia, the arts of Siam and Burma in the second half of the century began to be affected by Western styles and attitudes, the development of tourism and mass communication, and new technologies such as photography and power machinery.

The artworks in this exhibition – which are the products of the cultures centered in such cities as Bangkok, Mandalay, and Rangoon – come from the Asian Art Museum’s own collection, which includes one of the largest and most important collections outside Southeast Asia of Siamese and Burmese art from the 1800s. About two-thirds of the works on view were donated from the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation’s Southeast Asian Art Collection. Other donors have also been generous.

Sections of the Exhibition

The exhibition is divided into three sections. In addition to sections for the arts of central Burma and central Thailand, there is a section for the arts of the highland regions of eastern Burma and northern Thailand. The people of last two areas speak related dialects and share as many cultural features with each other as they do with their neighbors in central Burma and central Thailand.

all text & images © Asian Art Museum, San Francisco


Emerald Cities main exhibition | Exhibition review by Gary Gach | The Doris Duke Collection | exhibitions