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Eugene Weekly : Visual Art : 1.13.11

 

7,000 Reasons to Move

New Asian art curator hits the (green) ground running

by Suzi Steffen

Looking at Anne Rose Kitagawas curriculum vitae, one might be forgiven a startled question or two about her move to Eugene. She grew up in Chicago, the daughter of two extremely distinguished professors at the University of Chicago. Then she went to college at Oberlin and grad school at Princeton. Shes been working in museums, ranging from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston to the Art Institute of Chicago and most recently, and for 15 years, at the Harvard Art Museum and was assistant curator of Japanese art there.

Photo by Trask Bedortha

So Ä not to put our town down or anything, but Ä Eugene? Well, to be honest, its all about the Asian collection at the Jordan Schnitzer Museum of Art, which has 7,000 items and thousands of square feet of gallery space and is close both to other large Asian art collections on the West Coast and much closer to Asia than is Boston.

Kitagawa began her position as chief curator of Asian art and coordinator of academic programs at the JSMA in June, and she says shes been going full-out ever since. "The collections so big, Im just familiarizing myself with it,” she says.

Museum executive director Jill Hartz doesnt sound too much like the cat that ate the canary when she talks about Kitagawa, but its evident that the UOs art museum, in a Hartz-led change, has started pushing harder and harder for a higher profile in the world of academic museums. "Anne Rose is a scholar, and shes very comfortable in academic museums ã and there are so few academic museums that have a focus on Asian art, especially East Asian art,” Hartz says. Add the strong scholarship of the Giuseppe Vasi exhibit of last term, and the museums reputation may, and should, begin to wax in other parts of the country.

But within a museum, each of the rooms and galleries needs work, revamping, a fresh look so that the galleries dont grow stale ® and so that work in the galleries isnt harmed by exposure. So Kitagawas been looking at each of the (many) Asian galleries in the museum, carefully altering each gallery so that light-sensitive textiles and works on paper, some of which have been up for several years, take a rotation rest in the vault while others come into view. Shes placed modern and contemporary Japanese and Korean art alongside some of the older work. "If you looked at the galleries, in some of them it seemed like the art stopped around 1900,” she says.

Though the carpets of the Japanese gallery still showed the lines of old vitrines a few months after Kitagawa altered the space, a delightfully smart, playful, rooted in art history but firmly contemporary work, Magma Spirit Explodes, Tsunami is Dreadful by Aoshima Chiho, hangs on the wall, entrancing both the eye and the mind. Its not that Kitagawa wants to put away anything from before 1950, not at all; she just wants to freshen up the galleries and get the older pieces in visual conversation with newer works.

And now, along with new flatscreen monitors that give information about the works in the galleries, Kitagawa works on making sure that info comes in several languages. Her dream is to have Japanese, Korean, Chinese, Spanish and English (at least) available for all of the galleries, but for now, at least, she and a team of translators and helpers keep hard at work on making sure the Korean art has Korean-language information, the Japanese art Japanese-language information and so forth. The museum began adding bilingual labels, catalogs and information with the fall 2008 "Cuban Avant-Garde” exhibition, and as Kitagawa says, once a museum opens that door, its not possible to start limiting access again.

The new curator says that one of the great things about living in Eugene instead of Boston/Cambridge is what she calls, with air quotes, "the commute.” In the crowded cities of the Northeast, though the public transportation options covered most of the ground, getting to work wasnt exactly pleasant. "My •commute is seven minutes long through some of the most beautiful landscape,” she says, laughing. But shes been so busy that she hasnt had time to see much of the vaunted Oregon natural beauty (thats right, shes been immersed in the "great city for the arts” portion of the city motto), and she longs to go horseback riding, see Crater Lake and generally become more familiar with the landscape.

Hartz says that shes enjoying working with Kitagawa and seeing her work with the rest of the curatorial staff. She adds, "We deserve her; we deserve this quality. We want to be one of the finest university museums in the world.”