As Santa Ana winds blew across the Southland, the USC Pacific Asia Museum’s grand re-opening joined the hottest recent trend of celebrating Mexican culture with the exhibition “Winds From Fusang: Mexico and China in the Twentieth Century.”
Last weekend, Disney-Pixar’s Dia de los Muertos-themed animated feature “Coco” won the battle of the box office for the third week in a row, and Cirque du Soleil returned to Dodger Stadium with an appreciation of Mexican culture with its colorful “Luzia,” which opened Friday — the same day that the USC Pacific Asia Museum opened again to the public after a longer-than-expected seismic retrofit.
Curated by Museum Director Christina Yu Yu and independent scholar Shengtian Zheng, “Winds from Fusang” is part of the Getty Center’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA art project.
“This exhibition, ‘Winds from Fusang,’ is the result of more than 10 years of research,” Zheng noted. Zheng further explained that “Fusang” refers to a mysterious legendary land located 1,000 miles east of China, and “many scholars believe that it is America, especially Mexico,” Zheng said.
Items from the exhibition join 300 pieces of art permanently on display at the museum, which is offering free admission through Sunday.
The seismic retrofit of what was originally a private residence added eight to 12 inches to parts of the museum’s walls and reinforced and strengthened its foundation. Yu Yu explained that the museum now has a different flow pattern and a more unified modern look.
Entering the left wing, one passes through what will soon be the museum’s gift shop (scheduled to open in early 2018) into an L-shaped exploration of the permanent collection, starting with the Pacific regions, progressing to the Himalayas and Korea, then China and finally Japan. On display are some rare ceramics (an early Ming Dynasty cobalt-oxide underglaze charger plate and a newly acquired pair of Song Dynasty-era vases), finely embroidered robes and a dragon-themed samurai armor.
At the end of the permanent collection section, visitors spill out into the courtyard and may enter the new exhibit from there. One can also enter the temporary exhibits from the entrance, beginning where the gift store was formerly located prior to the retrofit.
Some believe that the Chinese discovered the Americas before Christopher Columbus in 1492. In the late 1800s, because of increasing anti-Chinese sentiment and the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, Chinese began immigrating to Mexico and other Latin American countries instead of the United States (Canada had its own racist legislation in the Chinese Immigration Act of 1885 and then the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1923).
While Pixar’s “Coco” depicts the fusion of Spanish and Mexican culture, and “Luzia” reminds us of the past and present through acrobatics, the less flamboyant “Winds from Fusang” looks at the influence of Mexico on the 20th century art of China.
Once inside the exhibition, the first room is devoted to black and white ink sketches by painter and art historian Miguel Covarrubias (1904-1957). His caricatures include one of an opera singer from the early 1930s (on loan from the ShiXiang Art Space) which serves as the symbol for the exhibit. These etchings might remind one of Albert Hirschfeld, but he was most famous for drawings of celebrities. The works of Covarrubias that are on display are of types of people rather than specific individuals.
Covarrubias and his wife visited the bustling and fashionable city of Shanghai twice — once in 1930 and again in 1933. He met poet Shao Xunmei who introduced him to artists Ye Qianyu and brothers Zhang Guanyu and Zhang Zhengyu who were influenced to create caricatures as a result.
In the next room, “Winds from Fusang” also includes black and white woodblock and linoleum prints on display, and at the end (or the beginning if you enter from the courtyard) is the mural “Winds from Fusang” which was specifically created for the exhibit by Jingbo Sun and Zheng, illustrating the artistic contacts and exchanges between Mexico and China.
The press on tour with Zheng not only easily recognized his bald, bespectacled image in the acrylic mural, but also Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. Zheng explained the mural alludes to another famous mural. Pro-communist Rivera (1886-1957) painted a 40-foot-long, 10-foot high mural called “Nightmare of War, Dream of Peace.” The art was commissioned by the Mexican government to represent Mexico at a global exhibition in Paris, but because of sympathetic images of former Chinese Premier Mao Tse Tung and Soviet leader Joseph Stalin, it was ultimately rejected as being anti-American.
In the Pasadena area, fusion goes well beyond food. Like Mexico, Pasadena and all of Southern California has felt and fused influences from China and Mexico. “Winds from Fusang” and the USC Pacific Asia Museum offer a fresh look at a type of fusion that is both foreign and familiar.
The USC Pacific Asia Museum presents “Winds from Fusang: Mexico and China in the Twentieth Century” through June 10 at 46 N. Los Robles Ave. Pasadena. Admission is $7 to $10. Children under 12, USC staff, faculty and students, free. Admission is free every Thursday from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Call (626) 449-2742 or visit pacificasiamuseum.usc.edu.