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  • Fiona Prior

Glorious: earthly pleasures and heavenly realms

Glorious is an exquisite exhibition that celebrates moments of joy and features works from India, China, Japan and Korea; crossing disciplines and traversing history.

It encompasses tales of love, fleeting beauty, changing seasons and alludes to the myths, immortals, and rituals that are so much a part of ancient floating worlds and poetic traditions. The little twists that make Glorious even more charming are the renderings of these ancient aesthetic codes by modern artists using contemporary mediums and materials.

Prominently placed and an absolute show-stopper is Blossom Gatherers (2009-2011) by Raqib Shaw; a shimmering, glistening work containing Bosch-like detail and surreal intricacy. The Blossom Gatherers is studded with Disney touches of glitter and rhinestones and not-so-Disney depictions of wild animals in the act of consuming exotic prey; all set amidst what at first glance seems a fairy-tale paradise.

image: detail from Blossom Gathers, courtesy of the artist and AGNSW

Another modern piece is Flowers and People – Gold (2001) by the Japanese group Team Lab. Eight computer generated panels conform to the configuration and imagery of nature-inspired Chinese and Japanese partition screens (wind walls), but in this instance the series of screens sparkle with light emissions that look to be dewdrops or the micro-particles of nature. The work is an endless, interactive, digital program emitting light rather than reflecting it.

image: Flowers and People - Gold, courtesy of the artist and AGNSW

image: detail from Flowers and People - Gold, courtesy of the artist and AGNSW

Nō Theatre costumes from Japan’s Edo period (1615-1868) display exquisite craftsmanship in tapestry on sumptuous silk textiles worked with gold and coloured thread into images of dragons, clouds and celestial and natural beauty; while manuscripts with names like The Rose Garden of Love (Gulshan-I ‘Ishq); and wood block paintings from the realms of pleasure capture scenes of courtesans, flower sprays and peach blossom. Again, a rather delightful modern take on this latter tradition is Geisha Bathing by Masami Teraoka, where the beauty depicted is trying to rip open a condom packet with her pearly teeth.

A particularly charming exhibit is a tiny porcelain ornament from the Yuan Dynasty of (1279-1368), which shows children bathing in a lotus pond full of fish. Another favourite is the modern Lotus Leaf (by Kitamura Tatsua, one of Japan’s leading contemporary lacquer artists), that takes the form of a golden lotus with quartz crystal droplets of water sparkling from its surface. You can find a definite and recurring penchant for lotus blossoms and 'bling' in Glorious; the oldest example in this exhibition being a reliquary box featuring a lotus design in schist and gold (from Pakistan), while a precious stone inlaid ancient Buddha indicates that our liking for sparkle has never dimmed.

There are so many moments of delight in this exhibition, such as Prince Manahar in the Rose Garden of Love, slicing the head of a fearsome demon to protect his beloved Princess Champavarti; or that charismatic blue-skinned god Krishna, whose alluring flute playing can make every milkmaid in the forest feel as if he is dancing with her and her alone ... So many milkmaids! So many Krishnas! (Dance of LoveRasa Lila).

image by unknown artist Ragaputra Velavala of Bhairava c1710, courtesy of AGNSW

At the Art Gallery of New South Wale until 2018

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