Installation of Clouds by Mei-ling Hom Continues the Sackler Gallery’s Perspectives Series

July 20, 2005

Media only: Brenda Kean Tabor, 202.633.0523
Rebecca Fahy, 202.633.0521
Public only: 202.633.1000
Exhibition dates: August 27, 2005–March 5, 2006

July 20, 2005
“Floating Mountains, Singing Clouds,” a site-specific installation by Chinese-American artist Mei-ling Hom, will continue the Perspectives series of contemporary installations in the lofty entrance pavilion of the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery—the metaphorical heaven of the Sackler’s subterranean space. Hom’s 30 cloud-like forms and an original Chinese flute (xiao) composition by American composer Eli Marshall create a landscape-in-space that translates traditional Chinese landscape paintings into the contemporary register of installation art. The installation will be on view from August 27, 2005 to March 5, 2006.

The hexnet (chicken wire) clouds will float at staggered levels in the carefully lit but darkened space, apparently dissolving and reappearing as viewers make their way through the area. The installation emphasizes both the ephemeral and palpable qualities of space as the clouds cast delicate linear patterns on the walls and floor.

“The Pavilion is a transitional space, where visitors prepare to clear their minds from the outside and enter another reality,” says Hom.

The music comes from speakers scattered amongst the clouds, underscoring their lightness, recalling the Asian concept of a scholar’s retreat amongst the clouds and setting the stage for the galleries below.

Philadelphia-based Hom has exhibited in the United States, Europe and Asia, but this is her first installation in a major U.S. museum. When asked what was Chinese about the actual forms, Hom, who grew up speaking English but was surrounded by Chinese speakers, replied, “They are as Chinese as I am.” She was drawn to clouds, she says, because “they travel everywhere and are perceived in different ways by different cultures.” The fluidity and intangibility of clouds become a metaphor for the amorphous vehicles—music and language—by which culture is transmitted.

While Hom’s chicken wire installation bears relationships to Western art movements (such as Arte Povera, a postwar Italian movement of artists using humble materials), landscape has been largely abandoned by Western avant-garde artists. Hom’s “landscape-in-space” registers both the enduring importance of the landscape genre in Asia as well as the traditional importance of clouds in Chinese painting, literature and poetry—as vehicles for deities, bearers of portents, and the embodiment of the beauty of nature.

Mei-ling incorporated music into the installation, because she says “sound is such a palpable anchor or memory.” Eli Marshall chose the Chinese flute, or “xiao,” for this work, titled “Cloud Elements,” because it is an air-based instrument and fits the indeterminate space between what may be considered Asian and non-Asian instrumentation.

“I incorporated spaces temporally into the music to allow room for the contemplation of the visual. I imagine the cloud forms as much made of air as they are made of wire.”

Born in Maine, Marshall pursued graduate studies at the Yale School of Music and the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. He is currently guest professor at the Central Conservatory of Music in Bejing,

The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late19th- and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the exhibitions section of the galleries’ website.

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