At the Met: Buddha, Intestines, Morning Glory, and more

Liz Luna
Mar 15, 2013 8:12PM

Organized by The Metropolitan Museum of Art's Department of Asian Art in dialogue with the Department of Modern and Contemporary Art, Cambodian Rattan: The Sculptures of Sopheap Pich  demonstrates the power of placing contemporary work in conversation with the past in this presentation of ten works by contemporary Cambodian artist Sopheap Pich. Working mostly in rattan and bamboo, Pich weaves together organic, mostly open-form sculptures that appear to linger in space and glide across the floors of the Asian galleries.

The exhibition begins with Morning Glory installed in the Astor Forecourt, then visitors are redirected past South Asian Hindu-Buddhist and Jain sculpture, allowing for one of the truly serendipitous moments in the exhibition: the placement of Pich’s cone-shaped Upstream underneath the carved teak Architectural Ensemble from a Jain Meeting Hall. Symbolizing shelter and paying homage to fish traps he built with his father as a boy, the clean lines and intersecting grid structure of Pich’s sculpture serve to offset the meticulous details in the wood structure overhead. Similarly, in another gallery, Buddha 2 hovers in mid-air, juxtaposed with the surrounding Angkor period artifacts from the Museum’s collection.

Some works like Fields of Ratanakiri No. 2 are more abstract, evoking a sense of order and permanence. Other works, notably Cycle 2, Version 3; Morning Glory; and Buddha 2 take a more representational approach (sculptures are based on the stomach intestine, the abundant Cambodian plant, and Buddha, respectively), yet they also seem alive. Cycle 2, Version 3, offset by the blood red wall, undulates like a jellyfish in an aquarium. What Pich is able to create with rattan and bamboo is remarkable—a fact made particularly clear in the gallery video, which sheds light on the arduous process of preparing the materials to be sculpted and then bound by wire into the finished product. 

Cambodian Rattan: The Sculptures of Sopheap Pich is on view at the Met through July 7.

All works by Sopheap Pich. From top: Morning Glory [installation, foreground], 2011, lent by Tyler Rollins Fine Art, © The Artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art; Upstream [installation, background, top right], 2005, lent by Tyler Rollins Fine Art, © The Artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art; Buddha 2 [installation], 2009, The Metropolitan Museum  of Art, © Sopheap Pich; Cycle 2, Version 3 [installation], 2008, lent by a private collection, © The Artist and Tyler Rollins Fine Art. Installation photos courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art.  

Liz Luna