Curating Across Asia: A Journey with Dany Chan at The Walters Art Museum

00;00;00;00 - 00;00;31;01
Unknown
Only a couple months down. I think I recognize. Welcome to the truth in this art. I am your host, Rob Lee. And today we delve into the world of Asian art. Join us as we explore groundbreaking exhibitions and expertise in the field with an esteemed curator and art historian based in Baltimore. My guess is earned numerous accolades and holds the position of associate curator of Asian art.

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Unknown
At The Walters, Art Museum. Please welcome Dany Chan. Welcome to the podcast. Thank you, Rob. Thank you for having me here. Thank you for coming on. Thank you for for making the time. And, you know, like you're in your office with the real books behind you and actual real things. I'm in my home office and Eric Funko pops behind me.

00;00;52;10 - 00;01;14;07
Unknown
So we're all very different sides of this sort of Friday conversation where we're doing this. But definitely I wanted to you to chat and I'm glad we're able to do this and before we get into sort of the main topics of today's conversation, I wanted to like open it up and, you know, give you the space to introduce yourself and maybe share the highlight of your week.

00;01;14;08 - 00;01;42;11
Unknown
I think we don't ask each other that enough, like what's going on in the world. That's great. So if you will. Oh, sure. Hi, I'm Donnie Chan, and I serve as the associate curator of Asian art at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. This is my fourth year working at the Walters. Before I came to the Walters, I was actually a curator in San Francisco at the Asian Art Museum, and I was there for a total of ten years.

00;01;42;11 - 00;02;22;25
Unknown
So right out of grad school and spent ten years there. And, you know, looking back, I feel like that was a that was where I received, like my real world training on how to be a curator. And I learned a lot at that. And, you know, let's say this week, I would say the highlight of my week was yesterday I gave a talk at the women's club at Roland Park and, you know, one of the most rewarding aspects of my work as a curator is actually when I get these opportunities to give talks or lectures to the public.

00;02;22;28 - 00;02;57;01
Unknown
And so yesterday I gave a talk on the meaning of flowers in Asian art to coincide with their garden art theme. And, you know, I've never worked with the club before. So it was it was great to make a new connection. But I also found that the audience there were super engaging because in a way, that's I love how people who come to my talks, they're there because they have some sort of interest in what I have to say.

00;02;57;04 - 00;03;19;09
Unknown
And so it was really gratifying that we were able to bond over a shared mutual interest of flowers and art. This was great. It's great to have like those sort of like finding your people sort of so to say yes, yes, yes. And I may have added a flower question later, so you give me a work to do so.

00;03;19;12 - 00;03;43;23
Unknown
And thank you for that introduction. And thank you for the show, too. That highlight. That's that's really that's really cool. I mean, if I was interviewing you, let's say again tomorrow, hopefully this is in that highlight conversation. Right. So going back a little bit like the beginning and and I know you touched on sort of like that the first Agile, you were a little bit ahead of the first sort of art job.

00;03;43;24 - 00;04;11;16
Unknown
But when did that that passion around art and around like I guess being activated and recognizing like art and creative beauty begin. When was that for you? I would have to go all the way back to when I was a kid in the 1980s. So I my family and I immigrated to the US in the early 1980s and we settled in Revere, Massachusetts, right outside of Boston.

00;04;11;18 - 00;04;45;18
Unknown
And there was a large immigrant Cambodian community there during the early eighties, and there was a local video rental shop that rented out episodes of these like these, you know, you know, of like Korean drama these days. Well, this was the Chinese Hong Kong equivalent of that. So it was like TV episodes of these these shows that were, you know, loosely based off of Chinese history myths and legends.

00;04;45;19 - 00;05;10;09
Unknown
So they wore fantastical, like historical costumes. They did, you know, they had great fight sequences with kung fu and they had powers. They were, you know, they had supernatural dealings with supernatural beings. And so in the 1980s, apparently it was the golden age of that type of costume dramas coming out of Hong Kong. And so every week we would get new episodes that we can rent out.

00;05;10;09 - 00;05;36;26
Unknown
And they were dubbed in the Cambodian language. And that was when I fell in love with sort of like ancient China. I thought China was like that, you know, with costumes and sword fighting and magic. And only later I found out that, no, that doesn't exist anymore, except through. But, you know, historical Chinese art. Yeah. And after that, that was when I first fell in love with, like, Chinese art and culture.

00;05;36;28 - 00;06;12;16
Unknown
That's. That's really cool. That's really cool. And being able to kind of tap back into, like, being exposed. You know, I think there's, you know, with this sort of push of highlighting and amplifying like, you know, art and history from various cultures, it's like, oh, it can kind of spark that interest. And I think that's why the sort of broader conversation around art and around creativity that brings in maybe conversations from from different cultures that weren't getting sort of that same attention as sort of the the classics and the traditional and all of that sort of stuff.

00;06;12;18 - 00;06;29;09
Unknown
If we're being very honest, very sort of like white art world and able to bring in like, oh, here's your history a little bit and let's have folks that are, you know, representative of the culture and can speak of the culture and speak on like the history and give them that sort of space. I think that's very important.

00;06;29;11 - 00;06;52;24
Unknown
Yeah. And I didn't get it through my my schooling because there was, you know, the public school system that I went to did not have a strong art program at all. Like, we had, you know, a visual arts thing where we have our teachers who teach you how to paint, etc.. But I have no such skill or aptitude for that.

00;06;52;27 - 00;07;19;22
Unknown
But we had good science teachers. And so I actually went to college hoping to be like an astrophysicist. So that was like my I had a science major. I went in with a science major. However, after a week or a month there, and I finally realized, Oh my God, I can study the Chinese language. I can learn about Asian art history.

00;07;19;24 - 00;07;46;11
Unknown
It was that kind of exposure that I didn't I didn't know those types of learning existed. And so I changed my major within that first month, you know, to to East Asian studies with the Chinese language minor because that's the impact I had the experience of going to an HBCU and, you know, similar as you describing like earlier, I wanted to be a comic book artist.

00;07;46;11 - 00;08;01;14
Unknown
I wanted to be an illustrator. And that was what I was into. I spent all of my time doing it and I was one of those kids that would quickly complete a test like Rush through the test and get that. B knew I was good enough to get the B right, and I was like, I'm going to draw X-Men for the next 15 minutes.

00;08;01;14 - 00;08;36;12
Unknown
That's what I'm doing. And it was a little bit of entrepreneurship thing because I was selling the pictures I was drawing. That's, well, nice. But I'll say, you know, once I got into maybe senior year, like in high school, I was looking at like, All right, I don't know if there a lot of you know, I guess actually before going into high school, I think maybe last year, middle school going into high school, I kind of got this sort of notice of from an art school saying, oh, it's kind of childish and just killed my confidence.

00;08;36;12 - 00;09;03;02
Unknown
And I stopped drawing and kind of shifted into more of the creative writing and things of that nature and really didn't know what the direction was going to be. So I was looking at either going into engineering, specifically robotics, or going into like business school. So me selling my comics was early, me being an entrepreneur. But by the time I got to Morgan State University, great business program, I chose business as my major.

00;09;03;04 - 00;09;25;28
Unknown
I took an African diaspora class and it just opened me up like, this is what, 2003 just opened me up like, Yeah, let's explore. Let's learn more about this. I wasn't quite in that vein, but definitely it got me very interested in getting to the vein of changing my major. But it opened in my mind, I'll say. Absolutely.

00;09;26;01 - 00;09;55;20
Unknown
Absolutely. So let's see. Let's see. So coming, coming out of college. And so talk about sort of that that journey. And I know you touched on a little bit early, but talk about that journey into curious vision and like sort of this like having the background, imagine the major and all really kind of informal like this is the direction I want to go, but would talk about that some of the decisions and some of the opportunities that that came out of that that that path.

00;09;55;22 - 00;10;20;03
Unknown
Yeah. So when I yeah when I first read declared or changed my majored East Asian studies I you know I changed it without without an end goal in mind. I remember my family asked me what are you going to do with that major? You know. And so my first job actually was when I was a sophomore in undergrad.

00;10;20;03 - 00;10;42;08
Unknown
So I went to school at at Colby College in Waterville, Maine. And during my sophomore year, I worked as a research assistant for one of my art professors. And what I had to do was just to catalog her her collection of art slides. Like, this was back in the day when professors used a slide projector for their art history seminars.

00;10;42;10 - 00;11;05;28
Unknown
And so in that job, I think it was just the process of cataloging each of the slides. And first of all, it forced me to just be exposed to a large quantity of Asian artworks. You know, even though they were I was exposed to them through slides and not the actual objects, it was just still one after the other, you know, just being exposed.

00;11;06;00 - 00;11;33;12
Unknown
And so it wasn't an educational experience, but nonetheless, but I feel like looking back now, I can I can sort of like point to that time as when after after seeing all these gorgeous artworks and they look gorgeous in the slides, I wanted to actually see them in person. And that's I feel like that's what distinguishes an art historian from an art curator.

00;11;33;18 - 00;12;01;24
Unknown
Yeah. As an art curator, I do have the privilege of handling and just spending time with an actual object like right there in front of me. And you know, I am I'm insured to handle these precious artworks. Art historians, you know, they they don't necessarily get to be with the artworks that they study, right as often or as easily as a curator does.

00;12;01;29 - 00;12;26;13
Unknown
Like, we, we sometimes facilitate, you know, scholars visits to see the objects in person, but they get like a day or two to spend with the object versus what I can do every day. And so I think that really sort of put me on the path of, okay, what can I do? What what kind of career would allow me to be with an art object?

00;12;26;16 - 00;12;58;14
Unknown
You know, so regularly and easily. And also that's become one of my primary curatorial philosophy. Start with the object to like, what can the object tell you? Yeah. Where can it lead you to? You know, in what paths can lead you to ask questions. And so start with the object. That's a that's a great, great philosophy. There is, you know, start to think about, please, I guess the curation that goes into collecting interviews and so on.

00;12;58;14 - 00;13;17;01
Unknown
It's definitely not to say I'll never give myself that, but there is an intention that goes into it. And I think figuring out where you want to start all that, like you're saying, start off with the object, right? And I think with that with doing this will have you start off with sort of the conversation which you're aiming to get out of the conversation.

00;13;17;04 - 00;13;34;14
Unknown
It's not like every person with a paintbrush, you know, on its is like, all right, what is there merit within this conversation? Is there something that can be gained in something that, you know, I can learn? Because at the end of the day, it's always for me. But is there something that could be learned from this? So thank you.

00;13;34;14 - 00;13;58;10
Unknown
I steal from you artists sitting in, I steal from you artists and you guess types I steal from you. I steal from all of you. I'm using this to better myself. That's what this is. So, excuse me. Let's see. Yeah, but I do have to say that what really opened my eyes to the possibility of curation as a career was again, Colby College was fantastic.

00;13;58;11 - 00;14;25;25
Unknown
It was for, you know, the first person in my family to go to college. It was the ideal environment to really, you know, hold my hand and sort of offer me exposure to all kinds of things because in sort of like my junior senior year, there was a seminar given by some of the art professors. It was called Museum Exhibition, like 1 to 1 or something like that.

00;14;25;27 - 00;14;58;15
Unknown
And so it was a seminar of like eight students. And the goal of the seminar was to launch an exhibition with the College Art Museum. So basically, you know, from ideation all the way to completion. And so it was an intensive training. You learn how to come up with an exhibition idea by, you know, going into the storage and figuring out, okay, what objects do we have in this collection?

00;14;58;17 - 00;15;27;08
Unknown
You know, how can what would be a fascinating show of it based on the objects that we have? Then you learn how to write, you know, object labels for them, do research, edit a catalog and the objects. And then you get the fun part where you have the opening party, you know, very fun. So that seminar was great in that it solidified for me.

00;15;27;11 - 00;15;50;04
Unknown
What I was hoping for was this is an actual career. There are people who get paid to do this and it feels like it's something that I would love to do. And so kudos. I give a great I give much gratitude to that seminar. It's great having that that experience. I mean, I can I can see it on your face right now.

00;15;50;07 - 00;16;09;24
Unknown
We have the you know, the listeners don't have the visual that you're all right now. And, you know, having having that opportunity and that sort of realization that this thing that I'm interested in is a pursuit that I'm interested in. It's like, Oh, this is how it actually works. And it's like everything starts clicking and everything starts coming together like, Wow, this is amazing.

00;16;09;27 - 00;16;33;15
Unknown
Yeah. Well, when did it start to click for you? As you know, I don't know. I guess there I'll say like, you know, years and years and years I've been doing this for for about 14 years. And, you know, just being I was one of those guys was very interested in some of the weird news stories and that you would hear like the on the radio in the morning.

00;16;33;18 - 00;16;55;04
Unknown
And I would oftentimes be looking up these stories like, well, what's weird, this happening in the world right now? And I would look up that stuff and I started hearing it on the radio and it's like, okay, there's a lane for this. And it starts to click. And I found a podcast from one of my favorite film directors, and he started kind of like revealing certain things.

00;16;55;04 - 00;17;16;00
Unknown
He used to make a podcast, to do a podcast, and this is way back in 2009, and I was just like, Oh, I can actually try this out. And really being self-taught, having a few of those like opportunities to chat with people who are producers and just to get a better sense of what gear should I get to go along this journey further.

00;17;16;02 - 00;17;46;15
Unknown
But really being self-taught but getting sort of that, these are two guys having an interesting conversation and I'm captivated and how can I bring that on? So in doing this particular podcast, I give all the credit to one of those sort of turning points. All of the interviews I enjoyed, they're all great. But I'll say, you know, interviewing folks like I did an interview with Rebecca Hall Burger, and that was kind of the one of oh oh, I'm decent at this.

00;17;46;15 - 00;18;04;23
Unknown
I'm pretty good. I'm pretty good at this. And I was like, I got to keep going and keep trying to, like, go after that sort of magic and being curious. Yeah, Yeah. So I want to shift gears a touch. Could we, can we talk a bit about across Asia, parts of Asia and the Islamic world? Yes, yes, yes.

00;18;04;23 - 00;18;38;21
Unknown
With pleasure. So yeah, please. Now, so across Asia or parts of Asia and the Islamic world, it is our re-envisioning of the Walters collection of Asian Islamic art and, you know, we considered a landmark installation for us because it is the first time in the museum's history whereby we are able to present the present Asian art and Islamic art together in a contiguous physical space.

00;18;38;23 - 00;19;05;07
Unknown
You know, previously we've had these two collections in separate spaces, but we really wanted to put them together in a contiguous space because historically the various cultures across the Asian continent have had periods of interactions and exchanges, and we wanted to make sure that we can tell those stories and it made total sense then to put them all in on the fourth floor of the museum.

00;19;05;10 - 00;19;30;21
Unknown
And so we opened in April, so only a few weeks ago and visitors will find that, you know, on display like over 500 objects representing cultures and traditions of East Asia, South and Southeast Asia and the Islamic world. It's great. It's great. And I like that notion of bringing just, oh, this is this type of art. This is this is like, no, all of us should just come to it.

00;19;30;24 - 00;20;16;21
Unknown
Can we can we bring it together? And we just, you know, here, here. No. All right, cool. But I like that that's that's what's happening. And, you know, I'm visiting as a very soon. Such as? It's been a crazy couple of weeks, but I wanted to get a sense from you, like you were touching on it earlier as far as coming up with and working on this exhibition, like being Kirkuk cultural curator here, talk about like the experience of bringing together and shaping the narrative for for this exhibit and well, so there were there were actually three curators working on this installation myself, Ani Prosor, who is the senior curator of Asian art at the

00;20;16;21 - 00;20;44;20
Unknown
Walters, and also Ashley Dimock. She was the former Wheeler Mellen fellow in Islamic Art. She has left us now and she is now a director of a gallery at University of Wisconsin, Whitewater. But during her time here, all three of us worked together on this installation. And, you know, so three curators, the potential for a conflict is very high, you know, with three different perspectives and three different egos.

00;20;44;24 - 00;21;09;00
Unknown
But actually, we were a great team, actually, like grief, Like I'm very happy with the fact that we were a great team and we were actually on the same page about our priorities for this installation. You know, we knew that we wanted to work with the strengths of the collection because the collection was formed by the Walters family, the father and son team.

00;21;09;00 - 00;21;35;06
Unknown
And so and they're individuals, you know, they're humans. And so they had their own interests and their collection really reflect their individual taste. And so that means there are some stories that we can't tell from beginning to end. You know, we can't get 5000 years worth of history from the collection. And so we had to work with our strengths, but we also wanted to uplift underrepresented voices and perspectives.

00;21;35;09 - 00;22;04;16
Unknown
And so we did that through. We had a few different strategies to do so. And then finally we wanted to sort of like highlight these historical connections when possible. And that was one of the main reasons why we wanted Asian art and Islamic art to be together in one space, because there was a long history of connections across this vast continent.

00;22;04;18 - 00;22;35;07
Unknown
And so that was that was, you know, that was what we that those were our goals. And like one of the first steps that any curator will have to do for any installation exhibition is to come up with the object list. And this was a massive undertaking. It took multiple years and, you know, we had we have 9000 objects in our collection for covering Asian Islamic art, and you're only seeing like 500 in the galleries, right?

00;22;35;09 - 00;22;55;01
Unknown
And so the first thing we had to do was to decide to, you know, the first round we managed to get, I think, a thousand objects on the list out of 9000. So, you know, the first round was like a gut check. You just go through images. You're like, yes, no, yes, no, sort of like, you know, just working off of our own gut.

00;22;55;01 - 00;23;21;24
Unknown
But also, you know, from our training and education and knowledge. And then the second and subsequent rounds was to refine just keep refining the list. And so we got down to about 500. And you do that refinement by, you know, going to going into storage, look at the objects that we don't have photos for because you can't say yes or no until you know what actually looks like.

00;23;21;26 - 00;23;46;19
Unknown
So that's one round and then another round would be okay. You have a smaller list now, and you know what every one of them looks like and they're in good condition, whatever. So now it's like, well, what stories can we what stories do these objects tell us? So sometimes you get a good group that automatically there was an organic story that emerged and like, Oh, perfect, that group stays.

00;23;46;21 - 00;24;11;13
Unknown
But then you have other objects that, you know, no matter how hard you try, you just can't. They just don't fit anywhere. They don't fit in the multiple ways that you're hoping or that the other objects are telling you. It needs to be. And so those are the objects that eventually you got to cut. And, you know, we were cutting objects up until like the last week of install.

00;24;11;16 - 00;24;35;22
Unknown
Don't tell anybody that, but no one listens to this. But but it's normal. Actually, it's quite normal. Well, I want to interject real quick, because they like having those sort of unexpected like parallels immediately reminded me of like a film editor. It's like, yeah, if we had to trim this out, the movie was 2 hours. We got it down to 90 minutes.

00;24;35;25 - 00;24;59;01
Unknown
We were we were editing to the day. Oh, but I think it's something very, very interesting in trying to balance like, you know, this is a really cool item. This was a really cool object. This was a really cool scene when you're kind of trimming down from a large number from I think you said 9000 right to 500.

00;24;59;03 - 00;25;29;12
Unknown
That is a large drop. And I look at it now in doing this as I kind of made the comparison to curating in this, there are folks that are reach out and it's like, I don't know if that fits right now if for for these reasons and having sort of a rubric there. So in looking back, were there any sort of like challenges where those sort of egos came at back and forth so you can work together great, But it wasn't one of those like, I'm married to this item.

00;25;29;12 - 00;26;01;09
Unknown
I love this object. Right. Was it one of those instances or any object for you that really sticks out that you're like that is the best piece? Well, I have to say that the biggest challenges were actually kind of almost out of our control and, you know, over the past four years, I think everybody would agree the pandemic was the biggest challenge, the most unexpected.

00;26;01;11 - 00;26;39;29
Unknown
And so, you know, that disrupted, you know, the fabric of just our lives, daily lives in general. But that certainly for this project, you know, it not only delayed the opening, but, you know, it delayed it really put a roadblock on those initial stages whereby we had to, like, go into storage to view the objects in person. And so, you know, it took us a while, like everybody else before we were able to work up a system where individually we you know, we reserve time by ourselves in storage to view, you know, 100 objects and then next week we'll do that again and again, etc..

00;26;40;01 - 00;27;08;20
Unknown
So that was a challenge that was unexpected, totally out of our hands. Um, and sort of like related to the pandemic and people's shifting priorities because of it, but also partly forced us to deal with the challenge of having significant turnover in staffing in several departments across the museum that we work with in order to, you know, an installation like this takes the entire museum.

00;27;08;23 - 00;27;34;29
Unknown
All the teams work together to make it happen. And so when we have, you know, not enough staffing to help us with the project, that was a major challenge. I mean, like ultimately, for example, we ended up working with three designers, three different designers on this work, on this installation, and one and basically the most important way that we overcame that challenge was to give each other grace.

00;27;35;01 - 00;28;13;09
Unknown
I mean, like I think grace and compassion, you know, I think, I think understanding that, like in doing this because this is sort of the connection point that I have and this is the medium in which we're, you know, a fan like we are working with different folks. You have like a calendar, they have a calendar. And I think a few of the different byproducts that have come out of the pandemic, maybe culturally speaking, is that, you know, folks had that moment of reset, but then sort of like the way that the engine that is this country in the world works is go, go, go.

00;28;13;09 - 00;28;31;20
Unknown
We don't have time for for this. And I think it's that much more important when you're having sort of these person to person interactions, you know, whether it's working with that sort of whole museum staff or, you know, even in instances where you don't want to say a graduation, because I know it's commencement season for a lot of schools.

00;28;31;20 - 00;28;58;07
Unknown
Right. And it's a lot of times all hands on deck. And you want to make sure that, you know, you're giving folks sort of that space and acknowledging that anything can happen and like, oh, that is still very real for sake of argument and all these other things can pop up that can delay something. So giving folks sort of that grace and recognize that we learned something about these pivots and then to consistently pivot.

00;28;58;09 - 00;29;27;10
Unknown
Yeah. And it was giving it was also through little zoom boxes, even it was even in that like giving each other grace person in person. It was giving each other grace and being compassionate via small boxes on our screen. It was it was wild. The compassion emoji and the zoom prayers up, you know? Yeah, yeah. But also another major challenge that was definitely unexpected.

00;29;27;18 - 00;30;11;11
Unknown
I can't say unexpected, but definitely out of much of our control from the very beginning was, you know, the Black Lives Matter movement and then the calls for social justice and also sort of do you know, related to that was like this lens on museums in general, sort of like make forcing us to really look inward and ask ourselves to reconsider like what have we been doing, you know, And so, you know, like we were I can I can definitely say we were one of the slower museums to go public with our support, but we were thoughtful in our slowness.

00;30;11;11 - 00;30;56;09
Unknown
That was one of the reasons why we were slow. But, you know, to be you know, sometimes I feel like I'm mid-career as a curator, but, you know, it was in the end, I definitely think it was fantastic for a museum field to have been forced culturally, if you consider our past and where we're headed. And so but that, you know, for the day to day what or how it affects me as a curator day to day, it was more like and what you know, what stories do we want to tell with our historical artworks?

00;30;56;09 - 00;31;23;05
Unknown
You know, what voices do we want to uplift? And so it was a fundament shift as well. And you know, five years ago these artworks were presented a certain way five years later. No, they're not. They are keeping up with the times they need to keep up with the times as huge. And, you know, I think in living through it and recognizing in it and being of a certain age, I'm from the eighties as well.

00;31;23;07 - 00;31;49;00
Unknown
I think it gives us sort of like a context and a sort of understanding of what's happening around us and being able to to read through it. You know, I did an interview that unfortunately I couldn't have used because it's just the audio quality wasn't great, but it was sort of at the beginning of, I think here some of one of the earlier stories about sort of the Asian hate like dance.

00;31;49;00 - 00;32;08;03
Unknown
And so I'll put it was like and like, like Chinese New Year. I was literally just thinking personally, ping me, it's like this is happening. And the person I was interviewing, the Chinese, it was very it was just a really weird lead time. And I even look at, you know, I'm a six foot four black man from Baltimore.

00;32;08;05 - 00;32;30;14
Unknown
You know, it's just the reality of the situation. So that's me. It's baked into who I'm interested in talking to. And what I might find interesting is my perspective is my sensibilities, right? So I remember speaking about a few different things using the sort of social media platform and kind of like who I might be interested in talking to and so on.

00;32;30;16 - 00;32;49;07
Unknown
Some of the DMS, you know, you're only talking to these types of artists, you're only talking to this type of artist. And I was like, Talk to everyone and hear his examples. But since we're doing this and, you know, we sort of have this, this habit, and I think having that moment to wait, some people may say it's too slow.

00;32;49;07 - 00;33;08;13
Unknown
And so on, but I think being thoughtful, so word that people throw around a lot, they don't know. They don't know what they're saying, thoughtful and intentional. They don't know what they mean. Sometimes it's not instantaneous. And I think when you're taking the time to put in care, it's not in action. It's, you know, like, what do we think about this?

00;33;08;13 - 00;33;26;24
Unknown
What is the message? How do we get this right? You know, as far as how we behaving, how we assign messaging and so on? Because there are a lot of places, I think most of us the terminology you can't quite put the genie back in the bottle. So if you say something that's wrong, tone deaf, that just doesn't match, you're going to get called out on it.

00;33;26;24 - 00;33;48;15
Unknown
So being able to be thoughtful and mindful of what is the approach and are we on the same page across an institution or culturally what have you? I think that's that's where that time and that work has to go in. Yeah. So see, I got two more real questions and I got those aforementioned rapid fire questions that you won't escape.

00;33;48;18 - 00;34;14;18
Unknown
No one escapes. So we love the parties. We love seeing the sort of the work going up and all of that, you know, the the objects and all the great effort that's being put in and how an exhibition is laid out and all of the thinking and just the process overall is thus far. What would you say is like one of the most rewarding moments or achievements that you've experienced as a curator or as a scholar?

00;34;14;18 - 00;34;39;21
Unknown
Because, you know, that's just another thing. I may have saw some writing in there know deep dive. So talk a little bit about that. Sure. I'd say one of the first experiences, one of my first private moments was when I first started out. So right after grad school I went to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco and I worked as the Keratosis stand of Chinese art.

00;34;39;23 - 00;35;05;06
Unknown
Now curatorial assistant is sort of like the bottom of the totem pole. Now, this is when you get your foot in the door in the field. And so living in San Francisco at that time as a virtual assistant, I had to work a second job, you know, to make ends meet because it's San Francisco. And so I worked as a server at a sports bar, a local sports bar, and as my second job.

00;35;05;08 - 00;35;31;09
Unknown
So when I published my first article, my first article in Orientations magazine, this art trade publication, I was so proud and my manager, the sports bar, was also very proud of me. And so he scanned the pages of the article and he emailed it to headquarters, you know, sort of like, say, Hey, look what our, you know, employees are doing, you know?

00;35;31;11 - 00;35;58;06
Unknown
So that was very you know, I love that. I was like, oh, a little boost of confidence, you know, from all sides. That's really cool. And so that was my first really proud moment. As, you know, someone as an art scholar in the spring of 2011, I was selected to be part of a trip to Japan that it was supported by the Japan Foundation.

00;35;58;08 - 00;36;35;24
Unknown
And this trip was basically a group of curators, art curators, and specifically also Asian art curators who were interested in also working with, you know, contemporary art and or contemporary living artists. And so they took us to Japan and, you know, it was the the trip was so eye opening because not only was I able to just be exposed to, you know, the living, thriving culture of Japan and go to all the wonderful art museums and cultural heritage sites.

00;36;35;26 - 00;37;11;00
Unknown
But because the emphasis was also on contemporary art, you know, I was also got to just experience sort of like from the Japanese point of view, what they found fascinating in in the contemporary art world. And so but this was also during the time when the earthquake happened with the nuclear meltdown. And so on that personal level, it was you know, I made great friends with the group of people that I was with because you you know, you went through that traumatic experience together.

00;37;11;00 - 00;37;36;28
Unknown
And you really do remain close after that. But that was a transformative trip professionally and personally. Yes. That's that's wonderful to have that experience and be able to take in the culture. I think when I do the majority of my interviews, Baltimore based with Baltimore, folks, what have you, and when I do sort of the truth and is are beyond I make it a point to go to the place.

00;37;37;00 - 00;38;01;16
Unknown
You know, it's something like the whole sports thing. So sports bar early. So the whole sports things like, oh, this isn't an away game I guess. And I'll do it that way and I'll share it as I have a have a buddy from the what is it, Japan American Society in Philadelphia. And I was just kind of like having, having kind of share with him, I think of Mike, the sort of experience I had a couple of years back.

00;38;01;18 - 00;38;22;05
Unknown
I called it my my weird long, like, kind of Japanese weekend where one of my buddies and I, we flew from from Baltimore to to Los Angeles for the Anime Expo was happening, which was a it was a back up thing for us because we were there. And I put it this way to see sweaty Japanese men wrestle.

00;38;22;07 - 00;38;39;07
Unknown
We were there for Japan, New Japan pro Wrestling, and it was their first show in their 45 year history in the U.S. So I was like, Yeah, we got to go. So we go there and then it's like, Let's out in a little Tokyo. In L.A. we started just doing all of these different things and it was just through line.

00;38;39;10 - 00;39;04;14
Unknown
And the only thing that was not on point and is just maybe more choosing. I'm a I'm a bit of a sushi snob and I just did not have good sushi there. That was the only thing about it. But it was just like being around it and I wish that and this is a couple of years ago, but I wish that I had sort of the background in doing all of these interviews to go there and relive that experience a little bit.

00;39;04;16 - 00;39;23;03
Unknown
The Anime Expo, I sat there, me and my buddy sat there with a group. They were Japanese photographers that were there, and I was like, We're here with the like real people. When I, like the fanboys were hanging out with the photographers, we get a whole different vibe. Yeah. What do you find interesting about this whole whole thing?

00;39;23;05 - 00;39;50;12
Unknown
So that was a really cool experience. Awesome. Just the culture thing for me. Yes, yes, yes, definitely. When you get the opportunity to be there in person and just absorb, soak up the culture and you know, I've had the fortunate opportunity to not only go to Japan, but I've also lived and worked in China as well. And so, yeah, so I have not been to Korea.

00;39;50;12 - 00;40;11;00
Unknown
That's on my bucket list, professionally speaking. I need to go to Korea sometime in my lifetime and I'm slightly jealous. That's the thing. I'm not jealous when it comes to the flight component. Like me and my partner, we joke about it because she's like, I can just cross my legs and go to sleep on a plane. I was like, You're fine.

00;40;11;02 - 00;40;45;10
Unknown
I was like, that 18 hour flight from here to Japan. I was like, I am 64. Is that going to work out? I was like, everything. A small right was like, What are we doing? So this is the last question I have, and this is it. But first, I would have to say I would be remiss if I didn't say that installing across Asia was is the most recent moment of pride for me as a curator because I don't know if you know, but it is actually relatively rare for any curator to get the opportunity to be able to re-envision and reinstall an entire collection.

00;40;45;13 - 00;41;11;11
Unknown
Some curators go a whole career without having had that opportunity. So I am very grateful that I got to work with like two great colleagues and a great team to do that. Thank you. That's that is definitely a feather in cap and a milestone. So so this is the the sort of last real question here. And this is more around the sort of framing those like advice you mentioned mid-career, right?

00;41;11;11 - 00;41;44;22
Unknown
So what advice would you give to aspiring curators of all types, art and so on? Because, you know, here, what advice would you give as far as like, you know, approaching curation, how to just like, you know, progress in that that that lane, if you will. I think number one is be curious because you know 50% of my daily work is thinking about the art world doing research on the art works.

00;41;44;25 - 00;42;35;24
Unknown
And you know, even though my education and training was specifically on Chinese art, most curators have to oversee all of Asian art, for example. And so, you know, a tall order. And so you have to be you have to be curious to be able to, you know, get that daily dose of, you know, just excitement and passion. Otherwise, it's just going to be an overwhelming task for your entire career and a thing or another advice would be to seek fellowship and collaborations, not only, you know, across the museum but also across within the field, because, you know, for a long time curators have had this perception that we work in our ivory tower, you know,

00;42;35;24 - 00;43;05;19
Unknown
isolated. That's no longer the case. You know, work is in order to make our history, especially our historical collection, relevant to new audiences, like we need we need our colleagues perspective. They're there on the floor and, you know, they're there engaging with visitors. They have more of a pulse on what is important now to our visitors. And so fellowship and collaboration is key.

00;43;05;21 - 00;43;33;26
Unknown
Be adaptable. Who knew the pandemic was going to happen kind of thing, you know, And it always happens. There's always challenges and roadblocks, always in any project. And then finally, through perfectionism, because you got to make deadlines. As you said, every team member has their own deadlines, has their own list of deadlines. And you got to learn as a curious to know when good is good enough.

00;43;33;29 - 00;43;59;04
Unknown
You have a deadline. This is good enough for what we want to achieve. And you know, you still respect what you produce. It's good enough. Move on. And that's how projects get finished. That's how the team accomplishes together. Thank you. You see, I was looking for one. You gave us four of them. I mean, that's overachieving. I love it.

00;43;59;06 - 00;44;26;21
Unknown
Speaking of 4 a.m., I have five? But I want to hit you with these rapid fire questions as I tell everyone. Don't overthink them. They're they're goofy questions, but they're they're a little bit about you. It takes us behind the curtain, you know? So here's the first one. What is your go to comfort food? She was it is instant ramen, I have to say.

00;44;26;23 - 00;44;48;21
Unknown
Any particular flavor? It's specific. Only the brand Oppermann beef flavor. Say I like that. I like Betsy. See, when we're having the ramen conversation, right? It's like, which flavor is like the high school conversation here? Which high school you go to just so we could we have a set? I was shrimp for a long time. Oh, no, no.

00;44;48;21 - 00;45;17;12
Unknown
Two to like, you know, not not enough punch. But also the way that I make instant ramen. I don't I don't use the broth, so I cook the the noodles and then I strain it, and then I put the seasoning packet, soy sauce, sriracha, peanut oil, fried garlic and lime juice. You mix it all up and it's basically like breathless ramen.

00;45;17;15 - 00;45;39;26
Unknown
That is. That's the next level right there. I mean, when you when you mentioned those are and you mentioned alongside oh, that's an anomaly now because come to my place is just like you have curry you have all of those items it's like are you just making Thai food? Maybe nowhere. But if that's the combination of sauces, 100%.

00;45;39;28 - 00;46;09;24
Unknown
So let's see, beach or mountains, what is your preference? Beach Everybody who knows me knows I am a beach bum. I want to retire in in the shack on the beach. Love it. Cats or dogs? Oh, oh. I've always been a cat person. Even though my family loves dogs. I'm a cat person. I love that cats, they know they don't seek your attention.

00;46;09;27 - 00;46;30;25
Unknown
It's like they're just aloof. So like when I feel like I need comfort, you got to chase the cat. There's something satisfying about chasing a cat so that they can give you hugs, you know? Is this is true? Is it true? Yeah, it's a little bit of both. I've always in my solo situations, always had cats. And dogs are goofy.

00;46;30;25 - 00;46;58;10
Unknown
I mean, I like super goofy. It's just like you're don't you have so so these are less to do you collect is there anything in your your home, your personal space that you collect. I collect beautiful empty journals. You know I love I love a beautiful cover. If it feels great in my hands, Oh, I got to have it.

00;46;58;17 - 00;47;15;23
Unknown
But I have so many that in my lifetime I will never be able to fill all the pages of my journal collection, which is fine, but I've accepted that. But yes, I collect journals. I've been trying to get better about the the books. On occasion I'll interview someone and they'll send me like, this is a book I really like.

00;47;15;26 - 00;47;38;06
Unknown
So so I'm very, you know, I'm very cautious on which books I bring into my space. But there is one that I finish the audio book for that I also have the like the tangible book, the gun bar table about the people I Japanese perseverance. And I was like, hold on, I broke my rule. I have both of these.

00;47;38;06 - 00;48;11;25
Unknown
I have it digitally and tangibly, and I've read it both ways. I was like, This is great. This book must be a lot to me. So there's the last one is the last one. We we talked about flowers earlier. Do you have a favorite flower and what is it? If so? Oh, I do. I love my fair flower would be the gardenia because I feel like that has the best fragrance of all other flowers that I've smelled.

00;48;11;27 - 00;48;36;08
Unknown
So a hot flower take their. Mm. Yes. Challenge me. I'll challenge anyone. It has the best fragrance. And I guess this is the bee to it. Like in terms of like sort of the history and the of component to it. What is generally like some of the themes that come up with that relationship to like Asian art and flowers.

00;48;36;10 - 00;49;10;21
Unknown
Well I feel like I've been studying this topic for so long now that there are some I feel like there's some universal themes that pop up always. By now I feel like I question, Is it a human instinct to like bestow upon natural things such as flowers with meaning? Sort of like does that satisfy some innate desire in us to be able to look at a gorgeous flower that naturally grows without our human intervention?

00;49;10;23 - 00;49;36;11
Unknown
Like, Oh, it must mean something special. And so I will bestow upon it a special meaning and symbol. You can find that across all you know, many, many cultures have such a language of flowers or this impetus to understand the natural world in this way. And that's where I currently stand. That's my opinion on that. Thank you for sharing that.

00;49;36;14 - 00;49;59;16
Unknown
And that is it for today's conversation. But one I want to really thank you for, for making the time and coming on this podcast yet again. And I want to invite and encourage you to take these these final moments here to share anything, plug the exhibition, plug anything you want to plug the floor is yours. Oh, well, thank you.

00;49;59;19 - 00;50;26;08
Unknown
I do personally invite all of our listeners, if you can please come to the galleries of Across Asia at the Walters Art Museum in this was a multi-year project. We definitely poured our heart into this installation and we really do hope that each of the artworks speak to you individually in some way. Thank you. And do you want to share the website or anything along those lines?

00;50;26;08 - 00;50;47;29
Unknown
Yeah, some folks want to know. Yes, please visit us at WW w dot the Walters dot o rg and you can find all of your information for your future visit there on that website. There you have it folks. Only again, thank Donald Sean for coming on to the podcast And I'm Rob Lee saying that there's art and culture in and around your neighborhood.

00;50;48;02 - 00;50;59;22
Unknown
You've just got to look forward.

Creators and Guests

Rob Lee
Host
Rob Lee
The Truth In This Art is an interview series featuring artists, entrepreneurs and tastemakers in & around Baltimore.
Dany Chan
Guest
Dany Chan
Associate Curator of Asian Art at The Walters Art Museum
Curating Across Asia: A Journey with Dany Chan at The Walters Art Museum
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