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A selection of 72 stunning artworks drawn from the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) and the Asian Art Museum challenges visitors to confront the extremes and the ambiguities of beauty in the special exhibition Gorgeous. On view June 20 through Sept. 14, 2014, at the Asian Art Museum, the exhibition is organized in partnership with SFMOMA as part of SFMOMA’s On the Go program, an ambitious multiyear off-site programming effort presented while its building is closed for expansion construction.

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Featuring an extraordinary mix of objects, Gorgeous spans more than 2,200 years and dozens of cultures to bring together artworks that, in a variety of ways, extend beyond conventional notions of beauty. Presenting these paintings, sculptures, photographs, design objects and drawings in new and unexpected contexts, the exhibition encourages viewers to examine their own ideas of what it means for something to be gorgeous by stimulating them to engage the objects in a personal way.

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As a starting point, the curators have suggested fluid groupings in which the artworks might be assembled. Those groupings are titled “Seduction,” “Dress Up,” “Pose,” “In Bounds,” “Danger,” “Beyond Imperfection,” “Reiteration,” “Fantasy,” “Evocation” and “On Reflection.” But many works could fit under more than one heading, and the unexpected groupings on view represent just a few of the limitless possibilities.

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The objects in Gorgeous are not easily categorized, and embracing their resistance to classification is an essential part of the project. Rather than providing a contrast between “East” and “West” or focusing on centuries of scholarly debate concerning beauty, the exhibition aims to engage visitors in an ongoing conversation about personal reactions to what makes something not merely beautiful but gorgeous.

Many of the artworks push boundaries. They balance on the tipping point between the seductive and the repulsive, the comforting and the disturbing, the earnest and the ironic, the serene and the obsessive. The depictions of people range from opulently adorned figures to frank portrayals of the human form. The exhibition also encompasses historical objects such as a silver elephant seat from India and a Chinese lacquered imperial chair as well as contemporary objects, including the first-generation iPhone and a gold-plated coke spoon by Tobias Wong and Ju$t Another Rich Kid. Visitors will encounter works of fantastical elaboration and triumphs of conceptual elegance, serene sacred objects and luxury consumer goods. As part of the educational experience, visitors can curate their own exhibition using reproductions of artworks in a tactile interactive display.

Highlights of the exhibition include paintings, sculptures and photographs from SFMOMA’s holdings by Marcel Duchamp, Jeff Koons, Marilyn Minter, Joan Miró, Chris Ofili, Meret Oppenheim, Robert Mapplethorpe and others. From the Asian Art Museum, the exhibition features works spanning the extent of Asia, including a 1,000-year-old Indian sculpture of the Hindu deity Durga victorious over the buffalo demon; a gilded and jeweled Burmese Buddhist bowl; a Korean textile artwork with complex geometric designs; a decorated Qur’an from 16th-century Persia; a set of silk scrolls by the artist Chobunsai Eishi (1756–1829), “Three types of beauties in Edo;” and Hua Yan’s (1682–1756) gold-surfaced ink paintings “Summer gatherings in mountain villas,” along with other works in a variety of mediums.

Gorgeous is curated by Allison Harding, assistant curator of contemporary art at the Asian Art Museum, and Forrest McGill, Wattis senior curator of South and Southeast Asian art and director of the Asian Art Museum’s Research Institute for Asian Art, in association with Janet Bishop, curator of painting and sculpture at SFMOMA, and Caitlin Haskell, assistant curator of painting and sculpture at SFMOMA.

The exhibition begins in Osher Gallery and continues in Hambrecht Gallery, Lee Gallery and Gallery 4, with sculptures activating North Court and Vinson Gallery.

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