Something Wonderful and Something Awful

in the Asian Wing at the Met

ten verses image
Ten Verses on Oxherding, Kamakura period (1185–1333)/1278/ Japan, Handscroll; ink and color on paper, 1 ft. 1/4 in. x 20 ft. 6 in.

The wonderful: A series of drawings and poems about a boy looking for a wayward ox. He searches, he wrestles, “With all my energy, I seize the ox,” the ox struggles and charges and disappears “and there he stays, deep in the mist.” Later the well-tended ox becomes gentle and “even with no rope will follow people by himself”, and so forth.

I’ve never herded anything (this time around) but this ox seemed familiar and reading the accompanying note gave me a thrill and made me laugh. The pictures and the verses are about the search for enlightenment. So I do know her—I’ve practiced meditation just enough to recognize that stubborn, crafty and occasional friend.

I assumed it was a metaphor, googled metaphor, found out it was an allegory because what it meant had to be pointed out to me, then that an allegory is an extended metaphor, then a theory that contemporary art shuns metaphor in favor of metonymy and then got totally lost in the weeds of figures of speech and analogies, and so deferred further research to another day.

pixcell deer
Kohei Nawa, PixCell Deer #24, 2011.

The awful: a taxidermied deer encased in industrial globules of glass. There must be a bureaucratic plan at the Met to juxtapose contemporary art inspired by Asian themes in the most literal way with their classical collection. I simply can’t believe that the brilliant, subtle curators who have been illuminating classical Asian art in surprising, contemporary ways for years had anything to do with it.

As an example of what might be metonymy, this reminded me of a guy who discovered in the spring that their pond had a dead deer rotting in it. It was a nasty business to get a rope around that carcass and drag it out of there. I’m pretty sure that he didn’t store it in the basement either, he de-acquisitioned it. – CNQ


Readers are invited to respond to all posts via letters to our editor.

to read more of What Meets the Eye