Mewar art exhibit: Princes, palaces and baskets 

The devil — and most everything else — is in the detail at the Asian Art Museum’s new show, called "Princes, Palaces, and Passion: the Art of India’s Mewar Kingdom" (open through April 29). You need to go close to the small, ornate paintings, and pick out the people and the stories from there. It will take some doing: Lights are low, to protect the ancient pieces, so you need to be up close and squinting, but the results of the inspection are fascinating.

These works of art from a faraway land’s ancient and more recent history are exotic, intriguing and — given time and effort — revealing. Somewhere between the miniaturism of Bosch and Hundertwasser, the tiny details half-hidden in these works will speak loudly.

"Krishna’s heroic exploits," for example, a manuscript from the early 17th century, is a detailed, storybook account of the early life of the highest god in Hinduism, the eighth avatar of Vishnu. Behold the horse demon, the demoness Putana, the serpent Kaliya and the killing of the monster Agha, the stork demon. Here, truly, is one picture worth a thousand words. Make use of the self-guiding systems.

The art of Mewar comes from Rajasthan, the region of India most familiar to American museum visitors, for centuries a Rajput kingdom that later became a princely state under the British. Mewar was the most powerful Hindu kingdom in Rajasthan, its capital at Udaipur, a city known for its beautiful palaces and vibrant culture.

A few feet from the Indian exhibit on the main floor of the museum stands another new show, "Masters of Bamboo," an exhibit of Japanese baskets and sculpture from the Cotsen Collection, which consists of some 900 works Lloyd E. Cotsen donated to the museum in 2002.

On view in the Hambrecht Gallery through May 6, "Masters of Bamboo" features one artwork each by 76 bamboo artists, representing most of the major lineages in Japan’s Osaka, Kyoto, Niigata and Tokyo prefectures. Curated by Melissa Rinne, the show covers a great range, from conventional-practical baskets to amazing works of art, such as the soaring, twisted "Galaxy," beautiful in its impractical, abstract shape.

Bamboo is one of the last forms of artistic material that must be worked only by hand, the same was it was centuries ago. Says artist Fujinuma Noboru: "Unlike the ceramist, for whom the fires of the kiln play an important role in the outcome, the bamboo artist bears full responsibility for every step of the creative process. Without splitting the bamboo and working through each of the various steps oneself, one cannot get the ‘feel’ of each individual bamboo culm and thus know for what kind of piece it will be best suited. And there are no shortcuts in bamboo — there is no way to mechanize the process."

Asian Art Museum

Where: 200 Larkin St., San Francisco

Hours: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Sundays; except until 9 p.m. Thursdays

Tickets: $12 general; $8 seniors; $7 students; free for children 12 and under

Contact: (415) 581-3500 or

Want to find out more about more exhibits, concerts, and fine dining in The City? Go to the Food and Entertainment page.

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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