ARTWORK OF ASIA; Gainesville's Harn Museum Steps Up with Its Ambitious Cofrin Asian Art Wing

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Byline: Charlie Patton

GAINESVILLE | Visitors to the Harn Museum of Art on the University of Florida's campus will get a first look today at the Harn's latest addition: the 26,000-square-foot Cofrin Asian Art Wing, built to house the Harn's collection of nearly 2,000 works of Asian art.

The 6,000 square feet of exhibition space in the new wing more than triples the exhibition space previously available for the Asian art and will allow about 680 art works to be displayed at any one time, said Jason Steuber, Cofrin curator of Asian art. The new wing will make the Harn "one of the leading centers for the study of Asian art in the Southeast," said Rebecca Nagy, the Harn's director.

The new addition is entered through the Axline Gallery, part of the old building. That gallery now houses the Harn's collection of Asian ceramics, as well as a collection of 96 Kogo incense boxes, used by the Japanese as part of an elaborate ceremony that combined the ritual burning of incense with the reading and writing of poetry. The small, playful boxes should be particularly attractive to children, Steuber said.

The ceramics, which came from Japan and China in the far east and from Persia in central Asia and moved back and forth along the Silk Road, serve as a symbolic transition from the rest of the Harn to its Asian wing, Steuber said.

Once inside the central and largest gallery of the new wing, a visitor encounters a display of religious statues from China, India, Japan and Thailand. On the left side of the central gallery, Chinese jade and glass from the Ming (1369-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties are displayed. On the other side of the central gallery are two small focus galleries, one devoted to Indian and Japanese masks and the other to Tibetan and Nepalese works from the Himalaya region.

There are two smaller galleries off the central gallery.

One houses "Traditions and Modernities," paintings and prints from China, Japan and India. In each, artists of the 19th and 20th centuries wrestle with issues of how to square tradition with modern life. The Chinese works now hanging show female artists beginning to emerge against a male-dominated artistic culture. The Japanese works date from the years immediately after World War II. Most of them look to the past, to a less complicated time. Most of the Indian pieces currently on display are by Jamini Roy (1887-1972), a modern artist who chose to use an anachronistic style.

The other small gallery houses the wing's Korean art. Much of that art was given to the University of Florida by James Van Fleet, who commanded the U.S. 8th Army and United Nations forces during the Korean War. When he retired in 1953, Van Fleet was called "the greatest general we ever had" by former president Harry Truman. In 1988, Van Fleet gave his collection of Korean art to the university where he had served as head football coach in 1923 and 1924.

Among the treasures in the Korean gallery are a gilt wood Bodhisattva (a Buddhist term for someone who is enlightened) dating from the 17th century, and a scroll painting by Kim Hong-do from the 18th century. …