Paget's Passion: A Word with Ringling's Asian Art Curator



With the Asian Art Center at Ringling Museum opening last year, the museum has now welcomed its first Curator of Asian Art in scholar and curator Dr. Rhiannon Paget. Beginning this month, Paget will be responsible for overseeing all Asian art exhibitions, as well as guiding research and development for the collection. Coming to The Ringling from the Saint Louis Art Museum, where she served as the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow for Japanese Art in the Department of Asian Art, SRQ sat with Paget to discuss her passion and goals for her new role.

SRQ: What drew you to Asian Art? Paget: In a way, I fell into it. I lived in Malaysia for four years as a child—my father was in the military—and Malaysia is a very multicultural part of Asia. I was very small at the time, but maybe that [was part of it]. Then I studied art history as an undergrad and after I graduated I went and taught English in Japan for two years as I got my master’s in Japanese art. I found the culture fascinating and my focus has been on modern Asian art.

Why the modern period? The early 20th century is a period of really fascinating change, with different forces driving modernization and responses to that. That’s very intellectually stimulating to me. When I walk through the Asian galleries at any museum, I feel gratified in my choice of specialization, because Asian art can be extremely beautiful—not everything, and not everything is designed to be beautiful—and some of the most compelling objects came out of Asia. But there’s a lot going on there in the meeting of cultures that I find fascinating.

What drew you to Ringling Museum? My specialization is the modern period and I’ve worked a lot with modern Japanese prints from the early 20th century to post-wartime. And Ringling has quite an impressive collection. That was something that really attracted me. Other areas that are really strong are Chinese ceramics, for example. It’s a really interesting collection to work with.

Where would you like to go with the collection during your tenure? Research, making the art accessible to the public, getting people interested in Asian art, reaching out to the community and making [The Ringling] more of a destination for Asian art and something that Sarasota can be proud of as such. I’m a Japan specialist, but that doesn’t mean I’m only interested in Japan. However, that will be featured fairly heavily in the program while I’m here. I’m looking to do some exhibitions to showcase the Japanese print collection. But I’m still getting to know the collection. 

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