Japanese Art Exhibitions outside of Japan

Japanese art exhibitions to catch during spring to summer

With winter finally behind us, spring has sprung in Norwich. Our institute garden is now teeming with colours: crocuses and daffodils are enjoying the sunshine while trees and bushes are budding green again. On the subject of feast for the eye, there are some wonderful exhibitions on show during spring and in this edition, I’d like to introduce four fascinating exhibitions—two in New York, one in the Netherlands and one in the UK. I hope some of you will have a chance to visit them.


The Poetry of Nature: Edo Paintings from the Fishbein-Bender Collection
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
Now until 21 January 2019

The Edo period (1615-1868) saw Japanese art flourish in new directions. It was a time when woodblock prints in particular reached new heights with technological advancements and increase in consumer demand. But what about paintings? The Met’s new exhibition, The Poetry of Nature: Edo Paintings from the Fishbein-Bender Collection, showcases the breadth of different painting schools and styles that had a major impact on the artistic development during the Edo period and beyond. Works by the famous Kano school and Rinpa school painters are presented together with lavish, gold embellished Japanese yamato-e style paintings and the more austere Chinese style ink painting. Works by literati painters, Zen priests and secular artists including both professional painters to so-called amateurs are shown.

The exhibition features over 40 paintings displayed alongside Japanese contemporary ceramics which complement the paintings. Dr John T. Carpenter, Mary Griggs Burke Curator of Japanese Art at the Met, who co-curated the exhibition and is an expert on calligraphy, has provided excellent translations of the textual materials found in these paintings. He notes that Japanese paintings often involved a complex interplay of text and images. They could not be read independently and separately from each other. Instead, the meanings are often interwoven between the two and in many cases allude to other historical references. The patient viewer, therefore, would have to exercise their knowledge and imagination to fully appreciate the precise meaning of an image. Otherwise, for example, it would be virtually impossible to recognise that the poem accompanying a hanging scroll of a beautiful courtesan adjusting her hairpins alludes to the Buddha.

The exhibition is accompanied by a catalogue by the exhibition curators John T. Carpenter and Midori Oka, associate director of the Mary Griggs Burke Center for Japanese Art at Columbia University. For those who can’t quite reach New York in time, there is a virtual option. All the exhibited works are available for browsing through the Met’s website. For those lucky to make the trip, I am sure the website will offer a nice preview to whet the appetite before the visit.


A Giant Leap: The Transformation of Hasegawa Tōhaku
Japan Society, New York
Now until 6th May 2018

A Giant Leap: The Transformation of Hasegawa Tōhaku is the first major exhibition dedicated to the work by Hasegawa Tōhaku (1539-1610) in the United States. This exhibition reflects Tōhaku’s glory during what is known as the Golden Age of Japanese art in the Momoyama period (1573-1615). The show includes works from private collections in New York and paintings designated as National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties in Japan. Hasegawa Tōhaku was an innovative painter who had a distinct and decorative painting style. Born as a chōnin (townsman) in Nanao, Noto Province (present day Ishikawa Prefecture), he moved to Kyoto in his early thirties where he developed his personal artistic style and aesthetics. He died in Edo in 1610 just two days after arriving to the capital. A prolific painter, he produced a significant number of paintings during his lifetime. These include Buddhist paintings produced mostly before he moved to Kyoto. Once settled in the imperial capital, he worked on flamboyant kimpeki-ga (blue-and-gold paintings) and monochrome ink paintings called suiboku-ga. He learnt kimpeki-ga techniques from the Kano school while working in the school’s studio, while he gained suiboku-ga painting method by observing examples in temples he came across during chanoyu (tea ceremony) attendance. A Giant Leap: The Transformation of Hasegawa Tōhaku uncovers Tohaku’s magnificent and awe-inspiring exhibition of his works.


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