All posts in “Asian art”

Shawn Brinsfield stands in front of the original Camel scultpures at Seattle Art Museum

Donor Spotlight: Shawn Brinsfield Supports the Asian Art Museum

It’s nice to know that our community also thinks the future of the Seattle Asian Art Museum is going to be cool! More than the critical infrastructure updates to the Art Deco building that won’t be very apparent to visitors, there’s the long history of Asian culture in the Seattle area made visible at the museum. To Shawn Brinsfield, the modest expansion on the back of the Seattle Asian Art Museum is a physical commitment to expanding the understanding and appreciation of Asia. Read why the Asian Art Museum matters to this donor, learn more about the project, and stay up to date on the progress of the renovation and expansion of the Asian Art Museum.

The new Seattle Asian Art Museum is going to be very cool with more space for SAM’s growing collection, better flow and open ‘look-throughs’ to the outside. I take art lessons and sometimes they take us to Volunteer Park to draw; so I look forward to sitting on my chair outside near the trees and drawing the new large glass-walled rear addition of the museum. Ok, full disclosure—I am still just learning to draw; but it will be fun viewing Asian Art Museum visitors fishbowl-like.

The average museum-goer may not appreciate the museum’s new sophisticated climate control environment, which gives the art ‘eternal life.’ Sometimes I think about the centuries of artists who made the works inside the museum. What kind of challenges and human pressures did they have? I wonder how they would react, knowing that their year-after-year sweat and toil and evolution as artists would be preserved by loving and meticulous conservationists today. It’s my understanding that the Asian Art Museum will be an important national center of conserving Asian art. And conserving art is actually a fascinating process. Really!

My mom and her family are of Japanese descent. They were living a full life here in Seattle back in the ‘good old days.’ Grandma Benko Itoi wrote tanka poetry, the family attended art events at the Nippon Kan Theater, they danced in traditional ways at the Bon Odori. Then when World War II broke out they were compelled to destroy most things related to their Japanese culture. So, 75 years later, it’s important to me to support the expansion of Japanese and Asian culture in the Seattle area.

All the art at the Asian Art Museum tells stories of history, ideas, and ways of life. In addition to enjoying the exhibitions on wooden block prints, folding screens, and Chinese scrolls, I have loved going to the Gardner Center’s Saturday University Lecture Series and listening to experts from all over the world. I value this, especially since I help recruit speakers for an Asian art and history group in Florida.

As for the future of the Asian Art Museum, I expect that the Asian Art Museum’s growth will mirror that of Asia’s increasing presence on the world stage. I hope that it continues expanding its collection of South Asian art and continues reaching out to the growing South Asian community here in the Northwest; as well as reaching out to the non-Asian community. My spending time in India on several trips has had a significant impact on my mind and behavior. I include, in my daily life, some practices and rituals which are indigenous to India and South Asia. I have a warm and friendly feeling towards the people and culture of South Asia.

– Shawn Brinsfield

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A Dedicated Collector: Griffith Way (1920–2018)

The Seattle Art Museum is saddened to have lost a tremendous friend of the museum. Griffith Way was appreciated for his gentle nature combined with fine humor that enriched everyone who knew him. He became a Trustee of the Seattle Art Museum in 1995 and received honorary distinction in 2009. A graduate of the University of Washington, Griff was part of the first graduating class specializing in Japanese law. He was also an Adjunct Professor, University of Washington School of Law and spent decades periodically practicing law in Tokyo. In 2007, he was honored with the Order of the Rising Sun by His Imperial Majesty Emperor Akihito of Japan in recognition of his long-standing support to increase economic and cultural development between the United States and Japan.

Early in their years in Japan, after the conclusion of WWII, Griff and his wife, Pat, became interested in the then-new style of modern Japanese painting executed in traditional media and formats, known as nihonga; a late 19th-century style among artists seeking both cultural continuity and to address Japan’s emergence as a modern nation. Griff and Pat went on to develop a remarkable nihonga collection that they have shared broadly with the public.

In winter of 1999, SAM welcomed Modern Masters of Kyoto: The Transformation of Japanese Painting Traditions, Nihonga from the Griffith and Patricia Way Collection presented at the Seattle Asian Art Museum. Their gift to SAM of 150 nihonga paintings has made SAM the repository of the largest collection of nihonga outside Japan.

As a member of SAM’s board, Griff served as Chair of the Seattle Asian Art Museum Committee and then as Honorary Chair of the Seattle Asian Art Museum Campaign Committee. As Trustee Emeritus of the Blakemore Foundation, Griff facilitated critical funding from the Foundation, which has supported SAM since 1992, most notably through the Blakemore Internship Program for Asian Art at the Asian Art Museum.

Griff’s unwavering dedication to the Seattle Asian Art Museum will be remembered by the museum and community in a future reading area named in his honor, of our McCaw Foundation Library. Griff’s commitment to Asian art and culture will continue to inspire us and our role in connecting with Asia as never before.

Photo: Team Photogenic
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Conserving SAM’s Asian Art Collection

Thanks to funding from Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project, a pair of important 17th-century Japanese screens, Scenes in and around the Capital, are currently being restored by specialists at Studio Sogendo, a private studio in California. The screens, likely created by a machi-eshi, or “town painter,” present a panoramic view of Kyoto during the Edo period. They show both Kyoto’s center and its periphery, and give insight into the daily lives of different social classes, in addition to representing seasonal festivals.

When the screens first arrived at SAM in 1975, they were already in fragile condition and by the time this conservation work began in 2017, extensive repairs were desperately needed. Painted using ink, color, and gold, and mounted on wooden frames, the screens are being restored using traditional Japanese methods and materials. I was able to visit Studio Sogendo while one of the panels had been stripped of its backings and laid on a light table, allowing a rare perspective of the materials and quality of the painting. The conservation treatment has been invaluable, not just in terms of preserving the paintings, but also in offering opportunities for examination and study. The internal frames must be replaced and expert craftsmen in Japan made new custom frames for the work. The incredibly precise joinery of the new frames can be seen in these images. The conservation phase of the project is nearing completion and the reassembly of the structure, replacement of the mount fabrics, and retouching of the areas of loss is underway.

 

This crucial project would not be possible without Bank of America’s Art Conservation Project, one of few programs dedicated to preserving historically or culturally significant artworks. We look forward to the return of Scenes in and around the Capital, which will be on view among SAM’s extensive Asian art collection when the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens in late 2019!

– Nicholas Dorman, SAM Chief Conservator

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Object of the Week: Some/One

For artist Do Ho Suh, clothing is the “smallest, most intimate habitat that one person can carry. And when you expand that idea, it becomes architecture.”¹ Indeed, Some/One—a monumental armor sculpture made from thousands of military dog tags—embodies the architectural possibilities that Suh sees in clothing.

Answering the question “How much space does one need to be an individual?” Suh explores the relationship between individual and collective, redefining how we might perceive this dichotomy. Some/One in particular is informed by Suh’s experience in the Korean military, which is mandatory service for young men. Unified as one coat of armor, the chain mail-like sculpture is comprised of unique metal tags—each one bearing a sequence of random letters and numbers.² The sculpture somehow manages to defy gravity despite the imagined weight of its 30,000-plus stainless steel tags. Additionally, the piece’s large fanning base serves dual purposes: it supports the sculpture structurally, as well as makes physical and metaphorical space to consider the work’s footprint.

Dog tags are inherently a marker of individualism used to identify soldiers, but they also connect a troop to a larger collective and, ultimately, nation. In the words of the artist, “When you see a person, you don’t just see the person standing in front of you—you see their background, their family or ancestors, the invisible webs of relationship or information.”³ When we see one person’s tag, we see so much more than a name, place of birth, or unit—we see their life.

Further, the reflective surface and mirrored interior of Some/One underscores the artist’s desire for viewers to see themselves—literally and figuratively—in the work. Whether the sculpture serves as a monument honoring fallen troops or highligts the anonymity of their service (or carries other readings altogether) is willfully left open to the viewer. This work is not currently on view but it will be exhibited when the Seattle Asian Art Museum reopens in late 2019.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Some/One, 2001, Do Ho Suh, stainless steel military dog-tags, nickel-plated copper sheets, steel structure, glass fiber reinforced resin, rubber sheets, diameter at base: 24 ft. 4 in.; Height: 81 in., Gift of Barney A. Ebsworth, 2002.43 © Do Ho Suh. Photo: Justin Gollmer.
[1] C. Carr, “In the House with Do-Ho Suh: World of Interiors,” Village Voice, June 23,  2003, http://www.lehmannmaupin.com/artists/do-ho-suh/press/127.
[2] Do Ho Suh, “’Some/One’ and the Korean Military,” interview by Art21, Art21, 2003, https://art21.org/read/do-ho-suh-some-one-and-the-korean-military.
[3] Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle, “Do-Ho Suh ReflectionBrooklyn Rail, March 7, 2008, https://brooklynrail.org/2008/03/artseen/reflection.
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Object of the Week: Scholar’s rock on stand

Wander into a Chinese scholar’s studio at the Seattle Art Museum to find treasures like a masterfully carved brush pot and a tiny cage to house a lucky cricket. This display of Pure Amusements brings together objects and furnishings collected by scholars as a display of learning, a claim to social status, and an inspiration for reflective thinking.

The Qing period Scholar’s rock on stand, a craggy piece of limestone mounted to a carved wooden base, rewards our contemplation, too. Interesting examples of the scholarly collecting impulse, scholars’ rocks were “favored stones that the Chinese literati and their followers displayed and appreciated indoors, in the rarefied atmosphere of their studios.”¹

A very human desire lies at the heart of this tradition. Who, as a kid, does not build their own killer rock collection? In China, too, people have been gathering rocks for a long time. The Chinese practice of decorating gardens with rocks was in place by the Han dynasty (206 B.C.–A.D. 220). The specific tradition of the scholar’s rock has been traced back to the Song dynasty (960–1279), and it continued through the Yuan (1279–1368), Ming (1368-1644), and Qing (1644–1911) periods.

Before the 20th century collectors referred to them in terms that mean “fantastic rocks.” The type of rock, as well as its texture, form, and color, were all important elements for the collector to consider. Different rocks were most treasured at different moments in history, so the look of these rocks has allowed new scholarship to date them, and also to think about changing tastes in collecting over time. Generally, the darker the color, the more prized the scholar’s rock: black and slate grey were at the top. Limestone came first among rock types not only for its look but also for its sound. Due to its density, it would ring like a bell when struck.²

Scholars’ rocks were used in several senses of the word. Functionally, they might serve as brushrests, inkstones, or censers. But their primary function was to inspire. The form of the rock suggested a mountainous landscape, and like a landscape painting, a scholar’s rock acted as a microcosm of the universe—a small piece of an infinite, natural puzzle—an object on which to meditate and to gain cosmic perspective.³ They would be displayed indoors on a desk, on a table or bookshelf, or perhaps on the floor if they were especially large. Traditionally, a scholar displayed his choice rock on a finely carved wooden stand, both to support the irregular form, and to designate the rock as a special item, like a piece of sculpture.

And sculpted they were. Once chosen from nature, scholars’ rocks were frequently carved, weathered, and burnished to suit their owner’s aesthetic. Collecting a scholar’s rock involved both selection—the finest rock would inherently resemble a painting by the powers of nature—and manipulation—as the scholar imprinted their aesthetic onto the rock form by carving or treating it in some way. There is a fascinating give-and-take here, a loop of influence whose beginning and end is hard to identify. As much as the natural forms of rock, and the mountainscapes they represented, informed styles of scholarly painting, the Chinese literati also made natural rock conform to their vision of a painterly landscape, molding it into their idea of beauty.

I’m reminded of David B. Williams’s reflection in Too High and Too Steep, his account of man-made changes to Seattle’s topography: “We shape the land, and the land shapes us.”⁴

Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: Scholar’s rock on stand, Chinese, Qing period (1644-1912), limestone, 15 ¾ x 8 ¼ in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Frank D. Stout, 92.47.326
¹Robert D. Mowry, “Chinese Scholars’ Rocks: An Overview,” in Worlds Within Worlds: The Richard Rosenblum Collection of Chinese Scholars’ Rocks. Exh. Cat. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Art Museums, 1997; 19.
²Mowry, “Chinese Scholars’ Rocks,” 20.
³Mowry, “Chinese Scholars’ Rocks,” 21.
⁴David B. Williams, Too High and Too Steep: Reshaping Seattle’s Topography, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2017.
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Expansive Terratopia: Chinese Landscape in Poetry

The Way dissolves into rivers
The Way coagulates into mountains.

–Sun Ch’o, Fourth Century [1]

Shan Shui, or river and mountains, is a Chinese term for landscape.[2] During the Six Dynasties (220 AD–589 AD) Shan Shui became a popular style of landscape painting as well as referring to a specific form of landscape poetry. In Terratopia: The Chinese Landscape in Painting and Film at the Asian Art Museum you will see examples of Shan Shui painting as the exhibition displays centuries of works to examine the role of landscape as an enduring subject of artistic, philosophical, and environmental reflection from the 3rd to the 21st century. In the paintings of the exhibition, you’ll notice calligraphy on pieces such as Wangchuan Villa (17th Century). The inscription refers to a series of Shan Shui poems by Wang Wei whose country retreat at Wang River is depicted in the painting. Wang’s couplets, focused on the natural landscape of his retreat, are collected, with the poems of fellow poet Pei Di, as the Wheel River Sequence. A sample of these poems, meant to convey imagery and tranquility are below.

Deer Park

No one seen. In empty mountains,
hints of drifting voice, no more.

Entering these deep woods, late sun-
light ablaze on green moss, rising.

Magnolia Park

Autumn mountains gathering last light,
one bird follows another in flight away.

Shifting kingfisher-greens flash radiant
scatters. Evening mists: nowhere they are.

Vagary Lake

Flute-song carries beyond furthest shores.
In dusk light, I bid you a sage’s farewell.

Across this lake, in the turn of a head,
mountain greens furl into white clouds.[3]

Perhaps one of the most iconic pieces of writing that begins to unfold a long history of the role of poetry in Chinese landscape painting is written on The Orchid Pavilion Gathering created in 1732 by Chen Fu based on the original work of Wang Xizhi (303-361), the whereabouts of which has been unknown since the Tang Dynasty. This calligraphy is the Lanting Xu (Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion), written as a preface to a collection of poems generated during the famed Orchid Pavilion Gathering of literati. Read the Lanting Xu to begin your own journey into the poetry associated with the works of art you can see at Asian Art Museum before Terratopia closes.

“First Inscription: In the ninth year of the Eternal Harmony era in the beginning of the last month of spring when the calendar was in kuei-ch’ou [353], we met at the Orchid Pavilion in Shan-yin, Kuei-chi to celebrate the Bathing Festival. All the worthy men assembled; the young and the senior gathered together. Here were lofty mountains and towering hills, thick groves and tall bamboo. And, there was a clear, rapid stream reflecting everything around that had been diverted to play the game of floating wine-cups along a winding course. We sat down in order of precedence. Though we had none of the magnificent sounds of strings and flutes, a cup of wine and then a poem was enough to stir our innermost feelings. This was a day when the sky was bright and the air was pure. A gentle breeze warmed us. Upwards we gazed to contemplate the immensity of the universe; downwards we peered to scrutinize the abundance of living things. In this way, we let our eyes roam and our emotions become aroused so that we enjoy to the fullest these sights and sounds. This was happiness, indeed! Men associate with each other but for the brief span of their lives. Some are content to control their innermost feelings as they converse inside a room. Some are prompted to give rein to their ambitions and lead wild, unfettered lives. There is all the difference between controlled and abandoned natures, just as the quiescent and the frenzied are unalike. Yet, both take pleasure from whatever they encounter, possessing it but for a while. Happy and content, they remain unaware that old age is fast approaching. And, when they tire of something, they let their feelings change along with events as they experience a deep melancholy. What they had taken pleasure in has now passed away in an instant, so how could their hearts not give rise to longing? Furthermore, a long or short life depends on the transformation of all things: everything must come to an end. An ancient said, “Life and death are the greatest of matters, indeed!” Isn’t this reason enough to be sad? Whenever I read of the causes of melancholy felt by men of the past, it is like joining together two halves of a tally. I always feel sad when I read them, yet I cannot quite understand why. But I know that it is meaningless to say life and death are the same; and to equate the longevity of P’eng-tsu with that of Shang-tzu is simply wrong. Future readers will look back upon today just as we look back at the past. How sad it all is! Therefore, I have recorded my contemporaries and transcribed what they have written. Over distant generations and changing events, what gives rise to melancholy will be the same. Future readers will also feel moved by these writings.”

This is your final weekend to see the historical paintings and the contemporary film work of Yang Fudong in Terratopia before it closes on Sunday, February 26. As it says in the Preface to the Poems Composed at the Orchid Pavilion, “. . . life depends on the transformation of all things: everything must come to an end.”

If all this poetry has you yearning for more landscapes, come to Seattle Art Museum to see Seeing Nature: Landscape Masterworks from the Paul G. Allen Family Collection, on view through May 23. And keep in mind, the Asian Art Museum is temporarily closing for renovation beginning Monday but installations featuring SAM’s Asian art collection will continue to be on view at the Seattle Art Museum for all to take retreat within.

–Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Copywriter & Content Strategist

Images: Wangchuan Villa, 17th century, Wang Wei, Chinese, ink and color on silk, 36 ft x 11 13/16 in., Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 47.142, photo: Mark Woods. The Orchid Pavilion Gathering (detail), 1732, color added 1739, Chen Fu, Chinese, active 1730s, ink and color on paper, 13 1/4 X 25 7/8 In., Seattle Art Museum, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 52.138, photo: Elizabeth Mann.
[1] “Yu T’ien-t’ai-shan fu” (Fu-poem of My Wanderings on Mount T’ien-t’ai), Wen-hsü an, 2 vols. (Shanghai), Chapter XI, pp 223–227
[2] Frodsham, J.D. “Landscape Poetry in China and Europe.” Comparative Literature 19, no. 3 (Summer, 1967): pp. 193-215 http://www.jstor.org/stable/1770207
[3] Wang Wei, The Selected Poems of Wang Wei, trans. David Hinton. New York: New Directions, 2006.
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For the Love of Art: Mariana Tomas

MARIANA TOMAS
35–44
Change management consultant
Dual member since 2011

Why do you love art?

Art makes us ask questions. It makes us stand on our tippy-toes peeking around the painted street corner. It sparks our curiosity. It inspires us, charges our batteries, and makes our souls richer.

What are your hobbies or passions?

In my free time, I explore caves. When you’re in that cave, there is nothing else. The world outside does not exist, because the possibility that you will never see daylight again is always present. In a way, caving is like space travel, the last frontier, the ultimate mission into unknown. The promise that it holds is breathtaking beauty, exploration, adventure, and, of course, discovery of something we didn’t know about ourselves. You’re testing your own limits, you’re watching your every move, and you’re trying to absorb as much as you can from your surroundings. To me, this is very primal.

Do you see any link between your hobbies of cave exploring and art?

I think it’s curiosity, because what I wrote about art is actually what I used to do when I was a little kid. My aunt had a painting of a street corner that veered off and you couldn’t see where it was leading so I thought if I got myself in the right position, somehow I would see the other side of the street. It’s the same thing about caves—it’s searching for the next thing around the corner and just being curious. The curiosity that we have as the human race, I guess.

You’re a change management consultant. What does that mean?

Change management is an emerging field that’s growing here in the Pacific Northwest. We have an international organization where we help organizations to transition. It could be anything from companies moving or implementing new software or having a merger with another company. We help with preparing people for the new world. I’ve been doing this for 7 years.

What’s your favorite SAM location? Do you have a special spot to visit?

SAM’s Asian Art Museum. The museum has such historical value and it’s just so beautiful. The setting in Volunteer Park—and all of it—is just great. I love to visit Monk At The Moment Of Enlightenment. I found looking at the other Asian art that’s exhibited there from that period that you don’t see a whole lot of expression on the face (in general) and he has this expression of bliss that I think is so hard to capture—even for something that is that old and made in wood. That moment of enlightenment that we all hope—well, maybe not all but some of us hope—to maybe live someday. I think it’s a really uplifting piece of art and pretty unique to what I’ve seen. I don’t claim to be an Asian art connoisseur so I just enjoy it.

Yes, we like the things we like. You’ve been a member since 2011?

Yes. I really didn’t realize how easy it is to be a member. I got a gift membership that year and I was thrilled. I just love coming to the museum and it definitely pays in multiple ways. Not just financially. Here you get that sense that art is accessible and that’s really the appeal to me: being a part of it, being able to support it in some way.

If you, like Mariana, love the Asian Art Museum, get enlightened on what’s happening as we begin our renovation and expansion of the historic home of SAM. Members make our world go round and you can help ensure the future of the Asian Art Museum by becoming a member today or making a donation to the renovation of the iconic Art Deco building.

visitsam.org/inspire

Photos: Natali Wiseman
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Object of the Week: South Wind, Clear Dawn (Gaifu kaisei)

Refined compositions and striking color combinations characterize one of the most recognizable Japanese art forms: the ukiyo-e print. Ukiyo-e are woodblock prints produced during the late Edo period (1615-1868) in Japan. In Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi, Japanese artist Tabaimo (b. 1975) honors two acknowledged masters of ukiyo-e: Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858).

Speaking to their impact on her contemporary work in digital media, Tabaimo explains, “I often copy colors and designs from Japanese woodblock prints by Hokusai, Hiroshige, and others. By adding them to my line drawings, I incorporate ‘distinctive Japanese colors’ and ‘distinctive Japanese designs’ into my work. The strong impression and unique power of the prints becomes part of my work, and allows me to complete my original work. Many of my works use this method of art making.”

Because Tabaimo is looking back to the artists of her culture’s history, borrowing color patterns and design elements, her work feels like the continuation of a conversation. By including some of the same formal elements associated with a traditional Japanese art, Tabaimo picks up that thread of history, honoring it, but also carrying it forward. As her existing and new works are displayed in the Asian Art Museum, interspersed with some of the treasures of SAM’s Asian art collection, we can appreciate even better how art history has informed Tabaimo’s work, the work of contemporary Japanese artists, the work of contemporary digital media artists, et cetera.

Here, we are highlighting one memorable ukiyo-e from Katsushika Hokusai that you’ll find in Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi. Titled South Wind, Clear Dawn (Gaifu kaisei), the print has been commonly referred to as Red Fuji—which, I have to say, turns my mind to produce, and not landscapes. Nonetheless, we can see why the color of the print has been singled out as the identifying characteristic. The mountain peak is a rich, chocolatey brown, and the snowcap leaks down the mountain into textured trails, like an icing stingily applied. Where the snow trails end, brown fades in a gentle gradient to the soft red for which the print is known. Lower down, an army of conical, gray-blue trees (faded from green) carpets the base of the mountain. With the trees’ diminutive size against imposing Fuji, and the way different arms of the forest reach across the mountain’s base and up its side, they are like an invading arboreal-ant army. The line of the mountain divides the print cleanly into foreground and background, where a deep blue sky fends off rolling clouds.

Part of the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei), the Red Fuji would stand out from the rest because it was so rare that the mountain would appear with this hue. It only occurred under special conditions, in late summer or early fall, and when the winds were blowing from the south. SAM’s version is from the second printing, notable because the mountain reveals marbled woodgrain, a poetic remnant of the wooden block from which this scene was printed.

As they have for Tabaimo, may the distinctive colors and designs of your histories also lead you forward.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Image: South Wind, Clear Dawn (Gaifu kaisei), from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei), ca. 1830-32, Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760-1849), woodblock print, sheet: 9 7/8 x 14 3/4 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Mary and Allan Kollar, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2010.15.
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Object of the Week: Buddha

Celebrations of spring are happening all around us. It’s opening week for baseball and Masters Tournament time in golf. Here in Seattle, the sun is shining, the flowers are blooming, and all of a sudden it’s like we live in a populous city. You never have a sense for how many people live (and vacation) here until the sun comes out!

Flowers outside of the Asian Art Museum

Flowers bloomin’ outside of the Asian Art Museum

As wonderful and anticipated as these developments are, today we’re focused on another springtime celebration: It’s Buddha’s birthday!

To be precise, it’s Buddha’s birthday in the Japanese tradition; the same event is remembered on various dates in spring across the world. Many Asian countries commemorate Buddha’s birth on the first full moon of the 4th month in the Chinese lunar calendar (which falls in May). Japan adopted the Gregorian, or Western, calendar in the 19th century and moved its celebration of Buddha’s birthday up to April 8, about a month earlier.

Thankfully for both our regular visitors and out-of-towners, we have a bevy of fine Buddhist art at the Asian Art Museum to help everyone celebrate appropriately. The new installation Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia highlights some of the finest representations of Buddha in the museum’s collection, including this stunning wood sculpture coated with gold lacquer. Called an Amida Buddha for its symbolic form, the figure was crafted during the late Heian period (794-1185) in Japan. Its maker used the yosegi-tsukuri technique, carving wood blocks, hollowing them out, and then assembling them together. The Buddha strikes a meditative pose that exudes total peace.

Installation view of Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia

In Japanese Buddhist traditions special connections exist between Buddha and the flower that make celebrating him in the springtime especially appropriate. Hana-Matsuri, the Floral Festival, is a memorial service performed at temples throughout Japan on Buddha’s birthday. Those who make pilgrimages to the temples bring offerings of fresh spring flowers and libations of tea. For its original installation in a Kyoto temple, this Buddha sculpture would have been seated on a lotus pedestal.

Installation view of Awakened Ones: Buddhas of Asia

The company he keeps in Awakened Ones, where he is surrounded by sculptures and paintings from China, India, Korea, Nepal, and Pakistan, leaves one with a sense for the wide reach of Buddhist teachings and the many ways Buddha is pictured and remembered.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

IMAGES: Buddha, ca. 1130, Japanese, wood with gold lacquer, 37 1/4 x 27 x 17 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of the Monsen Family, 2011.39, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Awakened Ones:Buddhas of Asia at Asian Art Museum, © Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Natali Wiseman. Installation view of Awakened Ones:Buddhas of Asia at Asian Art Museum, © Seattle Art Museum, Photo: Natali Wiseman.
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