Object of the Week: Form 19-3

“The act of kneading clay and creating shapes connects me to the thoughts and memories deep in my heart.”1

– Fujino Sachiko

Form 19-3, a new acquisition, is now on view in Folding Into Shape: Japanese Design and Crafts. It is a recent work by the Japanese artist Fujino Sachiko (born 1950), who began her art practice in textiles and fashion design, and later studied ceramics under the pioneering artist Tsuboi Asuka (born 1932). Inspired by the abstract ceramic works of avant-garde artists such as Yagi Kazuo (1918–1979), Suzuki Osamu (1926–2001), and Yamada Hikaru (1924–2001), Fujino ventured into ceramics, finding that the medium allowed her to express her artistic ideas most freely.2  

Drawing on her background in fashion design, Fujino manipulates clay as if folding and shaping fabric. This sculpture’s intricate form is built up from geometric shapes, and balanced with irregular folds in gradations of grey. The folds create beautiful silhouettes like those of a dress, such as the one by Issey Miyake also on view in Folding Into Shape. The elegant texture of the surface was created by the application of matte slip through an airbrush.

Image: Xiaojin Wu.

Fujino creates her clay sculptures through the laborious process of coil-building and hand-sculpting without the use of maquettes. With an aim to create works that have a dynamic appearance from different angles, she shapes the clay intuitively and does not know the final form of the work until it is complete. Many of her recent ceramic artworks began with geometric forms but turned into more organic forms in the process. While the biomorphic sculpture takes on a floral form, it also invites the viewer to think beyond petals and blossoms. The artist has remarked: “My interest in the mystery of plants has been deeply rooted since my childhood, even though my work is not a direct image of flowers.” Indeed, seen from above, the sculpture evokes a painting by Georgia O’Keeffe.

– Xiaojin Wu, Atsuhiko & Ina Goodwin Tateuchi Foundation Curator of Japanese and Korean Art


1 Online exhibition catalogue, Forming a Voice, www.mirviss.com/exhibitions/forming-a-voice, p. 3.

2 Interview with the artist produced by Joan B Mirviss LTD in April 2021: https://vimeo.com/551679336.

Image: Form 19-3, 2019, Fujino Sachiko, Stoneware with matte glaze in white and gradations of grey, 19 1/2 x 18 1/8 x 17 3/4 in., Purchased with funds from Gordon Brodfuehrer in honor of the Monsen Family, 2021.19 © Artist or Artist’s Estate.

Object of the Week: Wintry Sky

Snow in Seattle on the winter solstice provides a fitting backdrop for this work by Japanese artist Higashibara Hosen. Titled Wintry Sky, it encapsulates the subtle contradictions of the season and serves as a timely reminder that winter is officially here.

In the seemingly desolate scene, an angular, near leafless tree trunk and its rhizomatic branches energetically frame an overcast sky (one all too familiar for us in the Pacific Northwest). Bathed in a diffuse gray-yellow light, the moment has all the qualities of early morning. And while much is indeed dormant at this time of year, the tree is enlivened by seven chickadees—so enlivened you can almost hear their song. In this way, the painting brings to mind a wonderful line from Rumi: “And don’t think the garden loses its ecstasy in winter. It’s quiet but the roots are down there riotous.”

Wintry Sky (detail)

Painted in the 1930s, Hosen used a “boneless” wash technique (mokkotsu), meaning that it was painted without the use of ink outlines. A detail offers a better look at his masterful use of ink, capturing both the delicate softness of feathers and gnarled age of bark. This painting technique was characteristic of his mentor, nihonga master Takeuchi Seiho, whose paintings of the natural world informed Hosen’s own approach to painting nature.

Though it may appear somber and subdued, Hosen’s painting also embodies much of what is important about the winter season. Though a fallow period, winter is a time for hibernation and repair, rest and rejuvenation. It is a time for turning inward and looking to the natural world for hope and techniques for survival.

As in the words of William Carlos Williams:

All the complicated details
of the attiring and
the disattiring are completed!
A liquid moon
moves gently among
the long branches.
Thus having prepared their buds
against a sure winter
the wise trees
stand sleeping in the cold.

– Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collections and Provenance Associate

Image: Wintry Sky, 1930s, Higashibara Hosen, ink and light colors on silk, 70 7/8 x 40 5/16 in., Gift of Griffith and Patricia Way, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2010.41.72 © Artist or Artist’s Estate

Object of the Week: Mask for Tengu

These days, people are wearing masks everywhere you look. Bandanas, medical paper masks, fashionable masks with elaborate designs, face shields—there are many ways to wear our masks while expressing ourselves. Me, I love my mask with sharp teeth on the front, for an extra bit of Halloween in December. SAM, too, has its fair share of masks, and one of my favorites in the collection is the Mask for tengu, a Japanese festival mask depicting the maliciously grinning face of a tengu.

Tengu are one of the more famous youkai, or mythical creatures, in Japanese lore. Depicted as bird-men either with beaks or long noses, they are figures of dangerous cleverness that will either teach you magical secrets or abduct and torment you. They have an array of abilities including fire and wind manipulation, flight, and otherworldly swordsmanship. They are said to live deep within the mountains and forests of Japan, and many shrines that worship tengu are similarly placed. Interestingly, these are one of the few youkai to have come about with Buddhism, as they often tempted Buddhist priests and posed as mountain ascetics in old tales.

The tengu mask in SAM’s collection is one that would have been worn during festival processions. Festivals in Japan are often lively and bright affairs with elaborate costumes and parades, with dancers balanced on floats. It’s likely that someone in the past wore this mask as they pretended to be a fearsome tengu, playfully frightening the children watching. It’s equally likely that in Japan today, someone is wearing another tengu mask and doing the same. There are tengu festivals held all over Japan, from Tengu Matsuri on Mt. Tengu in Hokkaido, to the Shimokitazawa Tengu Festival in Tokyo. While the tengu Matsuri is a more traditional affair, the Shimokitazawa festival is a modern take on setsubun, where beans are thrown to ward away evil. People dressed as tengu take to the streets, visiting shops and homes to throw their beans of evil’s bane to bring good luck and fortune.

Although SAM and the Asian Art Museum are temporarily closed, when they reopen, head on over to see the Mask for tengu on view. It, and many other masks and youkai-depicting items will be on display! In the meantime, everybody continue to mask up, and stay safe.

– Kennedy Simpson, Former SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art

Image: Mask for tengu, 18th-19th century, Japanese, wood and brass, 10 1/8 x 7 1/2 x 13 1/2 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 45.104

Object of the Week: Untitled

In honor of Women’s History Month, Object of the Week will highlight works by celebrated women artists in SAM’s permanent collection throughout the month of March.

Broad black strokes cut across paper, precise sweeps of motion that hold bold strength. Ink trails downward in sharp ribbons dissolving into mist, which run down into watery pools. The shape is abstract, yet gives a sense of dynamism and flow that fully utilizes the monochromatic black that it’s painted in. This piece, left untitled by abstract artist and calligrapher Toko Shinoda, is not intended to have specific form. Instead it seeks to capture a feeling, although what that feeling may be, we’ll never know for certain. Each piece of art she makes is a piece of herself, and each is made meticulously to reflect the “her” that painted it.

At around 107 years old, Shinoda has had a lot of “her” to paint. The daughter of a calligrapher herself, Shinoda has been using a brush and sumi ink since she was six, and has not stopped using them since. For the first 40 years of her life, she focused on calligraphy; an art form traditional to Japanese women, as well as one of few career paths initially open to them. She was extremely successful and exhibited her works all over Japan. The more Shinoda created, the more abstract her pieces became. This resulted in a shift toward Abstract Expressionist art after an exhibition in New York in 1953. Having spent so much of her career trying to strictly copy the work of master calligraphers, she was impressed by the formal freedom of American artists. Abstract Expressionism, she felt, was what she really wanted to achieve with her ink.

Since then, Shinoda has gained international acclaim for her prolific melding of traditional and modern approaches. However, despite her fame, she denies all awards and recognition. Time magazine might write about her, museums may acquire her work and display them in a place of high regard, but she will not take any titles or cash gifts for her accomplishments. The only honor she has accepted is a set of stamps: hers are the first artworks by a living artist to be featured on official Japanese stamps.

Even now, Shinoda paints every day to keep her art, and herself, alive. It is said that all artists go through a process called 守破離 (shu-ha-ri) in their lifetimes. The “shu” being adherence to art form and tradition, the “ha” being a departure from it. Shinoda embodies the final step, “ri”: transcendence through focus and mastery that allows for creative freedom. Still, even though Shinoda is free in her creation, she refuses to be satisfied by the style she developed, and strives to master delicacy in her work. Discontented with safety in art, she will always paint things that require precise balance, capturing that fleeting moment of experience and self.

– Kennedy Simpson, SAM Blakemore Intern for Japanese and Korean Art

Image: Untitled, 1965, Toko Shinoda, lithograph, 25 3/4 x 19 7/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 66.11 © Artist or Artist’s Estate

Object of the Week: Rat water dropper

Made from ceramic, bronze, copper, or even jade, water droppers are small vessels used in calligraphy and brush painting. Designed with two small holes, one for adding water and one for dispensing water, only a few drops fall out at a time—a crucial feature when preparing liquid ink, which involves grinding a stick of ink against an inkstone with water.

Though an unassuming instrument, water droppers have a long history. The earliest known examples of Chinese water droppers can be dated to the 5th and 6th centuries, while Japanese water droppers date to the 8th century. Centuries later, during the Edo period (1603-1868) and into the Meiji period (1868-1912), Japan saw the emergence of more complicated water droppers in various shapes and sizes, ranging from plants and deities to animals and fruits.

Such decorative droppers became popular accessories for the nobility and literati, and were often inscribed or made in auspicious forms. The zodiac animals are a set of calendar symbols that came to Japan from ancient China, and their representation served to invoke good luck and prosperity. This 19th-century dropper in SAM’s collection, modeled in the shape of an undeniably expressive and charming rat (the first animal in the zodiac), was likely intended to symbolize success, creativity, and intelligence.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection and Provenance Associate

Image: Water dropper modeled as a rat, 19th century, Japanese, bronze, 1 5/8 x 3 1/2 x 1 7/8 in., Gift of Frank D. Stout, 92.47.119

Exceptional & Ordinary / Tsutakawa & Mingei

The Japanese art gallery at SAM’s downtown location was recently reinstalled with a focus on the Mingei movement in Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920–2020, on view through Novemeber 8, 2020. Initiated in the 1920s by the Japanese collector and connoisseur Yanagi Soetsu (1889–1961), Mingei elevated functional, everyday crafts to art objects. Since its foundation, Mingei’s broad applications range from mid-century decorative arts to contemporary designs, ceramics, textiles, sculptures, and prints, examples of which are hanging in our gallery. Prominently featured, are works by the late Seattle-based artist George Tsutakawa on loan from the George Tsutakwa Art Legacy. The Tsutakawa family share below about George’s inspiration and how his furniture fits in the installation at SAM!

George Tsutakawa began to build bronze fountain sculptures in 1961 with the installation of his first fountain at the Seattle Public Library. He eventually created 75 fountain sculptures in the United States, Canada, and Japan. The fountains reflect his intense interest in the cyclical flow of water from the heavens to earth, creating rivers and oceans that nourish life. His basis of humanity in the Shinto religion indicated reverence for life in all forms made by nature, such as trees and rocks. 

Tsutakawa’s professional art career spanned 60 years. He was a professor of art at the University of Washington for 37 years. In his personal statement from The Pacific Northwest Artists and Japan in 1982, he expressed that sometime in the 1960s his travels and studies of traditional Japanese arts allowed him to reaffirm his “conviction in the Oriental view of nature school which sees Man as one part of nature, a part that must live in harmony with the rest of nature.” 

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Thus Tsutakawa’s furniture from the 1940s and 1950s reveals this conviction to nature within his art and serves as the starting point for his later artistic forms. Although he was a modernist, even in his furniture forms, his work relates to the Japanese Mingei movement, which is largely based on traditional and folk art.

Tsutakawa’s early furniture is functional and evokes a connection to nature through fluid organic shapes and materials. 

The Tsutakawa family is currently reorganizing the artist’s collection with the hope of preserving his work and making it more open to the public as well. You can visit SAM to see Tsutakawa’s artwork in Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920–2020, on view through November 8, 2020.

– Mayumi Tsutakawa & Chyenne Andrews

Images: Installation view Exceptionally Ordinary: Mingei 1920–2020, Seattle Art Museum 2019, photos: Nina Dubinsky. Kizamu Tsutakawa 

Object of the Week: Time-(B)

Two identical, white clocks sit on a scale. One—reading 12:15—appears the heavier of the two, sitting ever so slightly below its counterpart at 12:04. Of course, the minute discrepancy (pun intended) between the weights of the two clocks—correlating with their respective times—is impossible, but the power of the photographic image lies in its ability to convince us otherwise.

Ever a master of the conceptual punchline, photographer Kenji Nakahashi plays with our interpretation of time and its assumed objectivity. His longstanding interest in the documentary value and, again, assumed objectivity of photography—a time-based medium—is also at play, and clearly inextricable. In his characteristically understated way, Nakahashi tackles the subjectivity of both time and photography in one fell swoop.

Born in present-day Ibigawa, Japan, Nakahashi moved to New York City in 1973, where he lived until his death in 2017. His time in Japan was formative, but living and working in the United States is where Nakahashi developed a robust studio practice centered on everyday objects and materials. This is when he began turning the mundane—such as two clocks and a scale—into a source of poetic beauty, conceptual rigor, and humor. For Nakahashi, such small observations and actions became an important activity that allowed him to render the world anew.

Elisabeth Smith, Collection and Provenance Associate

Time-(B), 1980, Kenji Nakahashi, ektacolor print, sheet: 11 x 14 in., Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Kazuo Kondo, 95.35 ©Artist or Artist’s Estate

Object of the Week: Tsuba

A tsuba is a hand guard of a Japanese sword, mounted between the handgrip and the blade, to protect the user’s hand. Either carved or molded, they also help balance the sword, which is comprised of a number of complicated—but equally important—components.

While highly practical in its purpose, there is, as with all things, room for ornamentation and embellishment. This 19th-century example in SAM’s collection, made of copper alloy with gold and silver inlay, depicts an elegant nighttime landscape. Under the arc of the crescent moon, the spray of gold plants and flowers appear to be basking in the moonlight, also gold.

Prior to the 17th century, the functionality of a tsuba was more important than its decoration. From the 17th century onward, tsuba became more elaborate, with carving and molding techniques more sophisticated. Designs on tsuba—such as this one—often draw their subject matter from Japanese folklore and nature, and importantly signal the status of the sword’s owner.

Currently, on view in SAM’s third-floor galleries, this tsuba is part of the exhibition Gentleman Warrior: Art of the Samurai, which explores lesser-known aspects of samurai culture, including patronage of the arts. From the tea ceremony to Noh theater, the samurai class helped advance various artistic practices in the service of showcasing both their military might and cultural prowess.

Elisabeth Smith, SAM Collection and Provenance Associate

Image: Tsuba: Plants in Landscape and Moon in Inlay, 19th century, Japanese, copper alloy with gold and silver inlay, 2 5/8 x 2 1/2 x 3/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 34.95. Photo: Elizabeth Mann

Object of the Week: Crow

In 2016, the Seattle Asian Art Museum invited acclaimed Japanese artist Tabaimo to study the museum’s collection and curate an exhibition. The resulting presentation, Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi, was based on the concept of utsushi, which literally means “copying or paying homage to a master’s work.” Tabaimo selected several historical objects from SAM’s Asian art collection to present alongside her own work, some of which she produced specifically for the show. The last gallery of the exhibition featured the museum’s beloved pair of 17th-century Crows screens and Tabaimo’s response, a video installation that imagines new possibilities for the screens’ depicted action.

The subject of the Crows screens is a murder[1] of black-feathered birds set against squares of gold leaf. Descending en masse from the top left-hand corner of each screen, the crows wind their way down to a rocky crag along the bottom edge. In photographs of the screens, the birds appear as silhouettes, though an in-person viewing reveals the unique texture of each creature’s feathers, eyes, beak, and claws. The dynamism of the scene is created through the movements of the individual crows. In some places, they fly towards each other, suggesting an impending clash; in the upper right-hand corner, two birds take part in a midair tussle; and even those grounded crows spread their wings, look about, and caw. 

In Tabaimo’s video utsushi of Crows, the birds are flattened into black silhouettes floating against a background of gold squares. Here, the squares take part in the action too. One by one, they sink into the pictorial space revealing rectangular hollows into which the feathered-beasts fly. An exhibition text explains:

In Japanese culture, it is a custom to tidy things up at the end of an event. Crows are often associated with untidiness because they look for food among garbage and create litter. Tabaimo does not intend for us to leave the gallery with a clear understanding of the exhibition, but rather, she would like to invite lively discussions by ending it in an ambiguous way, just as the crow brings untidy debris.[2]

– Murphy Crain, Asian Art and Gardner Center Coordinator

[1] Not a killing! A group of crows is called a murder.
[2] Tabaimo: Utsutsushi Utsushi exhibition brochure
Images: Crow, 2016, Tabaimo, single-channel video installation, 4 min. 10 sec., Asian Art Acquisition Fund, 2017.5 ©Artist or Artist’s Estate. Crows, early 17th century, Japanese, pair of six panel screens; ink and gold on paper, 61 9/16 x 139 5/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 36.21.1.

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

Talent among Beauty at SAM

Downtown, we have two galleries dedicated to Chinese and Japanese art. So, while the Seattle Asian Art Museum is temporarily closed, get your fill of Asian art with the latest installation, Talents and Beauties: Art of Women in Japan, on view through July 15, 2018. “We know women as subjects; we see that all the time in artwork,” says Xiaojin Wu, SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean Art. “But to look at women as artists in addition to as a subject of art—that’s what you’ll see evidenced here from the 11th to the 21st century.”

The heart of the installation features artworks inspired by The Tale of Genji. Written by Murasaki Shikibu in the 11th century and debated as the first novel ever written, the illustrations of this literary masterpiece may not be by women, but as Wu states, “How many women writers do we know from 1,000 years ago? How many artworks have been made from every scene in The Tale of Genji, including the contemporary manga? It’s just countless. In a way we are attributing all of these wonderful works back to the original writer, the woman who wrote the tale.” The two pages below excerpt the scene depicted in the right-hand panels of the screen above.

This excerpt and the page below refer to the right-hand panels of the image above.

Murasaki Shikibu wrote The Tale of Genji to entertain the members of her court. Because of this, it was written in an archaic court language that was little used and quickly lost to Japanese speakers. This accounts for one of the reasons why there are so many illustrations of the tale—as a classic piece of literature, the tale continued to be told in images and annotations across the centuries until in the 20th century when it was first fully translated into modern Japanese.

 

The Tale of Genji follows the life of  Hikaru Genji, the son of an ancient Japanese emperor, and his many romantic endeavors. Featuring over 400 characters that age throughout the book and whose family lineages are often intertwined, Genji is considered a feat of characterization consistency for having been written in installments of chapters over a long period time. Although the book does not have what we might consider a plot nowadays (events simply take place and the characters age), it is one of the first pieces of literature to feature a protagonist, supporting characters, strong characterization, and a sequence of events following the lifetime of the main character.

Xiaojin Wu is planning “. . . a sequence of installations that look at various patronage and audience groups. Following Talents and Beauties we’ll focus on aristocrats, and then samurai.” Make the time to visit this gallery for new perspectives on Asian art and culture.

– Chelsea Werner-Jatzke, Content Strategist and Social Media Manager

Images: Installation view Talents and Beauties: Art of Women in Japan, 2017, Seattle Art Museum, photo: Natali Wiseman.
Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji,  trans. Royal Tyler (New York: Viking Press, 2001)

Object of the Week: Woman Selling Flowers

There’s something intimate about this hanging silk scroll by Japanese artist Ito Shōha. In the rural scene we see a young working woman, in layers of white and indigo-dyed clothing, carrying freshly cut flowers. These details help her appear specific, individual. Set against a hazy ochre background and soft green leaves, her unassuming beauty is echoed throughout the bucolic image. Modest in both style and composition, this unpretentious scene might appear banal to today’s viewers, but it is exactly this ordinariness that makes the work radical.

Woman Selling Flowers

Shōha—one of the leading artists of her day—painted Woman Selling Flowers in the mid-1920s. This work reflects many of the artistic changes that took place during the Taishō (1912–1926) and early Shōwa (1926–1989) periods in Japan. On the heels of the Meiji Restoration, the Taishō era in particular saw years of unprecedented cultural transformation. Many artists during this time were exposed to Western art, and their exposure resulted in a shift away from the conservative artistic traditions that defined previous generations.

This painting by Shōha is best categorized as bijinga, a traditional Japanese genre that takes up beautiful women as its subject. Bijinga most often depicts geishas and courtesans, and helped establish an ideal standard of female beauty in Japan. In Woman Selling Flowers, however, Shōha offers up a more modern take on the genre, naturalistically representing a middle-class woman from Shirakawa (a northeast suburb of Kyoto) conducting her daily business.1 Absent are the highly stylized elements that typify bijinga, such as hair, dress, and makeup. Rather than representing an idealized female form, the woman here appears beautifully ordinary.

Shōha’s brand of bijinga was met with critical acclaim for depicting the contemporary life of women without idealization.2 No doubt her own experiences as a woman informed the treatment of her subject in Woman Selling Flowers, and earned her a leading role as a bijinga artist. Shōha’s intimate—and authentic—focus on the daily life of women in Japan connects this scroll to the other works on view in Talents and Beauties: Art of Women in Japan, the newest installation on view in our Japanese galleries. A visit to Talents and Beauties offers an important and wide-ranging glimpse into the diverse ways women are represented in Japanese art, and many works, such as this one, carry larger social and political significance.

– Elisabeth Smith, Collections Coordinator

Image: Woman Selling Flowers, late 1920’s, Ito Shōha, ink and colors on silk. 84 1/2 x 22 7/8 in., Gift of Griffith and Patricia Way, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2010.41.56
1 Michiyo Morioka and Paul Berry, Modern Masters of Kyoto: The Transformation of Japanese Painting Traditions (Seattle, WA: Seattle Art Museum, 1999), 268.
2 For more on the life and work of Ito Shōha, please see Morioka and Berry, 266-267.

Object of the Week: Basket in the shape of a boat

Most days at SAM, this bamboo Basket in the shape of a boat draws attention only for its remarkable artistry and creativity. The maker shows an ability to see the life inside the bamboo, and then to channel it toward the creation of a symbol—the boat—and a form—the basket. The medium seems to effortlessly transform: In places it’s gnarled like wood, or frayed like raffia, or braided like rope, always contributing to the total picture of boat-ness. The piece was produced in Japan during a 20th century revival of interest in traditional Japanese craft, when bamboo baskets gained an elevated importance in the country’s artistic production. As fine an artistic example as it is, this week, it takes on another meaning as a reminder of a dark period in U.S. and world history.

Basket in the shape of a boat (detail)

The day after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt issued a now famous Declaration of War address (you can listen to it here):

Yesterday, December 7th, 1941—a date which will live in infamy—the United States of America was suddenly and deliberately attacked by naval and air forces of the Empire of Japan.

The United States was at peace with that nation and, at the solicitation of Japan, was still in conversation with its government and its emperor looking toward the maintenance of peace in the Pacific.

Indeed, one hour after Japanese air squadrons had commenced bombing in the American island of Oahu, the Japanese ambassador to the United States and his colleague delivered to our Secretary of State a formal reply to a recent American message. And while this reply stated that it seemed useless to continue the existing diplomatic negotiations, it contained no threat or hint of war or of armed attack.

It will be recorded that the distance of Hawaii from Japan makes it obvious that the attack was deliberately planned many days or even weeks ago. During the intervening time, the Japanese government has deliberately sought to deceive the United States by false statements and expressions of hope for continued peace.

The attack yesterday on the Hawaiian islands has caused severe damage to American naval and military forces. I regret to tell you that very many American lives have been lost. In addition, American ships have been reported torpedoed on the high seas between San Francisco and Honolulu.

Yesterday, the Japanese government also launched an attack against Malaya.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Hong Kong.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked Guam.

Last night, Japanese forces attacked the Philippine Islands.

Last night, the Japanese attacked Wake Island.

And this morning, the Japanese attacked Midway Island.

Japan has, therefore, undertaken a surprise offensive extending throughout the Pacific area. The facts of yesterday and today speak for themselves. The people of the United States have already formed their opinions and well understand the implications to the very life and safety of our nation.

As Commander in Chief of the Army and Navy, I have directed that all measures be taken for our defense. But always will our whole nation remember the character of the onslaught against us.

No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory.

I believe that I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make it very certain that this form of treachery shall never again endanger us.

Hostilities exist. There is no blinking at the fact that our people, our territory, and our interests are in grave danger.

With confidence in our armed forces, with the unbounding determination of our people, we will gain the inevitable triumph — so help us God.

I ask that the Congress declare that since the unprovoked and dastardly attack by Japan on Sunday, December 7th, 1941, a state of war has existed between the United States and the Japanese empire.

World War II brought about all kinds of terrible things, including racial conflict. Executive Order 9066, signed by President Roosevelt on February 14, 1942, authorized military authorities to exclude “any and all persons” from designated areas of the country as necessary for national defense. In practice, the government targeted only Japanese resident aliens and Japanese Americans. The U.S. government uprooted more than 120,000 Americans of Japanese ancestry from homes and placed them under armed guard for up to four years. Sixty-five percent of these people were American citizens (these statistics according to the Smithsonian Institute).

A local connection to that dark time exists, too: Exclusion Order Number 1, issued on March 24, 1942, dictated that all Japanese resident aliens and Americans of Japanese ancestry on Bainbridge Island be removed under military guard. Herded into one of 10 camps in geographic isolation, these and other Japanese Americans endured the war in terrible conditions until the mass imprisonment came to an end in December of 1944. The formal ceremony that communicated Japan’s surrender took place on September 2, 1945, aboard the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay.

There was a lot of healing to be done, to say the very least, and in the years following the war, SAM played its role in bringing about a rapprochement between the Japanese American community and the many other people groups that make up our nation.

Already by the fall of 1949, SAM assistant director Sherman Lee was in communication with the Osaka-based Fujikawa Gallery about acquiring historical Japanese art. The gallery certainly had in mind that brokering art deals would contribute to a development of mutual understanding between Japan and the U.S.:

“As you know, we Japanese are now making great efforts with renewed stamina to rehabilitate our post-war country as a genuinely cultural one, having it always in view to contribute towards the establishment of world peace. It is our sincere wish, above all, to have you fully understand and appreciate our Japanese fine arts, thereby to promote our international relationship of goodwill and the interchange of cultures on both sides.”

Letter from Sherman Lee to Fujikawa

Fujikawa’s response is below.

Response from Fujikawa to Sherman Lee

Response from Fujikawa to Sherman Lee

For Lee’s and SAM’s part, engaging with Fujikawa at least demonstrates a lack of the xenophobic fear that inspired war-time decisions like the internment camps.

In the summer of 1951, SAM hosted its first post-war exhibition of Japanese art. From May 9 through June 3 of that year, visitors to the Volunteer Park museum could enjoy Paintings by Japanese Children, a show organized by the Japan-American Society of the Younger Generation in Japan. Two years later, an exhibition that was quite a bit more ambitious came to Seattle.

Dr. Fuller with Consul Saito of Japan at the opening of the 1953 exhibition

The Official Japanese Exhibition of Painting and Sculpture, on view July 9 through August 9, 1953, marked a very important moment for the museum, as it became the site of a highly publicized international exhibition. In its 20 years, SAM had previously hosted one such international show—on the art of India, in 1944—but the 1953 Japanese exhibition became its most important display yet. The museum was open seven days a week for the running of the show, bringing in paid attendance of over 57,000 and a total attendance of more than 73,000. In order “to help defray the heavy expense of this exceptional exhibition,” director Dr. Richard Fuller imposed a stiff charge of an additional 50 cents for entry. Below, you can see Dr. Fuller with his wife Betti (they were married in 1951) and visiting dignitaries, accompanying a truck full of the Japanese artworks and, in a darn questionable move, drawing all kinds of attention to their cumulative value.

Japanese exhibition mobile ad

More important than its effect of raising the museum’s visibility on the local and international stages, the 1953 exhibition communicated a sense of solidarity. At a time when racist thinking toward Japanese Americans definitely lingered, the show offered a peace branch, encouraging people from diverse backgrounds to engage and enjoy Japan’s fascinating art culture.

From my perspective, that remains the hope for SAM today: to be a meeting place for people where, through thoughtfully and artfully made objects, we can learn to appreciate each other better.

—Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

Images: Basket in the shape of a boat, 20th century, Japanese, bamboo, 13 3/4 x 23 1/2 x 12 1/2 in. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Esther Rose Fallick. Basket in the shape of a boat (detail). Letter from Sherman Lee to Fujikawa. Response from Fujikawa to Sherman Lee. Dr. Fuller with Consul Saito of Japan at the opening of the 1953 exhibition. Japanese exhibition mobile ad.

Grant brings new books to the McCaw Foundation Library

The McCaw Foundation Library at the Asian Art Museum in Volunteer Park is open to all museum staff, docents, volunteers, members, and the general public. As one of SAM’s three libraries, the McCaw Foundation Library specializes in research materials supporting the museum’s Asian collection and exhibitions that occur at the Asian Art Museum. Anyone with an interest in the visual arts of Asia will appreciate the outstanding collection.

New Book at McCaw Library

The SAM Libraries’ holdings number nearly 60,000 items, with more than a third of those being available at the McCaw Foundation Library. These materials include: books, exhibition catalogues, auction catalogues, serials, videos, and electronic publications, many of which are in Asian languages. These materials support research on objects in the permanent collection, research for special exhibitions, assist in docent-led tour preparation, and provide general information about the history of art in Asia.

The Museum’s general operating funds are the primary source of financial support for the McCaw Foundation Library. When the need for additional funding arises, the museum staff collaborates in sourcing the necessary funds.

Histories of Modern and Contemporary Japan through Art: Institutions, Discourse, Practice

Associate Librarian for Asian Art, Yueh-Lin Chen, recognized the need for additional resources in the library’s reference collection, specifically in the areas of Japanese and Korean art. With guidance from Xiaojin Wu, Curator of Japanese and Korean Art, and assistance from Librarian Traci Timmons, Ms. Chen applied for a grant from The Metropolitan Center for Eastern Art Studies. Founded under the auspices of the Harry G. C. Packard Collection Charitable Trust, and based at Hosomi Museum in Kyoto, Japan, the Center provides grants for advanced scholarship in the arts of East Asia.

The museum staff’s collaborative effort was successful and the library received a generous grant from the Center, allowing purchase of important resources on Japanese and Korean art. These books will significantly enhance the collection and are available for use in the McCaw Foundation Library. Examples of materials purchased with this grant money are shown below. Visit us to see others and discover the many other exceptional resources the McCaw Foundation Library has to offer.

Kate Nack, Library Volunteer, McCaw Foundation Library for Asian Art

Object of the Week: The Poem of Ariwara no Narihira (Ariwara no Narihira Ason)

Unheard of
even in the legendary age
of the awesome gods:
Tatsuta River in scarlet
and the water flowing under it.

(Poem by 9th-century poet Ariwara no Narihira; translation by Joshua Mostow, from Pictures of the Heart: The Hyakuni Isshu, in Word and Image).

We’re welcoming the first week of fall here in Seattle. The Autumnal Equinox—when night and day are nearly the same in length, and summer officially gives way to fall—took place Wednesday, September 23. Most people won’t be checking their calendars for that date, but instead will know the change by the fresh chill in the air and the striking color contrasts we start to see in nature. It’s my favorite season for the beauty and the change visible all around us.

There are plenty of reasons to celebrate fall. Long before the term “fall” was coined, and also before the French-derived “autumn” entered the vernacular, the same season was known simply as “harvest.” It meant a time of reaping, gathering, enjoying abundance, and cozying up for winter.

The collection at Seattle Art Museum includes a memorable homage to fall: a print work by Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). One of the most important producers of ukiyo-e, a grouping of woodblock prints from Japan’s Edo period (1615-1868), Hokusai is represented by 27 works at SAM, including prints and ink drawings on paper and silk. Through the aesthetic in his work, Hokusai became an important influence on the European Impressionists. Seattleites and our visitors will have the opportunity to see many of the best of the Impressionists in the upcoming exhibition, Intimate Impressionism from the National Gallery of Art, opening October 1.

Hokusai’s tribute to fall, The Poem of Ariwara no Narihira (Ariwara no Narihira Ason), gives visual form to the poem at the top of this post. There’s a lot happening in the print. Blue-green hills set a backdrop in the distance while auburn leaves rise above them. The color contrasts that we identify with fall are beautifully visualized here. Closer to us, several pairs of figures are bustling about—active, but also joyful in their work. Beaming smiles match the visual warmth of the scene. A flowing river cuts across the landscape with an infectious life and energy, carrying a bunch of colorful maple leaves with it. Both the print and the poem that inspired it capture the sense of mystery and magic surrounding the cycle of the seasons. It’s a phenomenon beyond our control that informs everything—how we work, play, dress, and live.

Jeffrey Carlson, SAM Collections Coordinator

To learn more about this artwork and other treasures in SAM’s collection, visit our website.

IMAGE: The Poem of Ariwara no Narihira (Ariwara no Narihira Ason), ca. 1838, Katsushika Hokusai, Japanese, 1760-1849, woodblock print: ink and color on paper, 10 1/4 x 14 3/4 in., Gift of Mary and Allan Kollar, in honor of the 75th Anniversary of the Seattle Art Museum, 2010.47.5.

Mr.’s Caterpillar (or: The Importance of Living On)

When we arrive at the Asian Art Museum, the Tateuchi Galleries are filled with cardboard boxes. Each room has a low tower built up in the middle, away from the walls. You can see flashes of a panda sticker on many of them, the logo of a moving company. Some of Mr.’s paintings are already hung, and a few are leaning against the walls. In a couple of places, an 8.5×11 piece of paper with a picture of a painting is taped to the wall with masking tape, giving us a clue of what will be going there.

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The paintings are huge—much larger than we would have guessed—the size of entire gallery walls. We watch as four art preparators carefully lift and place one panel of three, sliding it along a rail toward the other two until you can just barely discern the seam.

Mr. is sitting at a folding table, working on a laptop. He’s surrounded by printouts of his paintings, plans that show how to build the installation in front of him, and photographs he’s taken. He wears a striped hoodie and glasses and jeans, and he seems perfectly happy to take a break and talk about what he’s working on. He doesn’t speak much English, and I speak no Japanese, so we chat with the aid of SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean Art, Xiaojin Wu, and Mr.’s assistant, Kozue, who’s also based here in Seattle. The necessary triplicate of the interview means we move through the galleries slowly, standing amidst the cardboard boxes and the sounds of drills nearby. Everyone is so patient it’s hard to tell how much time is passing.

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The installation he’s stationed in front of is the centerpiece of the exhibition, a tribute to the March 11, 2011 Tōhoku tsunami and ensuing earthquake. Most recently, it was shown at the Lehmann Maupin Gallery in New York. When it’s finished, it’s about the size of a train car, made up of what Mr. calls “stuff.”

Right now, it’s just a skeleton made from pipes and plywood. It looks something like an erector set, and Mr. refers to it affectionately as the “caterpillar.” The art preparators working in this gallery say that it’s like putting together a puzzle. They have sketches to follow, but they’re not exact, and they’re figuring it out with Mr. as they go. It will be a massive structure, made up of hundreds of everyday objects of Japanese life that Mr. spent three months collecting. Some crates were shipped from New York City, where they were stored after the Lehmann Maupin show. Some crates were shipped from Japan. Mr.’s translator points out a box of curry, emphasizing that all of these are real things used every day in Japan. I ask if the installation changes every time he constructs it, and he says it’s hard to keep it the same, so by nature it varies. Mr. is creating new paintings with which to surround the installation. And this is the first time that Mr.’s photographs of the aftermath of the tsunami will be on display.

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During the tsunami, Mr. was living in Saitama, Japan, just outside of Tokyo. One hundred days after the tsunami hit, Mr. went to the site and took hundreds of photographs. He pulls his laptop off the table to show me some of the pictures and brings it with us as we look at the wall where they’ll be plastered in a collage from bottom to top.

“I went,” Mr. says, which sound a bit like a pronouncement because in the midst of all the Japanese, he says it in English. Which—this one is. He went there. He saw it in person. He witnessed.

A hundred days after the tsunami, he explains, means it was almost summer. There was a factory nearby that had been making canned fish, and it smelled terrible. While Mr. looks through his photos to find what he wants to show me, I ask Xiaojin why she thinks it’s important that Seattle see the artwork.

“I think at the beginning we were attracted to Mr.’s work because of the tsunami installation. The tsunami was such a huge event that impacted so many Japanese people’s lives that you can look around and almost all the Japanese contemporary artists, in some way, have responded to it. But Mr.’s response is quite unique. He uses the daily items he collected. But he also went to the place and documented the aftermath, so I think it’s very meaningful for us to show that. And somehow, even though his main body of works is made up of paintings, some of the works he made even earlier tie into that idea of disaster and how we respond to it. We think it will be very interesting for the Seattle audience to see a different perspective of Japanese Pop art. Even though the paintings look like anime/manga, they are not just about this—even they have more to them, a little bit deeper meanings. You can get a bit deeper, see beyond the surface…beyond those big eyes, those smiles.” Xiaojin laughs suddenly as she references the happy-go-lucky anime faces, like there’s something bubbly just in talking about it.

Mr. draws my attention to his laptop and shows me the photos of collapsed buildings, tipped cars, downed power lines. Everything looks askew, and gray, covered in silt and dust. In some photos, Mr. is wearing a mask.

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“When you first went to the tsunami site, did you experience it more as an artist, looking to make artwork, or were you just there to see and experience it as a citizen, as a civilian who’d been part of this disaster?” I ask.

Both Xiaojin as she listens to my question in English, and then Mr. as she translates it into Japanese, nod solemnly. Mr. talks for a long time.

“He was saying the tsunami just impacted everybody in Japan, everyone in the entirety of Japan,” Xiaojin starts. “So he never thought, I’ll go in there as an artist. He just wanted to go and see and experience, but after this experience, his thoughts have just changed so much, and the Fukushima nuclear disaster was also, after…it’s still going on.”

Mr. starts speaking again as Xiaojin slow down. She murmurs in agreement as he talks, a thoughtful sound.

“He says there are two types of people that the tsunami had an impact on. One is directly those people who lived there, lost their home, and really, they probably had the worst damage. But the second kind is just like him, who didn’t really directly experience the tsunami but they lost power, or water, or the supermarket didn’t have enough supplies, so they experienced it indirectly. But just on different levels, everybody was involved.”

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The next week, when I go back to the Asian Art Museum, the installation is nearly complete. Above the screen that blocks gallery access, I can see a mattress, folded into a u shape over the top of the structure. The installation crams so many pieces of life together that it seems impossible it will hold, in the way an over packed suitcase may burst open at any moment. It’s about trauma, but also about the possibilities of what will come next.

The title of the installation? Give Me Your Wings – think different. No wonder Mr. has nicknamed the skeletal structure the caterpillar.

Live On: Mr.’s Japanese Neo-Pop is now on view at the Asian Art Museum.

Words: Maggie Hess, Copywriter
Photos: Natali Wiseman & Stephanie Fink

SAM Art: Quick! Before it’s too late!

A Fuller view of China, Japan and Korea, the museum’s celebration of our Asian art collection closes this weekend. See the Hell of Shrieking Sounds, Deer Scroll, Crows Screen, and other favorites before they disappear from our galleries. Before they go, make sure you see the stunning Hell of Shrieking Sounds scroll, which relates a Buddhist sutra on the different representations of hell. The inscription on the SAM scroll reads, in part:

“…there is a place called the Shrieking Sound Hell. The inmates of this place are those who in the past, while human beings, …[failed] to conduct themselves properly and having no kindness in their hearts, they beat and tortured beasts.”

(Translation by Mr. K. Tomita for the Seattle Art Museum)

Segment of the Hell Scroll: Hell of Shrieking Sounds, ca. 1200, Japanese, Heian period (794 – 1185), handscroll; ink and color on paper, 10 3/8 x 25 3/4 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 48.172. On view until Sunday, 13 April, at the Asian Art Museum.

SAM Art: The DNA of Japanese Design

Plants and animals of exceeding beauty and technical intricacy appear throughout Japanese design. The natural world is deeply rooted in the DNA of Japanese design, and is transmitted down through generations. Over the past few centuries, artists have begun reimagining traditional subjects in modern forms.

Nature and Pattern in Japanese Design, a new installation of Japanese art, celebrates the motifs of the natural world in folding screens, fan paintings, hanging scrolls, ceramics and lacquerware from SAM’s collection. On view at the Seattle Art Museum starting December 21.

Asagao no tane (Vine with Morningglory Seed Pods), 19th century, Shibata Zeshin (Japanese, 1807 – 1891), lacquer and color on paper, 6 13/16 x 19 3/8 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 61.80.1. On view in Nature and Pattern in Japanese Design, Asian art galleries (new!), third floor, SAM Downtown, opening Saturday, 21 December.

SAM Art: Going for Gold is shimmering away

Gold has been a shimmering presence in art across cultures and time. When the first metals were unearthed by humans around 5000 b.c., gold was valued for its rarity and lustrous color. Today, gold is prized as both investment and adornment, with fifty percent of the world’s consumption of this rare substance being made into jewelry. The rarest of all metals, gold has unique properties. It is chemically inert so it remains stable and does not oxidize or degrade, even if buried in a tomb or sunken in a shipwreck. Gold is also dense—a cubic foot weighs half a ton—but is so malleable that it can be stretched into threads to be woven into textiles or hammered into thin sheets to be applied as gilding.

The dazzling art on view in Going for Gold offers a rare opportunity to appreciate gold in all its beguiling aspects. This exhibition closes on Sunday, 8 December.

Portable shrine: Bodhisattva Kokuzo, 19th century, Japanese (Edo period, 1603-1868), wood with gold and black lacquer, polychrome, and metal fittings, Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 34.183. On view in Going for Gold, third floor, SAM downtown, through Sunday, 8 December.

SAM Art: Age-old Japanese fashion

Worn by a Buddhist holy person, the kesa is a one-piece Japanese garment said to be modeled on the robe of the historical Buddha. Early kesa were composed of brown or saffron colored scraps of fabric cut from discarded rags and sewn together in a patchwork fashion, though luxurious robes were later used within the pieced designs . This construction method resonates with the contemporary techniques used by the designers celebrated in Future Beauty: 30 Years of Japanese Fashion.

While the avant-garde couture in Future Beauty leaves Seattle next week (this Sunday, 8 September, is the last day to see the show), the more traditional Japanese garments highlighted in Going for Gold will remain on view until December.

Kesa, 18th-19th century, Japanese, silk with metallic threads, 46 x 81 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 33.667. Currently on view in Going for Gold, third floor, SAM downtown.

SAM Art: Shining, shimmering gold

Gold has been a shimmering presence in art across cultures and time. When the first metals were unearthed by humans around 5000 b.c., gold was valued for its rarity and lustrous color. Ancient Egyptians believed that gold was the skin of the gods, and for Greeks, gold was a mixture of water and sunlight. Gold is mentioned in the Bible as one of the gifts from the Magi to an infant Jesus. The Peruvian Incas referred to gold as “tears of the Sun.” In China, gold was the color of emperors and today is a symbol of good luck. In Japan, gold was associated with the ruling class and represented the color of the heavens.

A new group of textiles, including in this Japanese brocade kimono, has been installed in Going for Gold this week. This focused show, drawn from the museum’s collections, looks at gold’s use and significance across cultures.

Ceremonial wedding kimono, 3rd quarter 20th century, Japanese, silk brocade with gold thread embroidery (couching), overall 73 ½ x 51 ¼ in., Gift of Jon and Mary Shirley, 95.77. Currently on view in Going for Gold, third floor, SAM Downtown.

SAM Art 50+: The World’s Fair + SAM

This year, we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Seattle’s World’s Fair. As part of the ongoing commemorations, through the month of September SAM looks back at arts at the Fair, as well as the legacy of those projects.

1,350,000 people visited the Fine Arts Pavilion at the Seattle World’s Fair, where six wide-ranging exhibitions held visitors’ attention for hours. Of these exhibitions, “Masterpieces of Art” was the most ambitious—Time magazine deemed it “well worth an hour off from the geewhizzery of space and the girlie shows of the Gayway.” Selected by the directors of North American museums, this show still betrayed a perspective unique to Seattle. In addition to works by Rembrandt, Copley, Monet, Eakins, and Picasso, several Asian masterpieces were also included. Among the latter was SAM’s submission: An ancient Japanese tomb figure.

The catalogue for “Masterpieces of Art” called this sculpture, “a simplified, almost abstract interpretation of a helmeted and armored warrior,” one who once guarded a tomb in Japan’s Gunma prefecture. This monumentally scaled terra cotta was concrete recognition that a “Masterpiece” could, indeed, hail from a region other than Europe or America. This willingness to acknowledge the artistic achievements of non-European-extracted cultures extended geographically as far as Asia, and philosophically as far as the native cultures of North America.

In 2012, our conception of the world has expanded even further. In addition to all of the geographies represented at the Fine Arts Pavilion of the Fair, this year SAM has shown art from Polynesia, Brazil, Australia, and Central Asia in dedicated exhibitions; as well as permanent collection objects hailing from Africa, the Middle East, and Central America. The world has grown over the past 50 years, and now more than ever before it has come to Seattle.

Haniwa warrior figure (detail), 6th-7th century, Japanese, Kofun period (3rd-7th century C.E.), ceramic with polychrome, 53 ¼ x 16 ½ x 10 ¾ in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 62.44. Currently viewable online.

SAM Art: Farewell to LUMINOUS

For her final entry, Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern, looks at a seemingly fearsome figure.

Although this mask now appears to be a piece of static sculpture, when it was in use the effect was the reverse. The mask originally had a back half, and tied together covered the entire head of the wearer. With the wearer’s costume pulled up high on the neck, the head-concealing mask gave the impression that the sculptures within the temple had descended from their pedestals to stride forth amidst the devotees. Masked processions very literally brought religious belief to life in a thrilling way.

Masked dance was introduced to Japan during the Nara Period (710-794 CE) as part of a massive importation of Korean and Chinese political and religious culture. Initially only used in court rituals, by the Kamakura Period (1185-1333), when this mask was made, masked dance had taken on many different forms. The Dragon King was used in Buddhist gyodo performances, processions of masked figures embodying divine being.

Sagara the Dragon King stylistically blends two characters from different schools of masked performance. In Buddhist gyodo, the character Sagara is one of the Eight Great Dragon Kings, part of the retinue of Amida Buddha. In bugaku, a type of popular non-religious masked drama, the same features are shared by the character of a Dragon King, a prince so handsome that he wore a fearsome mask in battle to frighten his enemies, and so that his beauty would not distract his allies. Over time, the two characters came to share the distinctive green skin, ferociously contorted face, bulging eyes, and the dragon rearing back atop his head. Sagara’s role as a religious guardian, here, is emphasized by his golden lotus crown, a symbol of purity in Buddhism. Sagara’s formidable visage gave the faithful confidence in his ability as a protector.

Gyodo mask of Dragon King, early 13th century, Japanese, Kamakura period (1185-1333), wood with lacquer, polychrome and gilt, 15 9/16 x 8 1/8 x 5 15/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 68.110. On view in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, through Sunday 8 January.

Not Your Ordinary Screen Savers

Apropos the fabulous Golden “Bamboo and Poppies” Kanō school screens, and the other famous and beloved screens currently displayed in Luminous: The Art of Asia, the Seattle Art Museum’s collection of approximately 70 Asian screens, has been recently rehoused in the best state-of-the-art storage cabinets available thanks to a generous federal grant from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS).

SAM’s significant collection of Asian screens includes paintings of singular artistic and cultural importance. The screens range in date from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century. Together with our collection of hanging scrolls, they convey to visitors an experience of splendid art and vivid impressions of the story of painting in Japan, China and Korea.

Although SAM’s collection has a handful of Chinese wood, lacquered and cinnabar panel screens, the bulk of the collection is comprised of Japanese and Korean painted screens. The Japanese screens at SAM fall into two categories, the byōbu, or folding screens (from two up to eight panels) and the fusuma, or sliding screens, typical partitions used to divide large rooms in temples or castles. Both of these styles are represented in Luminous.

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SAM Art: Golden Screens of the Kanō School

Hattie Branch, Blakemore Intern, returns to SAMart with an entry on the golden screens of the Kanō School.

During the Momoyama Period (1573-1603), drastic change came to Japanese art from an unusual source: Western firearms. As warlords vied for control of the country, Portuguese traders introduced Western guns and cannons to Japan.

For centuries, Japanese palaces had been built as sprawling, single-story complexes, with wooden floors and roofs, and paper walls. Sliding doors allowed rooms to open easily to the surrounding gardens, and even when shut, light permeated the thin paper. With the advent of firearms, by necessity, the Japanese rapidly designed towering fortress palaces. Walls thick enough to withstand cannon fire suddenly plunged the world of the elites into darkness.

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SAM Art: A Luminous Dragon King

The stern eyes and open mouth of this fearsome mask are attributes of the Dragon King, one of the Eight Buddhist Guardians. It is thought that this mask somehow came to be separated from a valuable set of eight masks, the seven remaining of which are still housed at Toji temple in Kyoto. The mask is splendidly carved and colored, and its interior is finished with a coating of expensive black lacquer, signaling this object’s high importance.

Assembled in the twenty-first century, in a museum gallery in Seattle, this mask and the 160 other objects in LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia are radically displaced from their original sites of production. Their significance has shifted from sacred to secular as they have moved from temple hall to treasure house. Here, it is their aesthetic beauty that is being celebrated, not their ritual use. The museum viewer encounters these objects with very different expectations than a thirteenth-century worshipper might have held. We expect to be educated, or even awed, but we do not—in most cases—anticipate spiritual salvation.

LUMINOUS opens to the public on Thursday, 13 October, and remains on view through 8 January 2012.

Gyodo mask of Dragon King, early 13th century, Japanese, Kamakura period, wood with lacquer, polychrome and gilt, 15 9/16 x 8 1/8 x 5 15/16 in., Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 68.110. On view in the special exhibition LUMINOUS: The Art of Asia, fourth floor, SAM downtown, starting Thursday, 13 October.

SAM Art: Bagley Wright, in memoriam

Symbolizing longevity, the traditional motifs of cranes in flight and pine trees are interpreted in an innovative manner on this child’s kimono. Set against a turquoise background, pine trees appear above and below the waves as silhouettes created by the playful use of color and negative space. Against the pine tree border, brightly-colored cranes soar above the swelling wave pattern. Delicate, calligraphic lines of ink emphasize the graceful bodies of the flying cranes.

On Monday, July 18, Bagley Wright passed away. Among his many acts of generosity for the Seattle arts community, Mr. Wright and his wife Virginia have donated hundreds of works of art to the museum’s permanent collection over the past six decades, including this kimono. We mourn the passing of this great friend.

Child’s ceremonial kimono, late 19th century, Japanese, Meiji period, bast fiber (asa) cloth with freehand paste-resist decoration (tsutsugaki) and handpainted pigments and ink decoration, 45 x 40 in., Gift of Virginia and Bagley Wright, 89.103. On view starting next week, Seattle Asian Art Museum, Volunteer Park.
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