art outside the box | the freer | sackler blog

“Masters of Mercy: Buddha’s Amazing Disciples” Closes July 8

Masters of Mercy: Buddha’s Amazing Disciples is for Western audiences a first look at the last great Japanese Buddhist painting ensemble before the onset of modern times. The series was initiated by artist Kano Kazunobu in 1854, the same year that Commodore Matthew Perry “encouraged” Japan to open its doors after a period of two hundred years of isolation (and interestingly, the year museum founder Charles Lang Freer was born). These paintings, as described by curator James Ulak in the video above, alternate between the fantastic and the everyday. A remarkable blend of traditional Buddhist iconography laced with then-contemporary references to theater, myth, and religious cult practice, the paintings depict the miraculous interventions and superhuman activities of the five hundred disciples of the Buddha. Hurry, the exhibition closes this Sunday—”Buddha’s Amazing Disciples” are needed elsewhere!

Posted by in A Closer Look, Exhibitions, Japanese Art | No Comments

Fireworks Freer|Sackler Style

Fireworks at Ike-no-Hata, 1881, Kobayashi Kiyochika, woodblock print, Robert O. Muller Collection, S2003.8.1197

The Freer|Sackler has a number of works in its collections portraying fireworks, including this one by Kobayashi Kiyochika, a Japanese artist who lived from 1847-1915. The central figure here, who appears to be a young boy watching from a high vantage point, reminds me a little of Hokusai’s painting Boy Viewing Mount Fuji, painted in 1839, eight years before Kiyochika was born.

“Images of fireworks were a standard element in a pre-modern printmaker’s repertoire,” says James T. Ulak, senior curator of Japanese art at Freer|Sackler. “In that sense, Kiyochika fulfills his audience’s expectations for traditional subject matter. He extends the boundaries of that tradition, however, by drawing the viewer into the same intimate perspective experienced by the spectators crowded on the periphery of the image.

“Moreover, Kiyochika pushes the dark tonalities of the print to an extreme that would not have been found in earlier nineteenth-century designs. Viewers look out over Shinobazu Pond toward Benten Shrine, which sits on a small island on a peninsula in Ueno Park, Tokyo.”

No matter where you choose to celebrate, Happy Fourth of July!

Posted by in From the Collections, Japanese Art | No Comments

Japan: the Apple of Steve Jobs’ Eye?

Woman Combing Her Hair, 1920, Hashiguchi Goyo, woodblock print, ink and color on paper, Robert O. Muller Collection, S2003.8.121

Carly Pippin is a member of the Office of Development at Freer|Sackler, and the founder of the Silk Road Society for young professionals.

Steve Jobs, architect of the Apple Inc. empire, was a Japanophile. This came as a surprise to me (despite the fact that I own a few slickly designed, white-on-white Apple products). My awareness of Jobs’ Japanese fascination began when I walked through The Patents and Trademarks of Steve Jobs: Art and Technology that Changed the World—a new exhibition in the Smithsonian’s Ripley Center on view through July 8, 2012. The exhibition includes a photo of a young Jobs leaning over an early model of the Macintosh desktop computer. The computer monitor depicts a famous Japanese woodblock print, Hashiguchi Goyo’s Woman Combing Her Hair. Two of these prints reside in the Freer|Sackler collection.

Steve Jobs with an early Apple computer displaying the Goyo print

Jobs, like hundreds of thousands of visitors to Freer|Sackler each year, was inspired by the Japanese zen aesthetic of simplicity. An avid follower of Zen Buddhism, he led Apple in adopting the mantra “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication.” The minimalist design of his products is only superseded by the bare-bones functionality of his wardrobe. His signature black turtleneck and jeans uniform, crafted by Japanese designer Issey Miyake, was supposedly born out of a trip to the Sony factory in Japan, where he witnessed hundreds of factory workers dressed in unison.

In the world of technology, it can be easy to forget the traditional stylistic influences of silk and ink, paintbrush and gold-foil that have inspired artmakers for centuries. Jobs, known for countless inventions and innovations, should also be celebrated for his traditionalism—in that simplicity never goes out of style.

Posted by in A Closer Look, Japanese Art | No Comments

Catch the Wave: Hokusai Closing this Sunday

Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji is closing on Sunday, June 17. In celebration of the exhibition, this video shows exhibition curator Ann Yonemura discussing two of Katsushika Hokusai’s most famous prints: Under the Wave off Kanagawa (better known as the “Great Wave”) and Red Fuji. Both have become icons of the art world.

Hokusai’s series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji became a landmark in Japanese print publishing when it was first published in 1831, incorporating innovative compositions, techniques, and coloration, and establishing landscape as a new subject. The images proved so popular that Hokusai continued the series and added another ten prints. The exhibition on view in the Sackler is a rare opportunity to see examples of all forty-six, culled from important collections around the world.

On Friday, June 15, from 4 to 5 pm, join Yonemura at the entrance to the exhibition for an informal conversation about Hokusai, Mount Fuji, and woodblock prints in Edo-period Japan. Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to learn more about Japan’s most famous artist.

Posted by in Exhibitions, Japan Spring, Japanese Art | No Comments

Hokusai by the Book

Katsushika Hokusai, Imayō Kushi Kiseru Hinagata, 1823 (Popular Designs of Comb and Tobacco Pipes)

In honor of the exhibition Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji, Bento asked Reiko Yoshimura, head librarian at Freer|Sackler, to tell us a little about the Hokusai books in the library’s collection.

The Freer|Sackler Library has a collection of close to one thousand volumes of mostly Edo period illustrated books that originally came from Charles Lang Freer’s personal library. Freer collected these books along with other Japanese artworks that are now in the Freer Gallery of Art. The book collection includes many works by major Edo period artists as well as illustrated volumes on the tea ceremony and flower arranging. Among the most prominent works are books by Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849).

Hokusai was as prolific a book illustrator as he was a painter and printmaker. The official Hokusai catalogue lists more than 260 titles of woodblock printed books, including novels, mad verses, painting albums, painting samples and instruction, tourist guides, erotica, and craft designs. Due to the wide range of subjects and genres, his books have been appreciated by an array of audiences, from scholars to children, long after his death. Hokusai is also known for his Hokusai Manga (Hokusai Sketchbooks), which was enthusiastically admired in Europe when it was introduced in the mid-19th century. The Freer|Sackler Library contains sixty-eight volumes of Hokusai’s books, representing most of the genres mentioned above.

Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji remains on view in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery through June 17, 2012. Charles Lang Freer had a special interest in the works of Hokusai and gathered an unmatched collection of paintings and drawings. Two complementary exhibitions in the Freer highlight these magnificent works. Hokusai: Paintings and Drawings closes June 24. Hokusai: Screens remains on view through July 29.

Posted by in Behind the Scenes, Japan Spring, Japanese Art | No Comments

You Ask, We Answer: Why is it so Dark in Here?

Thirty-six Views: Hokusai at the Sackler

A visitor recently wrote in our Japan Spring comment book wanting to know why it is “so dark” in the Hokusai exhibit. We asked Richard Skinner, F|S lighting designer extraordinaire, to field this one.

RS: Good question. Many of the objects on display at the Freer|Sackler are made with materials that can react to light, so it is necessary to carefully control what kind of light, how much light, and duration of exposure on these materials. The Hokusai prints are made with pigments that could easily fade or shift in color if overexposed to light. Curator Ann Yonemura has carefully selected the best copy available of each print—and to preserve these objects in their current pristine condition, the light level is restricted to 5 foot-candles of visible light. We carefully measure the light level at each individual object with an illuminance meter and also monitor how long lights are on each day using a digital data logging system. Typically, prints of this nature can only be displayed for a limited length of time before they must go back into storage.

Any more questions for us? Let us know in the comments!

Posted by in Exhibitions, Japan Spring, Japanese Art | 3 Comments

Animazing!

Still from Spirited Away, directed by Hayao Miyazaki

We’re just two days away from our tenth annual anime festival, this year titled “Castles in the Sky: Miyazaki, Takahata, and the Masters of Studio Ghibli.” It’s a celebration of Hayao Miyazaki, the master of Japanese animation who, along with Isao Takahata, cofounded the  influential Studio Ghibli. His Oscar-winning feature Spirited Away remains the highest-grossing film in Japan.

The festivities begin in the Meyer Auditorium at 11 am on Sunday, April 15, with free tickets available beginning at 10:30 am. While you’re here, don’t forget to visit the exhibition Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji in the Sackler, as well as displays of Hokusai’s paintings and drawings in the Freer. His works include a collection of manga, Japanese comics closely related to anime.

If you’re going all-out and dressing up as your favorite Miyazaki character, take a photo and post it to our Facebook wall!

Posted by in Exhibitions, Film, Japan Spring, Japanese Art | No Comments

Honoring a “Transcendent” Contribution

Mynah birds in a plum tree by Yosa Buson (1716-1783); ink and slight color on silk; F1967.18

We’ve been celebrating the centennial of the gift of cherry blossoms from Tokyo to Washington, DC, with stellar exhibitions of Japanese art. At 6 pm on Thursday, April 12, Japanese art also will take center stage in the Freer’s Meyer Auditorium, when John Rosenfield receives the Freer Medal. He will become only the thirteenth recipient of the award since it was first conferred in 1956.

“The Freer Medal honors persons who, over the course of a career, have contributed in a substantial, even transcendant way to the understanding of the arts of Asia,” says Julian Raby, director of the Freer Gallery of Art and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

Professor emeritus of East Asian art at Harvard University, Rosenfield has been selected to receive the Freer Medal in recognition of his seminal contributions to the study of Japanese art.  Over a career that has spanned for than fifty years, Professor Rosenfield’s teachings, writings, and lectures have advanced the study of Japanese art in this country and abroad.

“I am amazed to find myself listed among the men and woman who laid the foundation for the history and criticism of Asian art,” Rosenfield writes, “but of course I accept the award of the Freer Medal with utmost gratitude.”

On Thursday evening, Professor Rosenfield will accept the award, discuss his own background and training, and then share a current research project on the Buddhist arts associated with the well-known Shingon monk Hozanji Tankai, who died in 1716.

For more information on Professor Rosenfield and the Freer Medal, check out the article on Art Daily.

Posted by in Japan Spring, Japanese Art, Talks and Lectures | No Comments

Eye Wonder Redux

Kenzan style desk screen with design of mountain retreat; late 19th century; Kyoto workshop; buff clay, iron pigment, enamels under transparent lead glaze; gift of Charles Lang Freer, F1897.20

About a year ago we invited our web visitors to engage in a new form of “Eye Wonder” by experiencing the Freer Gallery of Art on Google Art Project. The Art Project is an armchair art lover’s dream, offering unprecedented online access to collections and in-gallery street views, not to mention stunning gigapixel-level encounters with selected works of art in some of the world’s greatest museums. The Freer was among the first 17 museums around the globe to engage in this new digital art adventure.

Today Google Art Project launches a considerably enhanced and expanded “phase two” version. The site now brings together a wide range of institutions, large and small: iconic art museums as well as less traditional settings for great art.

On the Freer pages of Art Project, visitors will find 100 newly uploaded high-resolution images from the collections and greatly improved street view technology. Street-view strolls now extend to the entire museum and make more artworks available for up-close inspection. A virtual walk through The Peacock Room—as restored to its appearance in 1908, when museum founder Charles Lang Freer installed the room in his home and used it to organize and display his collection of more than 250 Asian ceramics—is resplendent with colors, textures, and shapes.

After taking in all four walls of this remarkable exhibition, a visitor, perhaps sitting at home in Hamburg or Honolulu with a cup of tea, can click a mouse to explore selected ceramics in thrilling detail. Take, for example, this intriguing Japanese desk screen from the Meiji era, inscribed with a poem by Li Dongyang.

We do indeed live in a time of Eye Wonder.

 

Deb Galyan is the head of public affairs and marketing at Freer|Sackler.

Posted by in A Closer Look, American Art, Behind the Scenes, Japanese Art | 1 Comment

Hokusai: Performance Artist

Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji: Umezawa Manor in Sagami Province. By Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849), The Mann Collection, Highland Park, Illinois

Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji is on view through June 17, 2012, as part of our Japan Spring celebration. In honor of the exhibition, Bento presents a series of posts on the life and times of Hokusai, the famed artist behind the esteemed series that includes the iconic print Under the Wave off Kanagawa, better known as The Great Wave. This article, the third and last of the series, was written by Victoria Dawson and previously appeared in Asiatica magazine.

Hokusai’s searching restlessness, as evinced by the shifts in style and name, subject matter and audience, reflects his enormous capability for self-renewal. “His demon, in a way, was that he always reached a point where he was becoming a caricature of himself,” according to art historian Roger Keyes. “He got facile—sort of like Picasso, who really struggled with that problem. But Hokusai found a short cut. Whenever he was in a rut, he changed. He just started doing something completely different.”

Hokusai seemed almost playful about the elusiveness of his public persona, on the one hand disappearing from patrons, publishers, and an admiring public and on the other engaging in feats of artist bravura. In 1804, at the age of forty-four, he decided to produce—at the Gokokuji in Edo—what he believed would be the largest painting ever created. On the day of the performance his assistants rolled out an expanse of paper fifty-five feet wide long and thirty feet wide—pieced together from smaller sheets of paper. At Hokusai’s signal, a team of assistants, dressed in black, began to scramble around the jerry-rigged canvas, wielding brooms for paintbrushes and working from tubs of ink—presumably following an outline by the artist. “The spectators said it was the damnedest thing—these people running all over the place,” Keyes says. When the ink dried and the painting was finally hoisted aloft, the assembled crowd beheld the head and shoulders of the Bodhidharma, the Indian patriarch of Zen Buddhism.

“Here,” adds Keyes, “Hokusai is a performance artist, right? So then he said, ‘You think that’s great? Well, check this out!’ The next day he got a grain of rice and, with his one-hair brush, drew two flying sparrows [on it]. Isn’t that great?”

Posted by in Exhibitions, Japan Spring, Japanese Art, Sackler 25 | No Comments