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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

Facing East: Kabuki in Honor of Japan Spring

The art of Kabuki in honor of Japan Spring; photo by H. Wicaksono

In honor of Japan Spring, traditional dance master Bando Kotoji demonstrates and discusses scenes from famous kabuki plays including “Yoshino-yama,” set on a famous Japanese mountain known for its cherry blossoms.The intricate art of kabuki involves costume, makeup, postures, and movement all supported by live music for shamisen, chanter, and percussion.

Posted by in Japan Spring, Japanese Art, Sackler 25 | 5 Comments

Fuji to Go: Making Tatebanko

In the Imaginasia Classroom: Tatebanko, Japanese Paper Dioramas

Rock. Paper. Scissors. Mount Fuji Style. In the Imaginasia classroom, people of all ages are learning how to make Tatebanko, Japanese paper dioramas, featuring landscapes from Hokusai’s Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.

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

Japan Spring in the Sackler Gallery

Celebrating Japan Spring in the Sackler Pavilion; photo by Carly Pippin

Here’s the scene in the Sackler Gallery as we celebrate Japan Spring! There’s still time to grab some food and listen to the sounds of the koto. At 2 pm check out Imaginasia activities as well as Kabuki in the Freer’s Meyer Auditorium.

Posted by in Events, Japan Spring, Japanese Art, Sackler 25 | 1 Comment

Curator Ann Yonemura on Hokusai

Ann Yonemura, senior associate curator of Japanese Art; photo by H. Wicaksono

We have the honor of having Ann Yonemura with us today. Ann is the senior associate curator of Japanese art at the Freer|Sackler. She shares with us how special and rare it is to have the complete set of Hokusai prints on view, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, selected from seven museums and two private collections.

“It’s very difficult to bring the series together this way. It really is the first show of the full series that I have seen in my lifetime. It’s up for twelve weeks only, so it’s brief, just like the cherry blossoms. The prints are beautiful, and in excellent condition. Visitors to the exhibition will be seeing the prints as they would have appeared in the 1830s, when they were first published.”

Posted by in Japan Spring, Japanese Art, Sackler 25 | 2 Comments

Sketching the Koto Player

Sketching the Koto Player in the Sackler; photo by H. Wicaksono

Japan Spring is a feast for the ears as well as the eyes. Come listen to the sounds of the koto, the national instrument of Japan, happening now through 2 pm.

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

Cherry Blossom Origami

Making cherry blossom origami in the Sackler; photo by Hutomo Wicaksono

Not happy with the cherry blossoms outside? Come into the Sackler and make your own! Cherry Blossom origami happening now through 2 pm!

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

Hokusai: Making Waves

The Great Wave

Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji: Under the Wave off Kanagawa; H. O Havemeyer Collection, Bequest of Mrs. H. O. Havemeyer, 1929, Metropolitan Museum of Art (JP1847). Image source: Art Resource, NY

Hokusai: 36 Views of Mount Fuji opens Saturday, March 24, 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 was written by Victoria Dawson and previously appeared in Asiatica magazine.

In the 1850′s—the decade after Hokusai’s death—Japan was opened up to the West and paintings and prints began to flow to Europe and into America. Over the next fifty years, Hokusai gradually emerged in Western eyes and in the Western imagination as the Asian artist par excellence. Much has been written about his influence on designs of European and American artists in the late nineteenth century. Indeed, in Vienna, at the 1873 international exhibition, a major exhibition of Hokusai works underscored the high degree of popularity that he enjoyed in the West. But through most of the last century, beyond a relatively small group of researchers and collectors, the artist was largely identified in the popular imagination as a print designer. His most famous work, The Great Wave from the print series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (circa 1830–33), is virtually synonymous with Japanese art—and so ubiquitous that it can be found almost anywhere that ink can adhere to a surfave—from tote bags to magnets. [The print can be seen at the Sackler Gallery as part of the exhibition on view from March 24 through June 17, 2012.]

Hokusai was someone with a very deep sense that wherever he was, it was not the final place—he was always looking for something beyond. He was an individualist whose art seems infused with a sense of irony, hauntedness, and a search for meaning. His prolific productivity, his cherished independence, and his groundbreaking visual techniques suggest a man who was obsessed with something other than money or social standing.

Then, as now, there were scores and scores of artists who were content with the status quo, satisfying rather than challenging the expectations of their viewers. Not so Hokusai. Consider, for example, the contrast between two prints of waves, created within several years of one another. In The Great Wave, Hokusai presents a rather generous vision of sweeping waves with Mount Fuji in the distance. A print he created only a year or two later offers a claustrophic alternative: In Chosi in Shimosa Province (circa 1833–34, from the series One Thousand Pictures of the Ocean) the waves cleave to a sharp diagonal line, crashing against the jagged rocks and shoals. A second, distant fishing boat offers none of the reassuring stability that Mount Fuji provides in the earlier print.

“There is no escape. Visually, Hokusai doesn’t allow it,” says Jim Ulak, senior curator of Japanese art at the Freer|Sackler. “He seems to say, ‘Well, you were comfortable with The Great Wave? Now, I’ll give you something to be afraid of—a darker vision, a sense of being trapped.’ Why would Hokuasi have done that? Not to make the viewer feel comfortable. You can always expect him to pull the rug out from under you.”

Posted by in A Closer Look, Japanese Art, Sackler 25 | 3 Comments