Japanese Art Exhibitions outside of Japan

Japanese art exhibitions on this autumn

The summer heat may have subsided in Norwich, but the presence of Japan in Europe continues with excellent Japanese art exhibitions running this autumn. This article covers opportunities to catch world-class exhibitions in Paris and Zurich. Paris in particular is bustling. Celebrating the 160th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Japan and France, a series of special events are being held across the city. This includes a feature exhibition on Itō Jakuchū as well as one on prehistoric Jōmon pottery and contemporary architect, Tadao Ando. In Zurich, an exhibition highlighting the work of another eccentric 18th-century painter, Nagasawa Rosetsu, will be on until early November. I hope you have a chance to catch a bit of Japan whilst traveling around Europe this autumn.

Jakuchū (1716-1800): The Colorful Realm of Living Beings
Petit Palais, Paris
15 September 2018 to 14 October 2018

Itō Jakuchū (1716-1800) is one of the most well-known Japanese painters from the Edo period (1615-1868) in Japan and North America. Yet his influence may be less known in Europe. Itō Jakuchū is considered to be an eccentric, but he is also regarded as one of the most significant pre-modern painters in the history of Japanese art. Born as the eldest son of a greengrocer in Kyoto, he first started painting as a hobby. He studied and copied rare Chinese and Japanese paintings at Shōkokuji temple, Zen monastery, in Kyoto with the support of the temple’s abbot Daiten Kenjō (1719-1801). At the age of forty he decided to devote the rest of his life to painting. Just two years into his practice, Jakuchū began painting works that we now considered to be his masterpieces, such as the thirty hanging scrolls titled ‘Colourful Realm of Living Beings (Dōshoku sai-e)’ and the triptych of the Shaka Triad (Shaka Sanson zō). They took nearly ten years to complete and are the highlights of the exhibition.

The thirty Colourful Realm hanging scrolls represent a compendious selection of birds and flowers (kachō). Depiction of birds and flowers is part of a traditional canon of pictorial themes. Jakuchū, being the eccentric that he was, stepped beyond the conventional
range of flora and fauna, such as sparrows, fowls, irises and chrysanthemums. Instead, he included a flock of roosters and an assortment of fish and sea creatures in his scrolls.

The Colourful Realm as well as Shaka Triad triptych were painted for Shōkokuji temple and donated to the temple around 1770: initially twenty-four out of thirty paintings were donated together with the triptych in 1765, and six remaining scrolls were added by 1770. They were hung on the walls for display during the temple’s rituals, placing the triptych in the centre. The adjacent side walls hung fifteen Colourful Realm scrolls each. The room was open for the public to view.

Jakuchū’s work contributed to positioning Japanese paintings as ‘art’ in the way the term came to be defined in the Meiji period (1868-1912). Over a century after being painted, the Colourful Realm was selected as the centrepiece for the first Kyoto Exposition (Kyōto hakurankai) and displayed at the Nishi Honganji temple in Kyoto in 1872. In 1889, the entire set of the Colourful Realm was presented to the Imperial Household Ministry (Kunaishō). They are now housed in the Museum of Imperial Collections (Sannomaru shōzōkan). Prior to the Petit Palace exhibition, the only other time that the Colorful Realm scrolls left Japan was in 2012 when they were exhibited at National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C. It is therefore an exceptional opportunity to experience first-hand the wonder of Jakuchū’s extraordinary art.

** After the e-magazine was published, we were delighted to hear from Mr Gregory Irvine at the V&A Museum, who shared the news about the newly opened Meiji exhibition at the Guimet Museum. Opened in 15 October, the exhibition focusing on the splendour of Japanese art from the Meiji period will run until 14 January 2019. For more information, please click here.

Jōmon: Birth of Art in Prehistoric Japan
Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris
17th October – 8th December 2018

The Jōmon period is famous for the creation of elaborate clay figurines and vessels. The period dates back some 10,300 years ago, after the Palaeolithic period, and lasted for almost 10,000 years until 300 BC. The term ‘Jōmon’ is derived from rope-mark patterns found on vessels from the period. The Jōmon people were hunter-gatherers and lived in pit dwellings. They had their own belief systems and created a variety of tools and vessels some of which are the world’s oldest clay vessels which are often adorned with patterns. Jōmon art is not unfamiliar to the U.K. The British Museum held a Jōmon art exhibition titled ‘The Power of Dogū: Ceramic Figurines from Ancient Japan’ in 2009. Professor Simon Kaner, who was then Assistant Director of the Institute, guest curated the exhibition in addition to co-curating a separate ‘Unearthed’ Neolithic figurine exhibition at the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in the following year.

In the middle of the Jōmon period when their society is considered to have reached its creative zenith, they produced striking three-dimensional vessels known as kaengata doki (vessels with flame-like ornamentation). These are said to represent the Jōmon notion of beauty in form using dramatic flame forms to ornament the vessel surfaces. There is only one kaengata doki to be given the designation of National Treasure and it is precisely this vessel that is on display at Maison de la Culture du Japon à Paris this autumn. You can find it amongst other examples, and anthropomorphic and zoomorphic dogū figurines.

Jōmon art continues to inspire us. Professor Nicole Coolidge Rousmaniere, the Institute’s founding director and Research Director, wrote an article titled ‘Rediscovering Dogū in Modern Japan’ in the Power of Dogū exhibition catalogue. In it, she traces the influence of Jōmon art through history to contemporary art practices. The Jōmon exhibition at the Maison de la culture du Japon à Paris is a condensed iteration of the exhibition ‘Jōmon: 10,000 Year of Prehistoric Art in Japan’ held at the Tokyo National Museum in Japan until August of this year.

Tadao Ando: Le Défi
Centre Pompidou
10th October – 31st December 2018

Tadao Ando (1941-) is an internationally acclaimed Japanese architect and a key figure in contemporary architecture. He is self-taught and in fact his first career was in professional boxing. Since establishing himself as an architect in the 1970s, his consistently innovative building designs have earned him global recognition with prizes including the prestigious Pritzker Prize for Architecture in 1995. This is his second solo exhibition, a major retrospective of his works, at the Pompidou Centre.

Ando has a personal connection to France since starting his career as an architect. He was strongly influenced by the Swiss-French architect, Le Corbusier (1887-1965), and studied his designs in France in 1965. As Ando’s international reputation grew, so did the number of prizes he was awarded including four from the French authorities. The most recent French governmental recognition is the Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, which he received in 2013.

This autumn’s exhibition marks a return for Ando to the Pompidou Centre, where he last exhibited in 1993. The exhibition title ‘Le Défi’ (The Challenge), first held at the National Art Centre, Tokyo in 2017, echoes the challenges Ando has set himself in the past, present and future. In particular, Ando is known for his affinity for concrete as a building material. He explains how concrete is simple and unadorned and resonates with his belief that architecture should enhance the lived experience of people inside the space. To do so, he embraces ways of bringing in nature, exemplified by his long-term Naoshima project. There, he embeds his stony concrete building in verdant natural landscape to create a harmonious atmosphere on the island that continues to attract visitors three decades later. He is also passionate about conservation. In addition to designing new buildings, he restores the outer structures of old buildings as faithfully as possible to the original. He then designs the internal space using modern techniques using his signature concrete elements. An example of this can be seen in Venice. Some of his noteworthy works in France includes the Meditation Space on the ground of the UNESCO headquarters built in 1995, Art Centre at Château la Coste in 2011 and his current project, Bourse de Commerce a Paris to open in autumn 2019.

This major retrospective of Ando’s works may inspire visitors to visit his other buildings, much in the same way Ando was inspired to follow the footsteps of Le Corbusier’s buildings in France more than 50 years ago.

For more information on the series of events hosted as part of Japonisme 2018, please visit their website. This year also commemorates the 150th anniversary of Japan – Spain diplomatic relations. Please check the España Japon website as well. Please note that the website is only available in Spanish and Japanese.

Rosetsu: Ferocious Brush
Museum Rietberg
6th September 2018 – 4th November 2018

Dragon. Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754–1799), 1786, Muryōji, Kushimoto. Important Cultural Property

Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-1799) is another 18th-century Kyoto artist in the Edo period. Much like his (considerably older) contemporary Itō Jakuchū (1716-1800), Rosetsu was also classified as an eccentric along with Soga Shōhaku. Yet, characteristics of his eccentricity are very different to that of Jakuchū’s. Rosetsu was a very versatile and prolific artist whose idiosyncrasies of artistic style and personality are demonstrated in his works of art. Rosetsu was born to a low-ranking samurai family in Kyoto and was once a pupil of the celebrated Maruyama Ōkyo. It is believed that he named himself as Nagasawa Rosetsu after joining Ōkyo’s studio. In 1786, Rosetsu was sent to the Muryōji, Zen temple, in Kushimoto (a coastal town in current Wakayama Prefecture) to paint temple walls and screen by Ōkyo who was too old and busy to visit the temple at the time. There he created the monumental tiger and dragon paintings, the highlight of the exhibition, in a single night. To put his prolific nature in perspective, Rosetsu painted about 270 works within ten months while staying in Kushimoto area whereas Jakuchū spent ten years to complete the thirty hanging scrolls of the Colour Realm of Living Beings. A pair of gigantic tiger and dragon paintings, one of Rosetsu’s most famous works, are still housed at the Muryoji temple. Illustrated in a humorous way, the enormous tiger and dragon look tame and adorable, especially the tiger. Yet they are arresting. With its intense gaze, the tiger (despite it resembling more of an enlarged domestic cat) appears ready to pounce any minute. The dragon is equally impressive. Its contorted body is too big to be portrayed even across the width of the four sliding doors. The Rietberg Museum has successfully recreated the original floorplan in which the paintings would have been displayed in Muryōji temple. The display comprises of 48 screens and hanging scrolls including the pair of tiger and dragon paintings.
This is the very first time these iconic paintings can be seen outside of Japan. Furthermore, the visitors to the Rietberg Museum can enjoy the experience of seeing the images in the recreated ambience of the Muryōji.

All of the exhibition details and publication information introduced here and more can be found on the comprehensive research database, developed by the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties, known as Tobunken. As a research partner of Tobunken, the Sainsbury Institute contributes by gathering data and information on Japanese art exhibitions taking place outside of Japan and publications in English.

Miwako Hayashi Bitmead
Japanese Arts Database Officer