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Japanese culture gets a show in New York

January 28, 2020 12:20 PM

NEW YORK:Nearly 70 masterpieces of calligraphy, painting, sculpture, ceramics, lacquers, and textiles from two Japanese art collections, are all set to go on view at the Asia Society Museum in New York from February 11.

The exhibition titled "The Art of Impermanence" examines Japan's unique and nuanced references to transience, and draws Japanese works from two art collections in America - the John C. Weber Collection and Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection.

Objects in the exhibition span from the Jomon period (ca. 15, 000-300 BCE) to the twentieth century. From images that depict the cycle of the four seasons and red Negoro lacquer so worn it reveals the black lacquer beneath, to the gentle sadness evoked in the words of wistfully written poems, this exhibition demonstrates that much of Japan's greatest art alludes directly or indirectly to the transient nature of life.

As per the museums, the exhibition begins with a section on "Retrieving Lost Worlds" comprising sculptural objects from Japan's ancient civilizations. A flame-style vessel with elaborate designs and ridge ornamentation, which dates from the Middle Jomon period, is one of the highlights of this section and the oldest piece in the show.

No records exist of the Jomon people who made vessels such as this one, and the reason it was made was lost with the culture that produced it. Coil-built by hand out of moist, soft clay, it is assumed to have been used for the preparation of food or drink for consumption during rituals.

A section titled "Buddhism: Accepting Impermanence", explores the notion of impermanence as a central existential condition in Buddhism and the idea that holding onto things is the source of human suffering.

Included in this section are sutra scrolls, reliquaries, and sculptures depicting Buddhist figures. A stunning rock-crystal reliquary from the Kamakura period (14th century) that enshrines five transparent quartz pebbles as relics is in the form of a Five-Element Pagoda (gorinto). The square base represents earth, the sphere water, the pyramid fire, the hemisphere wind, and the teardrop-shaped finial space.

"Tea: Choreographed Ephemerality", comprises aesthetically compelling tea bowls, trays, and other objects crafted for use in the Japanese tea ceremony. Rooted in Zen Buddhist philosophy called chanoyu, the Way of Tea, these carefully orchestrated gatherings lasted from twenty minutes to four hours.

Calm and beautiful surroundings often paired with elegant, tactile, and functional stoneware and lacquer objects aided this experience in which participants were able to quiet their minds, focus on their senses, appreciate the beverage and their surroundings, and tap into feelings of wistfulness associated with the transience of life.

The concept of impermanence has also permeated the written word in Japan, with laments about ephemeral things filling Japan's earliest writings. The word sabi (loneliness), which Japanese learned from Chinese Tang dynasty poetry, originally connoted wretchedness.

Over time, it took on the notion of an introspective type of beauty brought on by solitude. The four seasons connote impermanence though cyclical change and serve as a prevalent theme in the Japanese poetry, calligraphy, and scroll painting on view in the final section of the exhibition. The ephemeral cherry blossom graces a number of works in this section. Writings invoking the imagery of loneliness and solitude, as well as idealized portraits of Japan's early poetic geniuses, are also included.

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