Japan Society Exhibits Highlights from Brooklyn Museum, 3/7-6/8

Japan Society Exhibits Highlights from Brooklyn Museum, 3/7-6/8

This spring the Gallery at Japan Society draws from the Brooklyn Museum's collection of Japanese art to present Points of Departure: Treasures of Japan from the Brooklyn Museum, a survey diverging from the conventional narrative of Japanese art by highlighting the polyglot nature of the Japanese achievement. (On view from March 7 through June 8, 2014.)

Ranging in date from prehistoric times to the present, the 71 works on view in Points of Departure encompass both the virtuosic treasures exemplifying Japan's best-known contributions to world art-screen paintings, ceramics, sculpture, and color woodblocks-and lesser-known, but revelatory, indigenous artifacts like delicate bark fiber robes, beaded jewelry, and carved artifacts for utilitarian and ritual use.

First started from an ethnological perspective more than a century ago and since expanded to represent the scope of classic and folk forms, the Brooklyn Museum's collection of Japanese art is one of the nation's foremost.

"Today, some of the most exciting new research into Japanese art is expanding the canon to include art forms once considered of only ethnological interest," says Dr. Miwako Tezuka, Director of Japan Society Gallery, who has organized the exhibition in collaboration with the Brooklyn Museum. "As the picture of Japanese culture more fully develops, it is clear that since pre-history, Japan has absorbed many ethnicities and cultures. This is one of the reasons we are delighted to partner with the Brooklyn Museum: its curators have been prescient in collecting works outside the mainstream. Many objects in this exhibition will feel like completely new material."

Arnold L. Lehman, Director of the Brooklyn Museum, says, "We are delighted to share these exceptional works from our superb holdings of Japanese material with the Japan Society and its visitors while our galleries of Asian and Islamic art undergo a major renovation."

To counter the usual emphasis on Edo (now Tokyo) and Kyoto in Japanese art scholarship, and the idea of a homogenous people, Points of Departure is organized by region-beginning in the South, traditionally the entry point for influences from China, Korea, and other areas of the continent, and then onward to the West, East and North.

The first gallery illuminates several seminal narratives of Japanese folklore, including the pre-Buddhist creation myth of the sun goddess Amaterasu, who used tiny polished stone beads (magatama) to create a number of deities and later, lured from a cave by a tree festooned with the stone carvings, returned light to the world. Here, a painted wooden Shinto votive plaque (1875) recounts the story alongside actual magatama from the Kofun period (ca. 300 A.D.-710 A.D.). Magatama is the oldest form of jewelry known in Japan and one of the three of the Imperial Regalia or the Sacred Treasures of Japan, representing benevolence (along with the sword, representing valor, and the mirror, wisdom). Brooklyn holds a large number of these claw- and fang-shaped stones, which are thought to have adorned the headgear and clothing of elite personages.

"Much has been debated about the cultural origin of magatama because identical stone and jade beads from the same period have been uncovered in royal tombs in Korea," notes Dr. Tezuka.

An evocatively abstract earthenware horse head from the 5th or 6th century, which once belonged to the artist Isamu Noguchi, is stationed nearby a haniwa (tomb figure) of a shamaness from the same period. More than 1,500 years later, traces of red iron-oxide pigment remain on the cheeks and eyebrows of this figure, which is adorned in a crescent-shaped headdress, a string of beads, and a robe that fastens diagonally. The haniwa speaks to the elevated status of the deceased, a chieftain from the dominant ethnic group of Japan, the Yamato. There are many theories about the first kingdom in Japan; some scholarship suggests that the Yamato followed a small kingdom that existed in the South during the 2nd and 3rd centuries. Subsequently, the Yamato shifted its seat of power to the West.

Beginning with the pre-historic earthenware figures from the Kofun period, Points of Departures continues into the late 13th and early 14th century with a wine bottle that is one of the oldest known examples of a highly refined stoneware made in the southwestern city of Seto and into the 15th century with a wine ewer (Arita ware) that is among a number of classic Japanese decorative objects reflecting the influences of East, South, and Southeast Asia.

This section also demonstrates how artists have extended ceramic form making in recent decades. Among the modern and contemporary works on view is Recollected Vista (Shinsh? F?kei), a large-scale sculptural ceramic piece by Kishi Eiko (b. 1948), in which Kishi, one of Japan's most prominent female ceramicists, employs exceptional technical mastery to wrest a futuristic, off-kilter form from stoneware embedded with mosaic-like particles painted with clay slip.

One of Brooklyn's greatest treasures highlights this section: a pair of shimmering six-fold screens that, when fully extended, transform into a 20-foot-long map of 17th-century life. Views In and Around Kyoto (ca.1616-1624) provides an extraordinary panoramic bird's eye view of daily life during every season in the early decades of the century, bringing to life in engrossing detail the sprawl of entertainments that so captivated Japan's emerging merchant class. Visitors will be able to identify present-day neighborhoods and celebrations that continue to this day.