15 Sep 2018 - 17 Mar 2019
28 Jul 2018 - 13 Jan 2019

Modern Twist: Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Art

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Texas28 Jan 201730 Jul 201712:00am12:00amSaturday 28 Jan 2017Sunday 30 Jul 2017

"The exhibition 'Modern Twist: Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Art' offers an antidote [to stress], full of intriguing objects that ask nothing more than to be admired for their beauty and human ingenuity." — Houston Chronicle

"The vessels and sculpture in 'Modern Twist' give hardly an inch to an iron-clad attachment to craft even as they innovate and expand their traditional canons of form." — Glasstire

“'Modern Twist' demonstrates just how far the art form has come since it was reserved for utilitarian baskets, vases, ladles and tea scoops....The artists in 'Modern Twist' have been experimenting with abstract and conceptual forms for years, and in their masterful hands, the medium is being transformed and elevated to a new level of artistic creativity." — Visual Art Source


Bamboo is characterized by strength, flexibility, and lightness—bending, not breaking, with strong winds, while enduring harsh winters. This exhibition explores the innovative shape bamboo art has taken in Japan since the mid-twentieth century. With rare wall-hung installations and sculptures never before seen in Texas, the exhibition both engages and educates audiences about a vibrant cultural art form.

Although bamboo is an abundant natural resource, it is a challenging artistic medium with less than 100 professional bamboo artists in Japan today. Mastering the art form requires decades of meticulous practice learning how to harvest, split, and plait the bamboo. Modern Twist brings 16 of these artists to Houston audiences, and their works display a mastery of the supreme technical skills inherent in their innovative and imaginatively crafted sculptures. The exhibition features works by Living National Treasures Katsushiro Sōhō (2005) and Fujinuma Noboru (2012) and other visionary artists including Matsumoto Hafū, Honma Hideaki, Ueno Masao, Uematsu Chikuyū, Nagakura Ken’ichi, Tanabe Chikuunsai III, Tanabe Yōta, Tanabe Shōchiku III, Tanioka Shigeo, Tanioka Aiko, Mimura Chikuhō, Nakatomi Hajime, Sugiura Noriyoshi, and Yonezawa Jirō.

Modern Twist examines the rising awareness of this medium as an innovative art form. In the last century, the creativity and talent of bamboo basket makers has elevated their status from artisans working primarily anonymously to sought-after artists. The exhibition celebrates these artists who have helped to redefine a traditional craft as a modern genre, inventing unexpected new forms and pushing the medium to groundbreaking levels of conceptual, technical, and artistic ingenuity.

Admission Information

Admission to this exhibition is free for Asia Society Members and children ages 12 and under, $5 for Nonmembers.

 

Free Admission Times

There are many opportunities to visit this exhibition for FREE! Check out the list below.

Reception Celebrating Modern Twist Exhibition
Friday, January 27, 6:30-8:30 pm

Family Day: Lunar New Year Celebration
Saturday, January 28, 2017, 1-4 pm

Super Bowl LI’s Special Reception for 'Modern Twist' Exhibition
Thursday, February 2, 6:30-8:30 pm

Spring into Asia
Tuesday, March 14-17, 1:00-3:00 pm

AsiaFest
Saturday, May 13, 11 am-6 pm

Attending an Asia Society program? Your ticket grants you free admission to the gallery before the start of the program.


Hours

Tuesday – Friday, 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Saturday– Sunday, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Closed Mondays.

 

Photography

Photography of the exhibition without flash is permitted.

Press Release

Houston, Texas, November 15, 2016—Asia Society Texas Center is pleased to announce Modern Twist: Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Art, an exhibition exploring the innovative shape bamboo art has taken in Japan since the mid-twentieth century. With rare wall-hung installations and sculptures never before seen in Texas, this exhibition both engages and educates audiences about a vibrant cultural art form. Modern Twist will be on view in the Center’s Louisa Stude Sarofim Gallery from January 28 through July 30, 2017. 

Bridget Bray, Asia Society Texas Center’s Nancy C. Allen Curator and Director of Exhibitions, states: “These works represent the critical and continuing role that artistic traditions can play in the most cutting-edge contemporary art in Asia. Because of bamboo’s importance in Japan, it has never left the forefront as a material of choice for artists there.”

Bamboo is a quintessential part of Japanese culture, shaping the country’s social, artistic, and spiritual landscape. Although bamboo is an abundant natural resource, it is a challenging artistic medium with less than 100 professional bamboo artists in Japan today. Mastering the art form requires decades of meticulous practice learning how to harvest, split, and plait the bamboo. Modern Twist brings 16 of these artists to North American audiences, and their 38 works display a mastery of the supreme technical skills inherent in their innovative and imaginatively crafted sculptures. The exhibition is guest-curated by Dr. Andreas Marks of Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and organized by International Arts and Artists.

The emergence of bamboo as a sculptural art form has religious and cultural roots. In Japan, functional objects have been woven from bamboo for hundreds of years. By the 8th century, bamboo baskets were incorporated into Buddhist ceremonies, and held flower petals that were offered to deities in sacred rituals. During the 15th and 16th centuries, bamboo vases, tea scoops, ladles, and whisks became important features of Japanese traditions, such as flower arrangements (ikebana) and tea gatherings (chanoyu and senchadō).

Bamboo is characterized by strength, flexibility, and lightness—bending, not breaking, with strong winds, while enduring harsh winters. It has been featured in a range of disciplines including architecture, construction, cuisine, music, literature, art, and poetry.

Modern Twist examines the rising awareness of this medium as an innovative art form. In the last 100 years, the creativity and talent of bamboo basket makers has elevated their status from artisans working primarily anonymously to sought-after artists. These artists have redefined aesthetic conventions by experimenting with abstract forms, and their creations have evolved from functional vessels to increasingly sculptural objects.

Since 1967, six bamboo artists have been named Living National Treasures. The Japanese government created this award after World War II in an effort to celebrate and preserve the nation’s traditions and culture. Individuals considered for the honor are from areas highly valued throughout Japanese history, such as art, drama, and music. Being chosen as a Living National Treasure is a recognition of excellence in one’s artistic field. In essence, the award establishes the recipient as a Cultural Ambassador, responsible for the dissemination, perpetuation, and future development of their designated art form. Only two living bamboo artists —Modern Twist’s Katsushiro Sōhō (2005) and Fujinuma Noboru (2012)—currently hold this title. Katsushiro is represented in the exhibition by his piece, Sunset Glow, which demonstrates his impeccable craftsmanship and renowned execution of diverse techniques. Fujinuma Noboru’s works, Spring Tide and Gentle Heart, exemplify the array of shapes and techniques that he has mastered, showcasing his level of perfection.

In addition, Modern Twist features works by other visionary artists: Matsumoto Hafū, Honma Hideaki, Ueno Masao, Uematsu Chikuyū, Nagakura Ken’ichi, Tanabe Chikuunsai III, Tanabe Yōta, Tanabe Shōchiku III, Tanioka Shigeo, Tanioka Aiko, Mimura Chikuhō, Nakatomi Hajime, Sugiura Noriyoshi, and Yonezawa Jirō.

Modern Twist demonstrates that in the hands of master bamboo artists, a simple grass is transformed into a sculptural art. The exhibition celebrates these artists who have helped to redefine a traditional craft as a modern genre, inventing unexpected new forms, and pushing the medium to groundbreaking levels of conceptual, technical, and artistic ingenuity.

Admission to this exhibition is FREE for members and children ages 12 and under, $5 for nonmembers. Asia Society Texas Center, located at 1370 Southmore Boulevard, is open Tuesday – Friday, 11 am – 6 pm, and Saturday – Sunday, 10 am – 6 pm.

This exhibition at Asia Society Texas Center is made possible through support of presenting sponsor, Nancy C. Allen. Major support also comes from Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, Leslie and Brad Bucher, and the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance. Generous funding also provided by The Anchorage Foundation of Texas, The Clayton Fund, Kathy and Glen Gondo, Ann Wales, and through contributions from the Friends of Exhibitions, a premier group of individuals and organizations committed to bringing exceptional visual art to Asia Society Texas Center.


Download the press release here.

Related Links
Related Programs and Tours

Reception Celebrating Modern Twist Exhibition
Friday, January 27, 6:30-8:00 pm
Enjoy complimentary admission to the exhibition and a reception with light bites.

Family Day: Lunar New Year Celebration 
Saturday, January 28, 1:00-4:00 pm
Celebrate the Year of the Rooster with games, performances, activities, and a FREE look at the Modern Twist exhibiton.

Super Bowl LI’s Special Reception for 'Modern Twist' Exhibition
Thursday, February 2, 2017, 6:00-9:00 pm
Enjoy complimentary admission to the exhibition and a special reception with wine, light bites, and celebrity appearances. 

Spring into Asia
Tuesday, March 14-17, 1:00-3:00 pm
Welcome spring by participating in come-and-go acts and crafts during Spring Break. Guests can also enjoy special screenings of Disney's Moana and visit the Modern Twist exhibition for FREE!

Curator Talk: Dr. Andreas Marks
Saturday, July 22, 11:00 am-12:30 pm
Guest curator Dr. Andreas Marks will look into the historical development of bamboo art in Japan and provide an overview of the leading bamboo artists of the early 20th century. Light bites will be provided.

 

Monthly Tours

 

Saturday, February 11, 3 pm

Saturday, March 11, 3 pm

Saturday, April 8, 3 pm

Saturday, May 6, 3 pm

Saturday, June 10, 3 pm

Saturday, July 8, 3 pm

To schedule a group tour outside of these designated days, please fill out the form below or contact Sarah Collins, Education & Outreach Coordinator, at SCollins@AsiaSociety.org.

Schedule a group tour »

 

School Tours

School tours, facilitated by the education department staff and volunteers, provide educationally rich interactive opportunities for students to learn about Asian art, culture, and traditions. These free tours are open to all public, private, charter, alternative, and home schools. Visits take place on weekdays, Tuesday through Friday, for one to two hours.

All school tours and subsequent interactive projects are tethered to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and district curriculum standards. They may include:

  • Docent-led tour of exhibitions in the Louisa Stude Sarofim Gallery

  • "Introduction to Asia” PowerPoint Presentation highlighting essential information about Asian art, culture, geography, and politics

  • Guided tour of the Texas Center and discussion of its unique architecture

  • Interactive projects based on the current exhibition (not available during summer months, June through August)

PLEASE NOTE: During summer months, due to summer camps, Asia Society is unable to accommodate requests to designate a lunch area for students.

At least two weeks’ notice is required for school tours and additional advance notice is required for groups larger than 25. Learn more about the school tour interactive project at the link below.

Schedule a school tour »

For more information, please contact SCollins@AsiaSociety.org.

Credits

Modern Twist: Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Art is guest-curated by Dr. Andreas Marks, of Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Collection of the Clark Center, and organized by International Arts and Artists, Washington, D.C. The touring exhibition is generously supported by the E. Rhodes & Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and the Nomura Foundation.

This exhibition at Asia Society Texas Center is made possible through the support of presenting sponsor, Nancy C. Allen. Major support also comes from Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, The Brown Foundation, Inc., Leslie and Brad Bucher, and the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, and Houston Endowment, Inc. Generous funding also provided by The Clayton Fund, Kathy and Glen Gondo, Ann Wales, and through contributions from the Friends of Exhibitions, a premier group of individuals and organizations committed to bringing exceptional visual art to Asia Society Texas Center.

  

In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11

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Texas01 Oct 201601 Jan 201712:00am12:00amSaturday 1 Oct 2016Sunday 1 Jan 2017

The Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, and an enormous wave of water swept through towns in the Tōhoku (Northeast) region, destroying virtually everything in its path and irrevocably damaging the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This triple disaster was of such epic proportions that it became a defining moment for Japan. A number of photographers felt compelled to record not only the events’ physical effects on the land, but also to interpret the overarching significance of the tragedy through art. This exhibition is the first in the U.S. or Japan to explore the photographic response to these events. Divided into two sections—the first focused on the earthquake and tsunami and the second on the Fukushima disaster—the exhibition includes the work of 17 photographers, some of whom are among Japan’s most celebrated artists (such as Naoya Hatakeyama and Nobuyoshi Araki) and others who are emerging talents. Taken as a whole, their work explores the way art provides a powerful language for reflecting on tragic events and contributing to human recovery. 

The exhibition at Asia Society Texas Center marks the fifth anniversary of these cataclysmic events, and the ongoing journey of Japanese artists in response to them.

In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11 is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Admission Information

 

Enjoy FREE admission to the exhibition all December long!

Regular admission to this exhibition is free for Asia Society Members and children ages 12 and under, $5 for Nonmembers.

 

Free Admission Times

There are many opportunities to visit this exhibition for FREE! Check out the list below.

Reception Celebrating In the Wake Exhibition
Thursday, September 29, 6:30-8:30 pm

Family Day: Mid-Autumn Festival
Saturday, October 1, 1-4 pm

Night Market
Friday, October 21, 6-9 pm

Attending an Asia Society program? Your ticket grants you free admission to the gallery before the start of the program.

Enjoy lunch at the Jade Stone Cafe at Asia Society and receive complimentary admission to the gallery. Show your receipt to Visitor Services to receive your free pass. 

 

Hours

Tuesday – Friday, 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Saturday– Sunday, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Closed Mondays.

 

Photography

Photography of the exhibition without flash is permitted.

Press Release

Houston, Texas, September 13, 2016—On March 11, 2011, an earthquake and enormous wave of water swept through the Tōhoku (Northeast) region of Japan, destroying virtually everything in its path and irrevocably damaging the Fukushima nuclear power plant. This disaster was of such epic proportion that it became a defining moment for Japan.

Today, the earthquake, tsunami and Fukushima failure have collectively become known as the “Triple Disaster” or “3/11,” after the date of the first events. In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11, is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and is the first exhibition to explore the photography created in reaction to these tragic events. Their work explores the way art provides a powerful language for reflecting on tragic events and contributing to human recovery.

The exhibition will open at Asia Society Texas Center on Saturday, October 1 in the Center’s Louisa Stude Sarofim Gallery. Bridget Bray, Nancy. C. Allen Curator and Director of Exhibitions, states: “We are delighted to feature such important work in Houston, a city with a deep appreciation for contemporary photography and photographers working in Japan.” On view will be approximately 80 works by 17 photographers, some among Japan’s most celebrated artists and others who are emerging talents: Takashi Arai (born 1978), Nobuyoshi Araki (born 1940), Ishu Han (born 1987), Naoya Hatakeyama (born 1958), Takashi Homma (born 1962), Kikuji Kawada (born 1933), Rinko Kawauchi (born 1972), Keizo Kitajima (born 1954), Kōzo Miyoshi (born 1947), Yasusuke Ota (born 1958), Masato Seto (born 1953), Lieko Shiga (born 1980), Shimpei Takeda (born 1982), Masaru Tatsuki (born 1974), Daisuke Yokota (born 1984) and Tomoko Yoneda (born 1965). An area featuring a lost-and-found photo installation includes rescued personal snapshots that were washed up in the debris and sorted for survivors—offering a tangible way to hold onto memories.

The exhibition coming to Houston during the 5th anniversary of these momentous events in Japan has special local relevance. As a coastal region with a long history of experiencing, and recovering from, natural disasters such as hurricanes and flooding, Houston and the surrounding areas have many points of connection with Tōhoku. The exhibition’s featured artists created work in the wake of 3/11, leading others towards new ways of thinking about, and learning how to cope with, the enormity of the changes they experienced. Their creativity and artistry can be a source of inspiration for local residents in Houston who have had similar experiences.

The exhibition will be on view through January 1, 2017, and admission is free for members and children ages 12 and under, $5 for nonmembers. Asia Society Texas Center, located at 1370 Southmore Blvd, Houston, Texas, is open Tuesday – Friday, 11 am – 6 pm, and Saturday – Sunday, 10 am – 6 pm.

This exhibition at Asia Society is made possible through major support from Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, Nancy C. Allen, Leslie and Brad Bucher, Nancy and Robert J. Carney, and the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance. Generous funding also provided by The Anchorage Foundation of Texas, The Clayton Fund, Ann Wales, and through contributions from the Friends of Exhibitions, a premier group of individuals and organizations committed to bringing exceptional visual art to Asia Society Texas Center.

 

Download the press release here.

Related Links and Videos

Artist Talk, Takashi Arai and In the Wake. Sakura Media (page 6). December 4, 2016.

Tragedy on Display: Two Houston Exhibits Compel Us to Recall Atrocities. Houston Chronicle. December 9, 2016.


Munemasa Takahashi discusses the Lost and Found project, focusing on the recovery, restoration, and digitization of personal photographs lost in the 3/11 disaster, currently featured in the Asia Society exhibition, In the Wake: Japanese Photographers Respond to 3/11.

Featured photographer Tomoko Yoneda discusses her career and work.

Japanese photographer and winner of the Kimura Ihei Award for photography, Takashi Arai, discusses his work, process, and the effect the events of March 11, 2011 have had on his photography. Using the classic technique of the daguerrotype, Arai creates what he describes as "micro-monuments" of his subjects.

Related Programs and Tours

Reception Celebrating In the Wake Exhibition
Thursday, September 29, 2016, 6:30-8:30 pm

Enjoy a free preview of the artwork and hear from Anne E. Havinga, the exhibition's co-curator.

Global Perspectives Workshop for Educators: East Asia
Saturday, October 29, 2016, 8-3 pm

China's role in east Asia, North Korea's status quo, and relations with the U.S. are some of the key topics that will be discussed at this workshop. In the afternoon, participants will have a private guided tour of exhibitions at Asia Society focusing on Japan and North Korea.

Curator Talk: Anne Nishimura Morse
Sunday, November 20, 2:00-3:30 pm

Guest co-curator Anne Nishimura Morse discusses the exhibition, the significance of 3/11, and the events' impact on Tōhoku's artistic community.

Creation Station: Expressive Environments
Saturday, December 3, 2016, 12:30-2:30 pm

Create experimental images inspired by the In the Wake exhibition using a photographic process known as cyanotypes.

Artist Talk: Takashi Arai
Sunday, December 4, 2016, 2:00-3:30 pm

Artist Takashi Arai discusses how his daguerreotypes can serve as compact monuments, compelling us to remember.

Learning from the Past: Japan's 2011 Triple Disaster and Emergency Preparedness in Southeast Texas
Wednesday, December 7, 2016, 6:00-8:30 pm

Local experts will address economic realities on natural disasters and share how communities can better prepare for the eventuality of these tragedies.

 

Monthly Tours 

Saturday, October 8, 2016, 3 pm

Saturday, November 12, 2016, 3 pm

Saturday, December 3, 2016, 3 pm

To schedule a group tour outside of these designated days, please fill out the form below or contact Sarah Collins, Education & Outreach Coordinator, at SCollins@AsiaSociety.org.

Schedule a group tour »

 

School Tours

School tours, facilitated by the education department staff and volunteers, provide educationally rich interactive opportunities for students to learn about Asian art, culture, and traditions. These free tours are open to all public, private, charter, alternative, and home schools. Visits take place on weekdays, Tuesday through Friday, for one to two hours.

All school tours and subsequent interactive projects are tethered to the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS) and district curriculum standards. They may include:

  • Docent-led tour of exhibitions in the Louisa Stude Sarofim Gallery

  • "Introduction to Asia” PowerPoint Presentation highlighting essential information about Asian art, culture, geography, and politics

  • Guided tour of the Texas Center and discussion of its unique architecture

  • Interactive projects based on the current exhibition

At least two weeks’ notice is required for school tours and additional advance notice is required for groups larger than 25. Learn more about the school tour interactive project at the link below.

Schedule a school tour »

For more information, please contact SchoolToursTX@AsiaSociety.org.

Credits

The exhibition is organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

 

This exhibition is made possible through major support from Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, Nancy C. Allen, Leslie and Brad Bucher, Nancy and Robert J. Carney, and the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance. Generous funding also provided by The Anchorage Foundation of Texas, The Clayton Fund, Ann Wales, and through contributions from the Friends of Exhibitions, a premier group of individuals and organizations committed to bringing exceptional visual art to Asia Society Texas Center.

  

Yuriko Yamaguchi

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Texas23 Apr 201621 Aug 201612:00am12:00amSaturday 23 Apr 2016Sunday 21 Aug 2016

Yuriko Yamaguchi uses materials such as resins, wire, LED lights, and other materials to create large-scale abstract sculptures that resonate uniquely in the spaces in which they are installed. Her spontaneous responses to architectural structures introduce a tension between the built environment and our lived experience of such spaces, emphasizing movement, color, and the play of light, which alters as the day progresses. Asia Society Texas Center architect Yoshio Taniguchi’s vision of the Fayez Sarofim Grand Hall is the ideal “palette” for Yamaguchi to use, allowing her to create ephemeral sculptures that are in direct relationship to the Texas Center’s building and the larger environment of Houston. The artist’s conceptual concerns of balancing free will with our inescapable interconnectedness, and our vulnerability to art with its powerfully transformative effects, draw viewers into sustained engagement with these wonderfully inventive and expansive expressions.

Admission Information

Admission to this exhibition is free and open to the public.

Hours

Tuesday – Friday, 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Saturday– Sunday, 10:00 am – 6:00 pm
Closed Mondays and major holidays

Photography

Photography of the exhibition without flash is permitted.

Press Release

Houston, Texas, March 22, 2016 — Asia Society Texas Center is pleased to present a new exhibition of large-scale, mixed-media sculptures by Japanese artist Yuriko Yamaguchi. The self-titled exhibition opens to the public April 23, 2016.

“Yamaguchi’s works, with their organic presence and compelling dynamism, challenge us to connect with our environments in fresh ways,” says Bridget Bray, the Center’s Nancy C. Allen Curator and Director of Exhibitions.

The artist’s sculptures feature fragments of hand-cast resins, wire, and LED light, suspended in space and seemingly growing from the building. Her web-like structures are not made by following a particular process; rather, each sculpture represents a series of adaptations and choices, growing naturally and spontaneously, much like a living organism does. Yamaguchi has previously explained that the purpose of her works is to “remind people that we are all connected in many overlapping webs woven out of the common forces that affect the human condition: family origin, economic stressors, religious beliefs, nature, time, place, and technology.” Through her works, she seeks to explore the constantly changing but ever-present hidden connections that bind the human experience to the natural world.

Her Cloud series in particular, speaks to the intersection of digital networks and art. “Once we get into the cloud, we become surrounded by humid air and find nothing,” says Yamaguchi. Both her art and the digital cloud are seen as “artificial” and “able to multiply endlessly.”

Yamaguchi’s abstract sculptures resonate uniquely in the spaces in which they are installed, and for her exhibition at Asia Society, she will create an original work for the Center’s Fayez Sarofim Grand Hall called Weaving Time. “Architect Yoshio Taniguchi’s vision of the Fayez Sarofim Grand Hall is the ideal ‘palette’ for Yamaguchi to use,” elaborates Bray. “Her spontaneous responses to architectural structures introduce a tension between the built environment and our lived experience of such spaces, emphasizing movement, color, and the play of light, which alters as the day progresses.”

The exhibition will be on view through August 21, 2016, and admission is free and open to the public. Asia Society Texas Center, located at 1370 Southmore Blvd., Houston Texas, is open Tuesday – Friday, 11 am – 6 pm, and Saturday – Sunday, 10 am – 6 pm.

 

About the Exhibition

This exhibition is organized by Asia Society Texas Center and is made possible through major support from Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, Nancy C. Allen, Leslie and Brad Bucher, Mary Lawrence Porter, the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, Nancy and Robert J. Carney, The Clayton Fund, the Hearst Foundations, Reinnette and Stan Marek, and anonymous friends of Asia Society. Lead funding also provided by Holland and Jereann Chaney, The Favrot Fund, Bebe Woolley and Dan Gorski, and Dorothy Carsey Sumner, with additional support provided by Olive M. Jenney. Funding is also provided by the Texas Commission on the Arts and through contributions from the Friends of Exhibitions, a premier group of individuals and organizations committed to bringing exceptional visual art to Asia Society Texas Center.

 

About the Artist

Born in Osaka, Japan in 1948, Yuriko Yamaguchi moved to the United States in the early 1970s and received her BA from the University of California, Berkeley. After studying at Princeton University, she was awarded an MFA at the University of Maryland, College Park. Yamaguchi's work has previously been shown at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, the Fowler Museum at UCLA, the Field Museum in Chicago, The Kanagawa Museum of Modern Art in Japan, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among others. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including most recently the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center Artist Residency award, the Joan Mitchell Foundation award, and the American Academy of Arts and Letters award. Yamaguchi lives and works in Washington, DC.

 

Download the press release here.

Credits

This exhibition is organized by Asia Society Texas Center and is made possible through major support from Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, Nancy C. Allen, Leslie and Brad Bucher, Mary Lawrence Porter, the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, Nancy and Robert J. Carney, The Clayton Fund, the Hearst Foundations, Reinnette and Stan Marek, and anonymous friends of Asia Society. Lead funding also provided by Holland and Jereann Chaney, The Favrot Fund, Bebe Woolley and Dan Gorski, and Dorothy Carsey Sumner, with additional support provided by Olive M. Jenney. Funding is also provided by the Texas Commission on the Arts and through contributions from the Friends of Exhibitions, a premier group of individuals and organizations committed to bringing exceptional visual art to Asia Society Texas Center.

  

Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan

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New York09 Feb 201608 May 201612:00am12:00amTuesday 9 Feb 2016Sunday 8 May 2016

"Spellbinding"
The New York Times

"Rapturously beautiful"
The New York Review of Books

"A stellar lineup"
The Wall Street Journal

"Superb"
The New York Times

 

Watch: Preview of works featured in Kamakura

 

 

About Kamakura

The magnificent sculpture of the Kamakura period (1185–1333) has long been considered a high point in the history of Japanese art. Stylistic and technical innovations led to sculpture that displayed greater realism than ever before. Sculptors began signing their works, allowing us to trace the development of individual and workshop styles that influenced later generations for centuries. Religious developments—often combinations of traditional and new practices—brought devotees into closer proximity with the deities they worshipped.

The icons in this exhibition commanded the faith of passionate devotees, some of whom hoped to gain merit from the making of a Buddhist image, to ensure salvation in the afterlife, or to obtain tangible benefits in this life. Others aimed to achieve ultimate awakening through ritual unification with the deity represented by the icon. In their original contexts these powerful icons were “real presences,” brought to life by their naturalistic form, ritual activation, and sacred interior contents.

Craftsmen created these icons during a time of profound political and social disruption. For the first time in Japanese history, powerful warrior clans challenged the imperial court that had dominated the political and cultural landscape for centuries. In the civil war of the 1180s, the great Buddhist temples of the ancient capital in Nara burned to the ground. The devastation shocked the entire country, but rebuilding and repopulating the temples with new sculptures and paintings began almost immediately. Renewed contact with the Asian mainland, which flourished in the early Kamakura period, further invigorated arts and religious practices.

Elite warriors became an important new source of patronage for religious arts, while the imperial court and aristocratic clergy continued their sponsorship of sculpture workshops in Kyoto and Nara even as their fortunes gradually declined. One major new patron was Minamoto Yoritomo, who became the first ruling shogun and established a military government headquartered in the town of Kamakura in eastern Japan. Later in the thirteenth century, however, the continued threat of invasion by the Mongol empire created further instability. In 1333, a cunning Japanese emperor launched a rebellion ending the Kamakura shogunate not even 150 years after its founding.

Despite the brevity of this historical period, it had a lasting impact on the political, artistic, and religious legacy of Japan. Shoguns and warlords were the dominant rulers up until the mid-nineteenth century. Even in the eighteenth century, sculptors proudly traced their artistic lineages back to early Kamakura master sculptors, while religious movements established during the period continue to be some of the most popular forms of Buddhism practiced in Japan today.

Ive Covaci, Guest Curator
Adriana Proser, John H. Foster Senior Curator for Traditional Asian Art, Asia Society

Purchase the richly illustrated exhibition catalogue at AsiaStore.

FORM AND PRESENCE

Sculptures of the Kamakura period can be strikingly realistic; the works have naturalistic body proportions and are carved with a sense of breath-filled volume. Buddhas (enlightened beings) and bodhisattvas (beings destined for Buddhahood who postpone it to assist others in reaching enlightenment) appear approachable, while fierce guardian deities possess a great sense of movement and dramatic facial expressions. The folds of draperies and details of clothing are rendered with convincing naturalism, and facial features often evoke real, human individuals.

Several factors contributed to the increased realism in sculpture of the period: joined-woodblock construction (employing multiple hollow blocks of wood for a single statue) allowed sculptors to portray more dramatic movement than in works carved from a single tree trunk. The use of inset crystal for the eyes was another important innovation that created a vivid sense of realism. Sculptors in the Nara area, working to restore icons lost to fire, revived and updated naturalistic eighth-century styles. Contact with China intensified during the early Kamakura period, and Japanese sculptors absorbed elements from Song-dynasty (960–1279) Chinese art, which also displayed greater naturalism during this time.

The Kamakura period saw the emergence of master sculptors with clear artistic identities. We know the names of these artists from signatures on works, a practice which increased significantly in this period. The Standing Shaka Buddha, Fudō Myōō, and Standing Jizō Bosatsu in this section were all made by the master sculptor Kaikei (active ca. 1183–1223), one of the most renowned artists of the period, whose style was widely imitated by later sculptors. Competition for patronage was fierce, and artists completed commissions for a wide variety of patrons and religious institutions. But as inscriptions and documents reveal, sculptors were also themselves devotees of Buddhism and of the deities they so beautifully rendered in material form.

 

Sculptors and Their Workshops

This exhibition includes a number of signed works by master sculptors and other works that can be attributed to specific artists or their workshops. Most of these artists belonged to the innovative Kei school, a major driver of stylistic change and increased naturalism in the Kamakura period.

Sculptors emphasized their artistic lineage through their assumed names. Disciples—often blood relatives—incorporated characters from previous master sculptors’ names as part of their own. The character “kei 慶” in Kei school comes from the sculptor Kōkei 康慶 (active 1152–1196), who established the school in the Nara area. The same “kei” was also used by his successor, Kaikei 快慶 (active ca. 1183–1223), and the sculptor Jōkei 定慶 (1184–1256).

The Zen school, whose sculptors use the character “zen 善” in their names (different from Zen 禅 Buddhism), emerged in the Nara area during the early decades of the thirteenth century. Zen-school sculptors are known for their great technical skill and for the approachable sweetness characterizing many of their works.

Sculptors frequently collaborated on works, even on small statues, with a master sculptor leading the project. The inscriptions inside two Jizō figures by Kaikei and Zen’en include the names of their associates and sons. Illustrious sculptors were granted honorific ecclesiastical titles and ranks, which they incorporated in their signatures. Some sculptors also adopted devotional names; Kaikei’s signature on a Jizō reads “An’amidabutsu,” which refers to his faith in the Buddha Amida.
 


 

Zen’en (1197–1258).Jizō Bosatsu. Kamakura period, ca. 1225–26.Japanese cypress (hinoki) with cut gold leaf and traces of pigment, inlaid crystal eyes, and bronze staff with attachments. Asia Society, New York: Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, 1979.202a–e. Photography by Synthescape

The interior of this small, elegant image of Jizō Bosatsu bears the signatures of Zen’en and several other sculptors, along with the names of prominent monks of the Kōfukuji temple in Nara, presumed to be the patrons. The inscription also establishes that this Jizō, a Buddhist icon on the exterior, is associated with worship of the native Japanese gods at Kasuga shrine in Nara, which formed a shrine-temple complex with Kōfukuji. Two other statues closely related to this Jizō are still extant in Japan, and Zen’en likely created them all as part of a set of five Buddhist images corresponding to the five native deities of Kasuga.

 

Kaikei (active ca. 1183–1223). Fudō Myōō. Kamakura period, early 13th century. Lacquered, polychromed, and gilded Japanese cypress (hinoki) with cut gold leaf (kirikane) and inlaid crystal eyes. The Metropolitan Museum of Art: Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015 (2015.300.252). Image copyright the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource.

Fudō Myōō, whose name means “the immovable Wisdom King,” is an important deity in esoteric Buddhism. Iconographic tradition dictates the child-like proportions and fierce expression of Fudō, who has the power to destroy obstacles to enlightenment. In the Kamakura period, however, images of this deity were imbued with a new sense of naturalism, as seen in the modeling of the chest and articulation of the waist in this work. Although unsigned, this Fudō is attributed to the sculptor Kaikei based on style; a nearly identical sculpture signed by him is in the Sanbō-in temple in Kyoto.

 

Technical Innovations

Two important technical innovations furthered the realistic approach to sculpture in the Kamakura period.

Joined woodblock construction (yosegi zukuri)While sculptors in ancient Japan used a single tree trunk for the main body of icons, in the mid-eleventh century they began using multiple blocks of wood carved and hollowed out separately and then assembled to create a single, large sculpture. By the Kamakura period, this technique, called “joined woodblock construction,” was widely used even for small works. This allowed for greater flexibility in depicting naturalistic and dramatic movement of the body, since the icon’s form was not constrained by the log’s initial size. Once assembled, the wooden sculpture was coated with lacquer and then painted or gilded.

 

Gushōjin. Kamakura period, 13th century. Wood with traces of pigment. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York: The Harry G. C. Packard Collection of Asian Art, Gift of Harry G. C. Packard, and Purchase, Fletcher, Rogers, Harris Brisbane Dick, and Louis V. Bell Funds, Joseph Pulitzer Bequest, and The Annenberg Fund Inc. Gift, 1975 (1975.268.700a–c). Image copyright the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Image source: Art Resource.

Although small, this sculpture was created with the true joined woodblock construction technique (yosegi zukuri) using separate pieces for the left and right sides of the body, the arms, sleeves, hands, and the protruding fabric of the robe in the front. The naturalistic carving and powerful stance, best viewed from all angles, demonstrates the dynamism of Kamakura-period sculpture. The figure is thought to represent Gushōjin, a deity that records the good and bad deeds of every person throughout his or her lifetime for judgement after death by the King of Hell. This Gushōjin is dressed as a Chinese official, reflecting how such beliefs entered Japan from China in the late Heian period.

 

Inset rock-crystal eyes (gyokugan): The use of crystal inserts for the eyes of wooden sculptures was a mid-twelfth-century innovation, attributed to Kei-school sculptors of Nara. Socket-like openings for the eyes were created in the hollowed-out head of the statue. Lens-shaped pieces of crystal were painted on their concave sides with pupils and irises, sometimes outlined in gold or red, and backed with white paper. The crystal eyes would then be inserted into the sockets from the inside of the head, secured with a wooden strip held in place by pegs. The crystal would reflect the firelight of temple interiors, making the sculpture’s eyes glitter and greatly enhancing the work’s life-like presence.

 

Kōshun (active 1315–1328). The Shinto Deity Hachiman in the Guise of a Buddhist Monk. Kamakura period, dated 1328. Polychromed Japanese cypress (hinoki) with inlaid crystal eyes. Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; Maria Antoinette Evans Fund and Contributions, 36.413. Photograph © 2016 Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Although easily mistaken for a portrait of an actual monk, this sculpture represents Hachiman, the clan god of the Minamoto warrior family and the tutelary, or protective, Shintō deity associated with many Buddhist temples. An inscription on the interior of the head tells us that the sculptor was named Kōshun, held the rank of “eye of the law” (hōgen) and was a master sculptor of the Kōfukuji temple in Nara. Later in the fourteenth century, Kōshun also signed his works as a “descendant of the sculptor Unkei,” demonstrating the importance of tracing sculptural lineages in artistic identity in the Kamakura period.

 

Contact with China

The late twelfth century brought increasing diplomatic, commercial, and religious exchange with China, which contributed to stylistic and iconographic changes in Kamakura-period art. Chinese craftsmen were employed in rebuilding the great temples of Nara after their fiery destruction in the 1180s, and Japanese monks traveled back and forth, bringing Chinese texts, prints, and paintings to Japan. Artists like Kaikei observed and incorporated new elements from imported works into their sculpture.

Continental influence can be seen in the Chinese-style draperies, with fluttering hemlines and fluted sleeves, and towering, elegant topknots of some Japanese sculpture from this period.

The small Gushōjin in Chinese-style official robes in this section represents Chinese beliefs in the Kings of Hell, incorporated into Japanese Buddhism just prior to the Kamakura period. Devotees believed that individuals destined for rebirth in hell first encountered a Chinese-style court complete with kings who judged the dead and assigned their punishments. Numerous paintings of the Kings of Hell were imported from China during this period; Japanese artists copied the paintings and also reimagined the deities of the underworld as sculptural ensembles.

 

Circle of Higo Busshi Jōkei (born 1184–died after 1256). Bishamonten. Kamakura period, first half of 13th century. Polychromed and gilded Japanese cypress (hinoki) with cut gold leaf (kirikane) with inlaid crystal eyes and gilt-metal ornaments. The Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, L2015.33.269a-f. Bridgeman Images.

Bishamonten is the guardian king of the North, who appears as a fierce, armor-clad warrior trampling a demon, symbolic of his subjugation of evil. Kamakura-period records indicate that Bishamonten was worshipped for defense of the nation and success in battle by such people as Minamoto Yoritomo (1147–1199), the first Kamakura shogun. The Kei-school sculptor, Higo Busshi Jōkei, to whose circle this work is attributed, executed commissions for warrior patrons in eastern Japan as well as aristocratic patrons in the imperial capital of Kyoto. Jōkei and his circle often represented Bishamonten with highly realistic facial features, evoking the presence of a real individual rather than a distant deity. 

RITUAL AND DEVOTIONAL CONTEXTS

Kamakura-period Buddhists believed that making or commissioning an icon generated spiritual merit and formed a bond with the deity, moving the devotee toward ultimate enlightenment. But worshippers also continually appealed to Buddhist deities for help with matters of this world. Icons were invoked for a wide variety of goals, illuminating the concerns and beliefs of the people who created them.

After production, icons are consecrated during the “eye-opening ceremony” (kaigen kuyō), a ritual including the symbolic painting in of the pupils that renders the icon spiritually potent. In temples, larger icons are encountered in ritual settings, multisensory experiences filled with the smoke and scent of incense, the chanting of monks, the ringing of bells and gongs, and the colors and forms of icons and offerings. Ritual implements were arranged on altars and manipulated by monks. Tiny icons, housed in miniature shrines, served as the objects of personal devotions in more intimate settings. A person might even spend the final moments of his or her life in the presence of sculpture, as devotees prayed before icons of Amida Buddha to be welcomed into his paradise after death.

In Kamakura-period religious developments, both traditional and new practices competed and combined in innovative ways. Established temples around Kyoto continued performing state-sponsored and privately-commissioned secret esoteric rites. Renewed devotion to the historical Buddha was championed by monks in the Nara area and beyond. Devotional movements focused on individual deities gained momentum and spread throughout the population. Zen Buddhism, which stresses seated meditation and discipline as the way to realizing enlightenment, arrived from China and gained patronage by elite warriors in eastern Japan and courtiers in the capital alike. Worship of the native Japanese deities (kami) continued and intermingled with the worship of Buddhist deities. The diversity of imagery shown in this exhibition attests to the Kamakura period’s fertile combination of doctrines and practices from all of these traditions.

 


 

Ritual Scepter (Vajra). Kamakura period, 14th century. Gilt bronze. John C. Weber Collection. Image courtesy of the collector.

Rather than the prongs that form the ends of most vajra, this example terminates in clusters of wish-fulfilling jewels framed by finely rendered openwork flames. A common iconographic symbol in Kamakura-period Buddhist art, the jewels represent abundance and fecundity, while the flames convey the power to consume the passions and burn off desire. Associated with Buddhist relics, wish-fulfilling jewels are held by many deities, Nyoirin Kannon and Jizō among them. As ritual implements, vajra on trays would be placed directly in front of the practitioner on the altar before the icon.

 

Esoteric Buddhism

In esoteric Buddhism, doctrines and practices are transmitted secretly from master to disciple through initiations. During ritual, the practitioner visualizes and aims to achieve unity with the main object of worship, and then extends the benefits of the rite to others. Esoteric rites were also frequently performed for specific worldly aims, including conquering enemies, gaining material fortune, healing illnesses, or conceiving and safely birthing children. The esoteric practices of the Shingon and Tendai schools, which had been the dominant forms of Buddhism since they were brought to Japan from China in the early ninth century, continued to flourish in the Kamakura period.

The esoteric pantheon encompasses a host of deities, including cosmic buddhas and bodhisattvas as well as wrathful deities with multiple heads and limbs, like the magnificent Daiitoku Myōō from the Minneapolis Institute of Art. Beyond sculptural and painted icons, the ritual environment includes altar tables with incense burners, offering stands, and ritual implements. Many icons likewise hold such implements in their hands: the cast iron Zaō Gongen, from the John C. Weber Collection, holds a thunderbolt (vajra), while the Asia Society Nyoirin Kannon would have delicately balanced a wheel (rinbō) on its upward pointing finger.

 

Daiitoku Myōō (Wisdom King of Awe-inspiring Power). Kamakura period, second half of 13th century. Wood with metal, polychrome, gilding, and inlaid crystal eyes. Minneapolis Institute of Art: Gift of the Clark Center for Japanese Art & Culture; formerly given to the Center in 2000 in honor of Dr. and Mrs. Sherman Lee by the Clark Family in appreciation of the Lees’ friendship and help over many years, 2013.29.1a–g. Bridgeman Images.

Daiitoku Myōō is one of the Five Wisdom Kings worshipped in esoteric Buddhism, serving as the wrathful manifestation of the Buddha Amida. Daiitoku was also worshipped for benefits in this world, for example being invoked for military victory in the conflicts that ushered in the Kamakura period in the twelfth century. The figure displays the wide chest, articulated waist, and muscular physique of Kamakura-period images of fierce deities. The expressive bull supporting Daiitoku is original to the work, a rarity among sculptures dating to this period. An inscription on the interior of the main head documents restorations completed to ensure that the icon would remain a sacred whole throughout the centuries of its use.

 

Pure Land Buddhism

Pure Land Buddhism teaches that devotion to Amida Buddha, the Buddha of the Western Paradise, will ensure rebirth in his paradise and escape from the endless cycle of reincarnation. At the moment of death, Amida is believed to descend and welcome the devotee’s soul for rebirth on a lotus blossom in the Pure Land. Pure Land doctrines had entered Japan from China during the centuries before the Kamakura period, finding many adherents among the aristocracy and clergy. In the early Kamakura period, however, charismatic monks broke with the establishment to start new movements based on the exclusive practice of the nenbutsu, the recitation of the name of Amida Buddha, as the only possible path to salvation. Such movements found popular appeal as an accessible path to salvation open to varied social classes.

Pure Land beliefs gave rise to new types of art; as opposed to seated forms predominant in earlier periods, the standing form of Amida implies an active and immanent presence of this Buddha before the devotee. Amida worship was also popular among sculptors; Kaikei, who signed his works with “An’Amidabutsu” in reference to his Pure Land faith, created a large number of standing Amida images, and his style was widely imitated in the period.

 

Descent of Amida Buddha with Twenty-five Bodhisattvas (Amida Nijūgobosatsu Raigō-zu). Kamakura–Nanbokucho period, 14th century Ink, color, and gold on silk. Seattle Art Museum: Eugene Fuller Memorial Collection, 34.117. Courtesy of Seattle Art Museum.

Paintings of the “welcoming descent” (raigō) visually narrate the belief that the Buddha Amida will descend from his paradise at the moment of death to greet his devotees for rebirth in that Pure Land. Like standing icons of Amida, movement-filled diagonal compositions of the welcoming descent became popular in the Kamakura period. In the lower right corner, the bodhisattva Kannon kneels before the veranda proffering a golden lotus dais; the absence of a painted devotee, however, invites viewers to insert themselves into the drama, visualizing their own rebirth. The tiny, golden Buddhas floating above the dwelling are visual manifestations of the recitation of Amida’s sacred name (nenbutsu).

 

Zaō Gongen. Kamakura period, 13th century. Iron. John C. Weber Collection. Photography: John Bigelow Taylor.

Zaō, the deity represented by this small but powerful icon, is a fierce manifestation (gongen) of the Buddha. His appearance and attributes are similar to those of esoteric Wisdom Kings seen elsewhere in this exhibition, but unlike them, Zaō is a uniquely Japanese manifestation. As the local deity of Mount Kinpu in the Yoshino range near Nara, he is worshipped as the primary deity of the Shugendō tradition. This syncretic form of worship, which thrived in the Kamakura period, combined native mountain worship traditions, ascetic practices, and esoteric Buddhist iconography and ritual. The dynamic sense of movement in this rare cast-iron statue reflects the technical brilliance of Kamakura-period sculpture.

Nyoirin Kannon. Kamakura period, early 14th century. Japanese cypress (hinoki) with pigment, gold powder, and cut gold leaf (kirikane). Asia Society, New York: Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, 1979.205. Photography by Synthescape.

Nyoirin Kannon, an esoteric form of the bodhisattva of compassion, is named for the wish-fulfilling jewel (nyoi hōju) and the wheel (rinbō), which would have been held in two of his six hands, the wheel balanced atop the pointing finger, and the jewel held in front of his chest. In the Kamakura period, the wish-fulfilling jewel was associated both with Buddhist relics, creating a symbolic link to the historical Buddha, and with the Japanese imperial regalia. Nyoirin Kannon was therefore invoked in rites for the protection of the sovereign, and became identified with several native Japanese deities, including Amaterasu, the sun goddess of the imperial clan.

EMPOWERING INTERIORS

The interiors of sculptures reveal a fundamental way that icons were “enlivened” and imbued with sacred power. The practice of placing deposits inside Buddhist sculptures is ancient, but the Kamakura period saw a significant increase in the frequency and quantity of such deposits. Joined woodblock construction created larger hollow interiors and sacred deposits were believed to render the icon more powerful. The Jizō Bosatsu from the Cologne Museum of East Asian Art is a rare example in western collections of a statue still accompanied by its original contents.

Statues with interior deposits could contain a variety of objects, including miniature icons, scriptures, reliquaries, and devotional prints of various deities. Dedicatory documents listed the patrons, artists, and devotees forming a “karmic bond” with the icon. Inscriptions written directly on the interior walls of statues could also include sacred syllables and incantations.

The worship of relics, small grains that represented the corporeal remains of the Buddha, flourished in the Kamakura period. Relics were often placed inside statues contained within miniature reliquaries, such as the crystal pagoda-shaped one seen in this gallery. As well as evoking the Buddha’s presence, relics were considered to have magical properties and helped sanctify the icon.

Throughout the history of Japanese Buddhism, certain famous statues were considered embodiments of the “living Buddha” and capable of working miracles. The temples enshrining these icons attracted large numbers of pilgrims, even if the statues themselves were often concealed from view. Replicas of miracle-working statues were produced in abundance in the Kamakura period. Far from mere formal copies, the replicas were believed to possess the sacred essence of the original.
 

Zenkōji Amida Triad. Kamakura period, 13th–14th century. Bronze. John C. Weber Collection. Photography: John Bigelow Taylor.

This cast-bronze triad of the Buddha Amida flanked by the bodhisattvas Kannon and Seishi is a beautiful example of the many replicas of the famous and hidden triad at Zenkōji temple in Nagano prefecture. This temple was the focus of a thriving pilgrimage cult in the Kamakura period since the concealed icon was considered a “living manifestation” of Amida, capable of working miracles. Many legends are told about the original icon, including that it floated to the shores of Japan from Korea in the sixth century. Zenkōji-style Amida triads often evoke archaic styles of sculpture; however, in this example, Kamakura-period stylistic elements include the broad shoulders and well-modeled chest of the central figure, and the tall hairstyles of the bodhisattvas, rendered in the Chinese Song-dynasty style.

 

Reliquary (gorintō). Kamakura period. Rock crystal. Seattle Art Museum, Gift of Mrs. John C. Atwood, Jr., 56.247. Courtesy of Seattle Art Museum.

This reliquary is made of rock crystal, the same material commonly used for the inset eyes of Kamakura-period sculptures. The shape is called a five-element stupa (gorintō), an esoteric form where each of the five geometric shapes represents one of the five elements: earth, water, fire, wind, and space. The five-element stupa represents both the body of the Buddha and the body of the practitioner, which esoteric Buddhist ritual aims to unify. Frequently, such reliquaries were enshrined inside statues, and the symbolic form of the five-element stupa was also used for gravestones in the period.

 

The Buddha Illuminates the Universe; Frontispiece Illustration to a Handscroll of the Lotus Sutra (Myohōrengekyō). Kamakura–Nanbokucho period, 14th century. Gold and silver ink on dark-blue paper. Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library, Astor, Lenox, and Tilden Foundations: Spencer Collection (Sorimachi 19), 3018. Spencer Collection, The New York Public Library.

The Lotus Sutra, the most popular Buddhist scripture in Japan, was often enshrined inside sculptures as a “dharma relic,” standing for the teachings of the Buddha, just as corporeal relics represent his body. The text of the Lotus Sutra directs its devotees to reproduce and ornament the scripture, which could take the form of luxurious productions in gold and silver on indigo-dyed paper. The frontispiece begins with the Buddha preaching the scripture and illuminating the world, followed by devotees painting and sculpting Buddha images and venerating stupas (reliquaries). Other scenes include the apparition of a many-jeweled stupa and the dragon princess presenting a precious jewel to the Buddha.  

 

The Jizō Bosatsu from the Cologne Museum of East Asian Art and Its Contents

During conservation treatment in the 1980s, a sculpture of Jizō Bosatsu was opened and found to contain a remarkable assortment of items inserted at the time of the icon’s consecration. A document among these contents describes the circumstances of the icon’s production and names the sculptor, Kōen (1207– after 1275). Some of the most significant deposits are:

• A silk brocade bag containing a grain considered to be a relic of the Buddha.

• Two miniature gilt bronze statues, one of the historical Buddha Shakyamuni and the other of Amida Buddha, found inside the head of the sculpture. These miniature icons are modeled after famous statues considered to have miraculous powers, and were likely intended to transfer the sanctity and power of the originals into the newly created Jizō statue. A miniature wooden Jizō statue was also included, but not listed in the inventory.

• Thousands of printed images of Amida and Jizō on small vertical strips of paper, many inscribed with the names of individual donors. These served a devotional purpose in linking the donors with the icon in a “karmic bond,” and helped in fundraising for the making of the icon.

• Several Buddhist scriptures, including a Chinese printed accordion-fold book of the Lotus Sutra and two handwritten scrolls of the Sutra of Brahma’s Net. Scriptures represent the Buddha’s teachings, and as material objects they were considered “dharma relics” also evoking the presence of the Buddha.

• Printed esoteric incantations (dharani). Dharani are combinations of Sanskrit syllables, without semantic meaning, but whose sounds and written forms were considered to have protective or magical efficaciousness.
 

Kōen (1207–after 1275). Jizō Bosatsu and Selected Contents. Kamakura period, dated 1249. Sculpture: Japanese cypress (hinoki); Contents: paper, gilt bronze, silk, and wood. Museum of East Asian Art Cologne, RBA, in.nr. B11,37. Photo: © Theinisches Bildarchiv Köln, Sabrina Walz: rba_c004107.

According to a document found inside this statue, the Kei-school sculptor Kōen created this Jizō in conscious imitation of an earlier statue, believed to have miraculous powers, that was the personal devotional icon of the Pure Land Buddhist patriarch Genshin (942–1017). This perhaps accounts for the sculpture’s archaistic style, which departs from Kōen’s more naturalistic approach in his other known works; indeed, before the dedicatory document was discovered inside the sculpture this statue was presumed to date to the early eleventh century. 

Credits

Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan is made possible by the generous support of The National Endowment for the Arts.

Major support for this exhibition is also provided by the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation and Etsuko O. Morris and John H. Morris Jr.

Asia Society acknowledges other generous underwriters including The Kitano Hotel New York, the Japan Foundation, The Blakemore Foundation, Peggy and Richard Danziger, Japanese Art Dealers Association, Helen Little, Toshiba International Foundation, John C. Weber, and the Ellen Bayard Weedon Foundation.

Additional support is provided by Sebastian Izzard, Dian Woodner, Leighton R. Longhi, Joan B. Mirviss, and Erik Thomsen.


 

Related Programs

MEMBERS-ONLY LECTURE
Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan
Tuesday, February 9 • 6:30 pm

Join guest curator of Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan, Ive Covaci for an inside view of the exhibition and its exploration of how sculptures are “brought to life” or “enlivened” by the spiritual connection between exterior form, interior contents, and devotional practice, reflecting the complexity and pluralism of the period.


SYMPOSIUM
Empowering Objects: Kamakura-period Buddhist Art in Ritual Contexts
Friday, February 26 & Saturday, February 27

Held in conjunction with the exhibition, Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan, this major multidisciplinary symposium brings together scholars and experts in art history, religious studies, musicology, and Japanese history to examine the multifaceted artistic traditions and spiritual practices that flourished during the Kamakura period.


LECTURE & DEMONSTRATION
Theater Japan / NOH and KYOGEN
Sunday, February 28 • 6:30 pm

This program is a rare opportunity to see Noh and Kyogen together on one stage through an intimate demonstration and talk by master artists. It illustrates the importance of traditional Japanese theater through different classical forms.


FILM SERIES
Of Ghosts, Samurai, and War: A Series of Classic Japanese Film
Friday, March 4 –Saturday, March 19

With a history spanning more than 100 years, Japanese cinema has produced some of the most admired films that continue to enrich the world cinema discourse. Japan Foundation’s Film Library is indisputably one of the most important archive of Japanese films in the world. Asia Society partners with Japan Foundation to uncover rarely screened 35mm film gems from the Film Library to share with New York audiences.


PERFORMANCE
Recycling: Washi Tales
Thursday, March 24–Friday, March 25

Recycling: Washi Tales brings to life the human stories linked to a sheet of washi (Japanese handmade paper) as it is recycled through time. Four tales of papermaking from different periods of Japanese history unfold on stage with an extraordinary ensemble of performers and musicians in a world created by distinguished paper artist Kyoko Ibe.


PERFORMANCE
Japanese Kyogen Theater
Thursday, April 14

Kyogen is a form of traditional Japanese comedic theater which balances the more solemn form of Japanese theater called Noh. It was originally developed to provide comic relief between heavier, more serious Noh acts.


BOOK PROGRAM
Monkey Business: Japan/America Writers' Dialogue
Saturday, April 30 • 2:00 pm

An annual conversation between contemporary Japanese and American authors selected and moderated by the cofounders and editors of the Tokyo-based literary journal Monkey Business, the program features writers published in the latest volume.


FILM PROGRAM
New York Japan CineFest
Thursday, June 2 & Friday, June 3

An annual festival of short films by Japanese and Japanese American filmmakers with a focus on young talent, this rich offering of films includes documentary, animation, live action, and experimental shorts.


All programs are subject to change. For tickets and the most up-to-date schedule information, visit AsiaSociety.org/NYC or call the box office at 212-517-ASIA (2742) Monday through Friday, 1:00-5:00 pm.

Schools & Teachers

We welcome student groups from the third-grade through university. Arrange a tour and a teaching docent will lead the group through the exhibition and engage students on this fascinating subject. 

Schedule a tour
Download Teachers guide
(PDF, 2.85 mb).

 

Traditions Transfigured: The Noh Masks of Bidou Yamaguchi

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Texas25 Oct 201415 Feb 201512:00am12:00amSaturday 25 Oct 2014Sunday 15 Feb 2015

This exhibition focuses on recent sculptures by Bidou Yamaguchi that apply the forms, techniques, transformative spirit, and mysterious elegance of Noh masks to iconic female portraits from the European art historical canon, and to Kabuki actor prints of Sharaku, Japan’s enigmatic 18th century portrait master. These works radically extend Noh’s transformation of souls across time and space, projecting them into new cultural and physical dimensions. Traditions Transfigured includes educational and interactive components that show a set of masks displaying the carving process, a video explaining mask-making, and a secured mask that visitors can handle, try on, and photograph themselves wearing.

[Download Brochure PDF]

About the Artist

Bidou YamaguchiBidou Yamaguchi (b. 1970, Fukuoka, Japan) has been a Noh mask creator affiliated with the Hōshō School of Noh in Tokyo since 1998. His “reproduction” masks are in collections including Nihon University, Tokyo, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Target Corporation. He has shown his work at venues including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Portland Art Museum, and Carleton College, and has lectured widely in the United States and Europe. His Sharaku masks were featured in the Edo Pop exhibition. Traditions Transfigured is the first exhibition to display the breadth of his work.

Admission Information

Admission to this exhibition is free for Asia Society members and children ages 5 and under, $5 for nonmembers.

Hours

Tuesday – Sunday, 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Closed Mondays and major holidays

Photography

Photography of the exhibition without flash is permitted.

Opening Program

Night Market

 

Night Market & Exhibition Opening
Friday, October 24, 6:00 – 9:00 pm

Night Market returns to celebrate the opening of Traditions Transfigured: The Noh Masks of Bidou Yamaguchi. This festive, family-friendly night of food, vendors, and crafts will offer a free first look at the artwork. To date, confirmed vendors include Path of Tea, Foreign Policy, Brazos Bookstore, Orchid Obsessions, Texas T Kobe Beef, and more!

Press Release

Asia Society Texas Center Brings Japanese Noh Mask Exhibition to Houston
Two Noh Masks will be On-Site for Visitors to Try On

HOUSTON, October 3, 2014 — Asia Society Texas Center is excited to announce its upcoming exhibition, Traditions Transfigured: The Noh Masks of Bidou Yamaguchi, on view in the Texas Center’s Louisa Stude Sarofim Gallery from October 25, 2014 through February 15, 2015. Inspired by Japan’s expressive Noh theater, the masks in this exhibition apply the forms, techniques and mysterious elegance of Noh masks to iconic female portraits from the European art historical canon, and to Kabuki actor prints by Sharaku (1794-1795), Japan’s enigmatic 18th century portrait master.

“By bringing Bidou Yamaguchi’s sculptures to Houston, Asia Society hopes to share with visitors the layered conversation between tradition and innovation in contemporary Asian art,” explains Bridget Bray, Curator & Director of Exhibitions at Asia Society Texas Center. “This exhibition is the first in the region to feature his work in such depth, and we are pleased he will join us to celebrate the opening.”

Traditions Transfigured is organized into four distinct parts. The introduction sets up the exhibition, explaining what Noh theater is through video, Noh robes used in performances, and works by master Noh print artist Tsukioka Kōgyo (1869-1927). The continuing legacy and power of classical Noh Theater can be seen in the second portion of the exhibition, which features Yamaguchi’s “reproduction” or utsushi masks paired with additional prints by Kōgyo. The second gallery also features masks representing different stages of the carving process and a video explaining the techniques of Noh mask making. Works from Yamaguchi’s Edo Pop series are included in the third gallery, alongside the Sharaku prints that inspired each mask. These sculptures are unique for their faithful capturing of surface details from the original prints, including their flaws and blemishes. The fourth portion of the exhibition features the artist’s European portraits series, complete with three-dimensional Noh mask-interpretations of iconic women from familiar European oil paintings, such as da Vinci’s Mona Lisa, Vermeer’s Girl with a Pearl Earring, and Botticelli’s Venus.

Traditions Transfigured concludes with educational and interactive components. A digital display shows a female Noh mask nodding to express different emotions, which helps visitors connect to the subtle gestures of Noh actors and their psychological effects. Visitors can also try on two masks to engage them as an actor would. Photographs of visitors’ transfigured appearances can be taken and shared through social media.

To celebrate the opening of the exhibition, the Texas Center will host an exciting Night Market complete with vendors, free food and a free look at the artwork on October 24 from 6:00 - 9:00 PM. Playing homage to the origins of Noh theater, the Night Market will center around Japan. The artist, Yamaguchi, will be attending the Night Market as well. The Night Market is sponsored by American First National Bank.

Following the October 24 opening, regular admission to this exhibition is free for Members and $5 for Nonmembers. Asia Society Texas Center is open to the public, Tuesday through Sunday, 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM. A fully illustrated color catalogue of the travelling Traditions Transfigured exhibition will be available for purchase. For more information, please visit AsiaSociety.org/Texas.

About the Exhibition

Traditions Transfigured: The Noh Masks of Bidou Yamaguchi was organized by the University Art Museum at California State University Long Beach in conjunction with Dr. Kendall H. Brown. Major support has been provided by the McLeod Family Foundation and a grant from Instructional Related Activities at CSULB.

The exhibition includes works from national and international collections, both private and public. Lenders to the exhibition include: Target Corporation; Ruth Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College; University of Southern California Pacific Asia Museum; Sebastian Izzard, LLC; the Collection of Kelly Sutherlin McLeod and Steve McLeod; Alan Kennedy; and Bidou Yamaguchi.

The exhibition at the Texas Center was made possible through generous support from the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance. Lead funding also provided by The Clayton Fund and Nancy and Robert Carney, with additional support from Nancy Allen, Anne and Albert Chao, Eagle Global Advisors, The Favrot Fund, Vivian L. Smith Foundation, Dorothy Carsey Sumner, and The Japan Foundation. Funding is also provided through contributions by Friends of Exhibitions at Asia Society Texas Center.

About Bidou Yamaguchi

Bidou Yamaguchi (b. 1970, Fukuoka, Japan) has been a Noh mask creator affiliated with the Hōshō school of Noh in Tokyo since 1998. His “reproduction” masks are in collections including Nihon University, Tokyo, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and the Target Corporation. He has shown his work at venues including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Portland Art Museum, and Carleton College, and has lectured widely in the United States and Europe. His Sharaku masks were featured in the Edo Pop exhibition.

About Asia Society Texas Center

With 11 locations throughout the world, Asia Society is the leading educational organization promoting mutual understanding and strengthening partnerships among the peoples, leaders, and institutions of Asia and the United States. Asia Society Texas Center executes the global mission with a local focus, enriching and engaging the vast diversity of Houston through innovative, relevant programs in arts and culture, business and policy, education, and community outreach. www.AsiaSociety.org/Texas

 

Download the press release here.

Related Links

Multimedia: What Happens When You Depict the Mona Lisa with a Japanese Noh Mask? Asia Society Blog, February 2, 2015.

The Two-Faced Noh Mask: Tradition and InnovationNHK World. January 14, 2015.

The Noh Masks Exhibit at the Asia Society May Give You Goose-bumpsHouston Press. January 6, 2015.

Experience an Exclusive Japanese Noh Mask Exhibition365 Things to Do in Houston. November 12. 2014.

Asian Connection - "The Noh Masks of Bidou Yamaguchi." KHOU Houston. November 12, 2014.

The Art of Japanese Noh Theater Masks. Houston Public Media, November 5, 2014.

He Puts A New Face on Art History. Houston Chronicle. October 31, 2014.

Archived Video

Artist Shares Inside Look at Contemporary Noh-Inspired Works. Asia Society Blog. November 24, 2014.

Credits

Traditions Transfigured: The Noh Masks of Bidou Yamaguchi was organized by the University Art Museum at California State University Long Beach in conjunction with Dr. Kendall H. Brown. Major support has been provided by the McLeod Family Foundation and a grant from Instructional Related Activities at CSULB.

This exhibition was made possible through major support from Mary Lawrence Porter, the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, Nancy C. Allen, Nancy and Robert J. Carney, and The Clayton Fund. Lead funding also provided by Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, Anne and Albert Chao, The Favrot Fund, Kathy and Glen Gondo, Vivian L. Smith Foundation, and Dorothy Carsey Sumner. Additional support given by Nanako and Dale Tingleaf, and The Japan Foundation. Funding is also provided through contributions by Friends of Exhibitions at Asia Society Texas Center.

City of HoustonHouston Arts AllianceJapan Foundation

Urban Asia: Kirk Pedersen

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Texas27 Jun 201404 Jan 201512:00am12:00amFriday 27 Jun 2014Sunday 4 Jan 2015

Although he was trained as a painter, Kirk Pedersen explores urban Asia through a camera lens, reconfiguring perceptions of the visual and spatial densities represented by the great cities there. His works show connections to the Abstract Expressionist and Minimalist movements of the 20th century, while capturing a distinct era in Asia’s transition to a global epicenter. Born in 1959 in Broken Bow, Nebraska, Pedersen moves through these Asian cities, composing intentional perspectives that highlight the charged relationship between resident and city, and the ongoing struggle to balance growth and history.

Admission Information

Admission to the exhibition is free and open to the public.

Hours

Tuesday – Sunday, 11:00 am – 6:00 pm
Closed Mondays and major holidays

Photography

Photography of the exhibition without flash is permitted.

About the Artist

Kirk PedersenKirk Pedersen is a Los Angeles-based multidisciplinary artist whose work is at once expansive and detailed, revealing and poetic. Traveling to cities such as Hong Kong, Bangkok, Tokyo, Taipei, and Kuala Lumpur to capture what he calls “Urban Asia,” Pedersen examines the seemingly ordinary stuff of life—sidewalks, curbs, markets, alleys—and, through his eye for synchronicity, reveals new truths about the world around us.

Kirk Pedersen received his MA from San Francisco State University and his MFA in painting from Claremont Graduate University. He has exhibited extensively at major galleries, art fairs, and museums throughout the United States. Internationally, Pedersen’s works have been featured in Germany, Switzerland, and China, including the Today Art Museum, Beijing and the Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art. Since 1997, he has served as professor of painting and drawing at the Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, CA.

Press Release

Asia Society’s Latest Exhibition Parallels Houston’s Growth with Urban Asia

Houston, Texas, June 25, 2014 — Asia Society Texas Center is pleased to present a new exhibition titled Urban Asia: Kirk Pedersen, on view in the Fayez Sarofim Grand Hall from June 27, 2014 through January 4, 2015. Taken during contemporary artist Kirk Pedersen’s visits to many Asian countries including China, Taiwan, Japan, and Vietnam, the urban photographs that make up the exhibition highlight the charged relationship between resident and city, as well as a city’s ceaseless evolution.

Houstonians will be able to relate to Asia’s transition to a global epicenter as they draw similar comparisons to the rapid construction and growth in their own city over the past few decades. “The challenge of balancing growth and history remains paramount on both sides of the Pacific," says Bridget Bray, Director of Exhibitions at Asia Society Texas Center. “As the city of Houston experiences unprecedented growth and grapples with many of the same issues as cities in Asia, we can look to Kirk Pedersen’s works as both a guide and a mirror. These photographs capture the visual densities of urban life while providing a respite from its daily concerns. We’re so pleased to be able to share them with our visitors.”

Born in 1959 in Broken Bow, Nebraska, Pedersen moves through major Asian cities, looking at the urban landscape with a unique perspective. What he captures is a scene that is vibrant, alive, and heavily commercialized, but often overlooked by an audience that is too busy and passive to notice its beauty. His photographs champion the seemingly ordinary—sidewalks, abandoned buildings, small markets, hidden alleyways, and walls left for demolition. The transient nature of structures once assumed to be permanent prompts viewers to think about the constantly changing world in which they themselves live.

Having been trained as a painter, Kirk Pedersen draws from the Abstract Expressionist, Pop, Minimalist, and Photorealist movements of the 20th century to create his works. The use of photography, however, allows him to “paint” a different kind of scene that is timely and constantly developing.

Lead exhibition support is provided by the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance, Nancy C. Allen, The Clayton Fund, Nancy and Robert J. Carney, Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen, Anne and Albert Chao, The Favrot Fund, Dorothy Carsey Sumner, and the Vivian L. Smith Foundation; additional funding from Isla and Thomas R. Reckling III, and Friends of Exhibitions at Asia Society Texas Center. Admission to the building and this exhibition is free and open to the public during regular business hours, Tuesday through Sunday, 11 am – 6 pm. For more information, please visit AsiaSociety.org/Texas.

About Kirk Pedersen
Kirk Pedersen received his M.A. from San Francisco State University and his M.F.A. in painting from Claremont Graduate University. He has exhibited extensively at major galleries, art fairs, and museums throughout the United States. Internationally, Pedersen’s works have been featured in Germany, Switzerland, and China, including the Today Art Museum, Beijing and the Shanghai Duolun Museum of Modern Art. Pedersen has also taught at the Shanghai Institute of Visual Art, Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, Luxun Academy of Fine Arts, and Dalian Polytechnic University. Since 1997, he has served as Professor of Painting and Drawing at the Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California.

About Asia Society Texas Center
Asia Society Texas Center is part of a leading global educational organization that promotes mutual understanding and strengthens partnerships among peoples, leaders, and institutions of Asia and the United States. Across the fields of arts, business, culture, education, and policy, Asia Society Texas Center provides insight, generates ideas, and promotes collaboration to connect Americans and Asians for a shared future. Asia Society Texas Center officially opened its headquarters, which was designed by famed Japanese architect Yoshio Taniguchi, in April 2012.

Credits

Asia Society Texas Center exhibitions are funded in part by a grant from the City of Houston through Houston Arts Alliance.

City of Houston and Houston Arts Alliance

 

Exhibitions are made possible by additional funding through the Friends of Exhibitions patron group, which includes the following contributors:

Founders
Nancy C. Allen
Nancy and Robert J. Carney
The Clayton Fund

Benefactors
Chinhui Juhn and Eddie Allen
Anne and Albert Chao
The Favrot Fund
Houston Fine Art Fair | Hamptons Expo Group
Vivian L. Smith Foundation
Dorothy Carsey Sumner

Ambassadors
Sushila and Durga Agrawal
Jereann Chaney
George and Mary Josephine Hamman Foundation
Albert and Ethel Herzstein Charitable Foundation
Marilyn Oshman
Y. Vani Rao and Thulasidass Kalidas
Isla and Thomas R. Reckling III
Bebe Woolley and Dan Gorski

Chairmen
Shonali and Rakesh Agrawal
John Bradshaw, Jr.
Bettie Cartwright
Monjula and Ravi S. Chidambaram
Bonna Kol and James Clifford
Kathy and Glen Gondo
Rekha Lakshmanan and Huan Le
Y. Ping Sun and David W. Leebron
Judy and Scott Nyquist
Margarida and Penn Williamson

Presidents
Karen and John Bradshaw, Sr.
William and Deborah Colton
Jackie and John Dickinson
Donna and Philip J. Dingle
YuRu Huang
Sissy and Denny Kempner
Leela and Nat Krishnamurthy
Sushila and Dr. Ninan Mathew
Leigh and Reggie Smith
Jenny and Steven L. Spancake
Martha Claire Tompkins
Ann G. Trammell
Ann Wales
Nina and Michael Zilkha

Grand Patrons
Nana Booker AM and M. David Lowe
Diane and Michael Cannon
Clare Attwell Glassell
Harriet and Truett Latimer
Marion and Benjamin Wilcox
Clint T. Willour

Contributors as of June 30, 2014