Score one for Japan; this is cultural diplomacy at its finest.
On the occasion of the 100th anniversary of Japan’s gift of cherry trees to Washington, D.C., two of the city’s most prominent museums have organized once-in-a-lifetime exhibits of Japanese art, one with heavy involvement from the Japanese government.
Both exhibits succeed wildly; you know you’re looking at some of the finest Asian art ever created.
In partnership with the Japanese Imperial Household Agency, the National Gallery of Art presents “Colorful Realm: Japanese Bird and Flower Paintings“, a collection of 30 painted silk panels by Ito Jakuchu, the son of a wealthy merchant who retired early to paint and study Buddhism. His birds and flowers are fantastical and heavy with Buddhist meaning; the peacock pictured here represents culture and virtue, for example, while crowing roosters represent spiritual awakening.
Though the exhibit was crowded on a Saturday morning (it’s only on for one month, through April 29), the paintings positively glowed–a testament to the artist’s technique of painting both the front and back of the panels.
They’re rich and lustrous and made me want to go on a meditation retreat in Nara — precisely the effect the Imperial Japanese Household was hoping for when they agreed to let the paintings travel, I’m sure.
(On a side note, it’s great to see the National Gallery do something creative online, as they have with this haiku-writing activity.)
At the Sackler Gallery, Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji brings perennial dorm-room favorite Hokusai into fuller view, with the artist’s series of woodblock prints showing Mt. Fuji, near and far, as Japan’s True North.
Hokusai pioneered a new art form, introducing landscapes in print instead of painting, and showing the daily life of commoners around Tokyo (Edo) at a time when the country was on the brink of opening to the West.
There are beautiful landscapes here, but the prints depicting travelers and pilgrims in the foreground resonated with me the most. For them, Hokusai makes clear, Mt. Fuji is part-spirit guide, part-patriarch, and ever-present reminder of man’s place in the natural world.
Living in a city with no dominant natural features, I wonder if I’d feel a mythic connection to a Mt. Fuji in my midst.