The Four Elegant Pastimes Shibata Zeshin This pair of screens is after a famous masterpiece of early eighteenth-century genre painting of custom and manners of the day in the collection of Hikone Castle in Shiga Prefecture, popularly known as “Hikone Screen.” Illustrated are fashionable young men and women in a pleasure quarter enjoying pursuits which symbolize the four elegant accomplishments of Chinese scholars; music, Chinese chess (go), calligraphy, and painting. Due to his fascination with the Hikone Screen, Shibata Zeshin created at least six paintings modeled after the Hikone Screen. This is the earliest example and the most lavish and decorative one with the largest number of people depicted on the gold background. It was originally owned by lacquer wholesaler Iwami Zensuke, who was also Zeshin’s drinking friend. Zeshin is known primarily for his great artistic innovation in lacquer works, yet he was also a painter and this is his greatest masterwork.
Mount Fuji from Miho-no-matsubara Suzuki Kiitsu This muted depiction shows Mt. Fuji as viewed from the shore of Miho-no-matsubara, a pine-covered peninsula which stretches into Suruga Bay, and is itself a famous spot. Though the area is the setting of many literary and theatrical settings, the painting does not seem to bear any allusions, and may have been sketched from life as the crest of Mt. Fuji bears five peaks, rather than the common three-peaked rendition. Suzuki Kiitsu was a pupil of Sakai Hōitsu, and is recognized for carrying on the stylistic tradition of the Rinpa school. However, the realism of this work diverges from Kiitsu’s usual bright and bold painting style.
Shōki and Demons Aoki Toshio A grotto-like space is filled with demons playing musical instruments, arm wrestling, quarrelling, and even, it would seem, preaching. Contemptuously surveying the scene is Shōki, the Queller of Demons. A deity from China’s Taoist pantheon, Shōki (known in Chinese as Zhongkui) became a popular figure associated with Boys’ Day celebrations during Japan’s Edo period. Rather than slaying the demons, as dictated by legend, the artist has cast Shōki as an overlord among his minions. Toshio was a curious character at the center of various stories, some spurious or at least embellished. Born in Yokohama, he travelled to the United States under the auspices of a trading company. There he worked as a travelling artisan, a newspaper cartoonist, an actor, and host of elaborate theme parties. He was also known for his painting. The detailed composition, color, and depth through shading and perspective suggest a familiarity with late Kanō painting, though the theme brings to mind Eugene Delacroix’s painting Death of Sardanapalus (1827).
“Rise” Fukami Sueharu “Rise” is the tallest single object Fukami created in his entire career. Through this large, abstract, ceramic sculpture, Fukami hoped to overturn the traditional image of ceramics as objects of relatively small size and of utilitarian or decorative nature. Over the two years it took to make this piece, which culminated in a heart attack, Fukami devoted himself to its completion. Because of their large kiln, the production took place at the Shigaraki Ceramic Cultural Park where Fukami rented space and was assisted by a crew of ten people. Created with a mould, two more “Rise” sculptures exist, one in a private collection in Japan, and one at The Museum of Ceramic Art, Hyōgo.
This first-look exhibition of 120 highlights from the Clark Collections, recently acquired by the MIA, offers unusually rich and personal insights into the scope of Japanese art and the nature of connoisseurship.
Bill and Libby Clark amassed one of the world’s finest collections of Japanese art according to their own finely honed interests, instincts, and idiosyncrasies. Not trends. Not markets. Not a particular time, place, or medium. They collected what they liked—what drew their audacious eyes.
This exhibition hints at the stunning variety and bold taste that accorded the Clarks’ endeavor, begun in the late 1970s, a kind of legendary status. Tucked in the agricultural valley of central California, their collections grew from frequent trips to Japan, stoking their enthusiasm for Japanese aesthetics—their home is a blend of Japanese and California Arts and Crafts styles. The collections’ 1,700 objects now range across 10 centuries and from paintings to sculpture, ceramics to textiles, woodblock prints to bamboo baskets. They include important examples from every school of painting in Japan since the 16th century and from some of its most acclaimed living artists, including 80 pieces by ceramist Fukami Sueharu—the largest assembly of his sleek bluish-white porcelain in the world.
The Clark Collections have increased the MIA’s Japanese art collection of more than 5,000 objects by a third, enhancing the museum’s status as one of the nation’s foremost centers of Asian art. In particular, they have filled in previously unrepresented areas of Japanese art, such as bamboo baskets and sculpture, and deepened its holdings of works by individual artists.
But the collections will hardly remain static: curator Andreas Marks, who managed them in California, accompanied the objects to Minnesota, and assembled this exhibition, will remain as their ongoing curator.
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