Sunday, January 29, 2012

Seasons: Arts of Japan

Where: Freer Gallery of Art

When: through February 12, 2012

This is another in the Freer's "seasons" series, exploring the ways that the seasons of the year are depicted in or influence Chinese and Japanese art.  Perhaps it's my long association with academia, and its yearly rhythms, but I like marking the seasons or the months of the year.  There's something comforting in the notion that the season change (especially if the season you're in is not your favorite!) and nature presents us with something new to notice and appreciate throughout the year.

The Japanese express seasonality not only in the subject matter of their artwork, but also in the textures and glazes used in their pottery.  Something could represent winter, even if it didn't depict a snowy scene.

There was on display a lovely set of black vases with chrysanthemums in muted colors that really caught my eye.  I was surprised that I liked so much, as I couldn't describe them as colorful.  The flowers were very striking, especially as they were set against a black background.  Another favorite of mine was the painting pictured above, Heron and Willow, by Hanabusa Itcho.  It features lovely brushwork on the willow branches and the heron is very lifelike.

The Japanese also used the objects portrayed in their art to symbolize aspects of life.  The cherry blossoms, which appear so fleetingly in spring, are a symbol of the brevity of life - a melancholy thought.  The long flight of the goose represents solitude, and the pine, bamboo and plum are the three friends of the winter season, when, in my view, I need as many friends as I can get!

In a small room off one of the main exhibit areas is a display devoted to tea utensils.  Tea practitioners (what might they be, one wonders?) were given to using different glazes for different times of the year, so one might use a particular teapot in winter, but not in summer.  Apparently, emotional qualities were attributed to different utensil materials (a bit of a stretch there, I think), and there were tea masters and different schools of tea.  I would love to see a real Japanese tea ceremony - far more interesting then watching myself dunk a bag in hot water, I'm sure.

Verdict: This is a lovely exhibit that you can see comfortably in an hour, and the Freer is always a wonderful place to go.

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