Saturday, May 26, 2012

Hokusai: Japanese Screens

Where: Freer Gallery of Art

When: through July 29, 2012

This is the third exhibit of Hokusai's work I've seen this year - I feel like a connoisseur of his paintings now.  This show consists entirely of screens that he painted, so quite different than either his Mount Fuji series or the paintings and drawings also on display at the Freer.

Screens have both a practical and an aesthetic value - people used them (still use them, I suppose) to divide spaces in their homes and as a way to display art.  I like things that are both useful and beautiful, and these certainly qualify as both.  Screens were introduced to Japan from China and Korea in the 7th and 8th centuries, but very few survive from before the 15th century.  I'm assuming that's because, being made out of paper attached to a wood frame, they're very fragile.

There are four sets of screens on display - they take up an entire room, as they are so large.  I particularly liked the Country Scenes, which shows Mount Fuji (frankly, once you've seen 36 views of it, you know it anywhere).  The commentary attached to the screen mentions the series, so I got to feel "in the know."

Also on offer is a screen entitled, "Shinto Priest, Three Women and a Child."  It depicts what the museum describes as a "curious" annual festival in which women were expected to carry around pots, one for each man which whom they'd had relations - curious indeed.  The women in the picture only had one pot each, which marked them as virtuous and worthy of the priest's blessing.  The parallels between this scene and modern-day American politics are obvious enough, without my having to belabor them, I think, so I won't.

Verdict: Well worth seeing; you can see this and the Paintings and Drawings show in one trip, if you don't linger too long in either one.

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