Sunday, June 9, 2013

Two small Japanese art exhibits at the Freer

Where: Freer Gallery of Art

When: through August 4, 2013

There are two one-room shows on now at the Freer, part of their "Arts of Japan" series.  One, from which the picture at left is drawn, is entitled "Poetic License: Making Old Words New."  Included in this room are works that interpret Japanese literature; they are a new way of "seeing" the stories.

I was particularly struck by the beauty of the calligraphy in the work, "Landscape with Calligraphy," which was most likely a work dashed off quickly by an artist meeting with his friends, gathering communally to discuss the arts, in imitation of the Chinese gentlemen scholars, whose lives sound so civilized. A document box caught my eye as well - if only I had something as lovely in which to store my papers, I'm sure I would file them immediately!  A special treat for me was to see the "Immortals of Poetry" by Hokusai.  I saw so much of his work last year, that I think of him as an old friend now and am delighted when I see anything by him.

The second show is called "Edo Aviary," and is a collection of paintings featuring birds.  Birds played a very important role in East Asian iconography; they were symbols of the society's virtues and were given anthropomorphic qualities by those observing them.  When Japan became more open to Western scientific perspectives, representations of birds became more orinthologically correct, but retained their power as symbols.

When you see a painting of birds in combination with plants or trees, know that this is really a rebus puzzle.  Each element in the painting has a meaning, and when put together, they make a message for the recipient.

I liked "Rooster, Hen & Chicks" and "Eagle" by Kishi Gahku, which offer rather jaded views of these feathered icons held in such high esteem by Edo society.  The hen is feeding a dragonfly to one of her chicks - not such a happy turn of events for the insect!

Verdict: When have I not recommended a show at the Freer?  These two can easily be seen in one trip and make a lovely break from whatever cares the day presents.  If you're lucky enough to walk over on a beautiful day, that's a lot of stress relief in one trip!

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