Saturday, February 28, 2015

Chinese Influences on Japanese Art

Where: Freer Gallery of Art

When: through June 14, 2015

There are two shows currently on at the Freer that highlight the Chinese influences on Japanese art. One is entitled "Oribe Ware: Color and Pattern Come to Japanese Ceramics" and the other is "Zen, Tea, and Chinese art in Medieval Japan." The display of Oribe Ware is in the little Gallery 6A, just off Gallery 6, and the display of art related to tea is in Galleries 6 &7, making it easy to see both in one lunch hour.

I confess, I'm at a loss to understand the Japanese fascination with tea. I like a nice cup of Twining's as much as the next person, but I don't make a religion out of it. As I knew from my visit to the Sackler to see Chigusa, the Japanese do make quite a ritual out of tea-drinking, which means they have some very fine items to store, display and consume tea. The rise of both Zen Buddhism and tea presentation coincided with greater contact with China, so the theory is that China may have been responsible for bringing these things, that we now think of as inherently Japanese, to Japan in the first place.

However the phenomenon started, Japanese tea ceramics are well worth seeing. There was a tea caddy and tea bowl that I liked very much - it's amazing to me that things created in the early 1600s are still around today, and looking as if you could use them.

It's not all ceramics on display, though. I also very much liked the painting "White Heron on a Snowy Willow." The delicacy of the bird's feathers caught my eye, even though the predominant color is white (and yes, I know white is not a color). And who could resist the painting of "Xianzi Catches a Shrimp"? The Buddhist master was said to have achieved enlightenment while consuming the crustacean, and considering the deliciousness of shrimp, who can doubt it?

Verdict: If you like Japanese art or the ritual of the tea presentation, make sure to see this show. And at this time of the year, when it seems as if winter is never-ending, who couldn't use a trip to the Freer?

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