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Cleveland Museum of Art displaying major modern Japanese exhibit

2/20/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Shown is a screen from “Spring Rain,” by Shimomura Kanzan, which is on view in the Cleveland Museum of Art’s Remaking Tradition: Modern Art of Japan From the National Tokyo Museum exhibit.
Photo courtesy of the Cleveland Museum of Art
CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Museum of Art’s (CMA) Remaking Tradition: Modern Art of Japan from the National Tokyo Museum, which will be on display through May 11, shows the transition of Japanese art from its historical major influence from Chinese art through recurrent interactions with the West and those art forms as Japan opened the country to outside influences.

Always, though, as Takahiro Tsuchiya, curator of Japanese painting at the Tokyo National Museum said, even when depicting Chinese or western scenes, the “style is Japanese.”

Remaking Tradition will call for viewers to make two trips to the museum to see the total 55 works being presented.

Several of the light-sensitive works cannot be shown continuously throughout the duration of the display, so on March 30 the exhibit will shut down temporarily until April 3 so these works can be rotated out. Viewers who purchase the $20 ticket can re-use the ticket and visit the exhibit again.

Remaking Tradition is well worth the second trip, for the works (mostly paintings) are significant works of art, while containing six Important Cultural Properties, a designation given by the Japanese government. When Japan first erected a pavilion at the Vienna World Exposition in 1873 (an event representing its entry into the wider world and the fine arts), two embroidered crests from the imperial family were sent along. The “Imperial Chrysanthemum Crest” and the “Double-Headed Eagle Crest” are both in this exhibit.

The display contains pieces from five defined periods of Japanese art that comprise its efforts at fine arts: Edo period (1603-1868), Meiji period (1868-1912), Taisho period (1912-26), Showa period (1912-89) and Heisei period (1989-present).

Tsuchiya said the exhibit is arranged pretty much chronologically, but thematically as well. Within the history, items like silk screens and calligraphy are mostly grouped together, with each period showing how Japanese artists were developing interest in other art movements (like minimalism or symbolism) and were working them into traditional forms, such as calligraphy.

All of the works in the exhibit are impressive, each seemingly with a story that makes viewing engrossing. There’s a pair of six-fold silk screens called “Spring Rain.” It depicts three women at one end huddling under umbrellas while at the other end a lone woman is walking away. The theme at work is the tension between the women, three gossiping about the other. It is fascinating on two levels. Tsuchiya said women were not represented in this art form as real people before this work (done in 1916). Shimomura Kanzan, the artist, painted on both sides of the silk to create the effects of rain. He saturates the work in atmosphere.

Saeko Yamamoto, communications manager for CMA, told the story about the “Portrait of Reiko.” The artist, Kishida Ryusei, painted numerous portraits of his daughter, Reiko. At first influenced by European Impressionists, the artist was more taken by European Renaissance painters — in this case, Albrecht Durer. Yamamoto said you could show this image to anyone in Japan and he or she would know the work, much as we would know the iconic “Mona Lisa.” The connection is a real one, for, as Yamamoto explained, the work does not look anything like the daughter. The scale is off and the features have been changed to give the “Mona Lisa” aspect, with the knowing look in the eyes of the child and the slight smile on her face.

The CMA is open Tuesdays, Thursdays, Saturdays and Sundays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and Wednesdays and Fridays from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. The museum is closed Mondays. Admission is $20, which entitles viewers re-entry when some works are rotated out of the exhibit. The exhibit is free for museum members. Complementary exhibit programming includes lectures, tours and educational programs. For details, visit www.clevelandart.org.


Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and an avid art enthusiast. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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