WordPress seems confused as to whether this is my 500th or 501st post. Either way, I’m amazed to have reached this milestone, and happy for either this post, summarizing exciting upcoming events at New York’s Japan Society, or the previous post, on a serious academic dilemma, to stand as my 500th post.
I have mentioned briefly before the artist Sakai Hôitsu and the upcoming exhibit of his work at New York’s Japan Society. I was very glad to get to see some stunning Hôitsu works at the Metropolitan this summer, and am sad that I won’t be around to get to go to any of the many events the Society is holding in conjunction with the exhibition.
Chief among them is a symposium scheduled for Sept. 29, which will feature some of the top scholars of Japanese art history in the world, including Kobayashi Tadashi – a top expert on Edo period painting, and someone whose work I have read a lot of, but whom I have never had the pleasure of meeting – along with Matthew McKelway and Haruo Shirane, both very big names in the field as well, from Columbia University. I hope there is some kind of transcript or publication afterwards that those of us who cannot attend might be able to get our hands on.
Prof. McKelway will also give another lecture on the subject of Sakai Hôitsu and Rinpa on October 18.
Judging from his style, and perhaps more so the immaculate condition of the works I saw, and the vibrancy of the colors, I would have guessed Hôitsu to be a Nihonga artist of the late 19th or early 20th century. But, knowing that he lived so much earlier, from 1761-1828, very firmly within the Edo period, I’d guess to place him instead with the so-called “Eccentrics,” people like Nagasawa Rosetsu who, similarly, produced works with a certain simplicity and cleanliness, but also with bright vibrant colors and dramatic content.
Right: A painting by Nagasawa Rosetsu, dated 1798, depicting the destruction in that year of the Great Buddha Hall of Kyoto. (Sometimes mistaken for being the Great Buddha Hall of Tôdai-ji in Nara, but I’m fairly certain it was the Great Buddha of Kyoto that’s referred to here.)
But, then, what do I know? If the experts call Hôitsu “Rinpa,” placing him in a category with artists like Tawaraya Sôtatsu, Ogata Kôrin, and Suzuki Kiitsu, known for their large compositions on gold-backed folding screens, then I guess they have very good reasons for saying so. Prof. McKelway, who guest curated this exhibit with the help of a PhD student specializing in Rinpa, is one of the leading Rinpa scholars himself, so if he and everyone else involved with the exhibit say he’s Rinpa, who am I to argue? What’s important is that his work is stunningly beautiful, expertly executed, and employs classical themes and references that give the works deeper meaning, making them all the more captivating.
As Rinpa works very often draw upon seasonal and classical literary themes, Prof. Haruo Shirane will be leading two events as well, discussing on Nov. 11 selections from the Heian period Tales of Genji and Ise, and on December 13 his own newest book, on seasonal references in the Japanese arts.
Meanwhile, Japan Society’s Performing Arts Department has an exciting season planned, as always. It includes a fair share of very modern/contemporary sort of things, but also on Oct 27-28, a rare opportunity to see Kagura, a sort of Shintô religious / folk tradition dance form. A December 8th concert claims to be Rinpa-inspired. I tend to be skeptical of such claims when made by experimental modern art types, but.. if it’s true, it could be a pretty amazing concert.
The exhibit itself promises to be brilliant, and while I am very much hoping to be able to catch it while on a very brief jaunt to the East Coast next month, I am sad that I won’t be around to enjoy all these other events. If you find yourself in the New York area, I encourage you to go.