I found about 30 mins today to skim through the Honolulu Academy’s latest rotation/exhibition of some of the treasures from the Richard Lane Collection. To say it’s a most impressive collection is an understatement. I assumed this man had an excellent collection of ukiyo-e prints; I never guessed at the wealth of not only Edo period paintings, but much older paintings as well, from not only Japan, but China, Korea, and presumably elsewhere as well. And mighty impressive, captivating, interesting pieces they are, too.
Though officially obtained by the Academy in 2003, I believe they still have not yet shipped everything here to Hawaii from Kyoto, let alone catalogued it all. I really hope to find the opportunity some time in the next year or so while I am still here to find a way to offer my time to volunteer to help them catalogue and help out in whatever other ways I can.
Unfortunately, the Academy (unlike the MFA, Metropolitan, and many other world-class museums I’ve been to, though admittedly, just like many other museums) does not allow photography in the galleries; they also do not have a particularly extensive online collections database at all. Which means that not only can I not share these wonderful pieces with you all, but that it really makes it much harder for me to appreciate and study these objects myself. Sure, I could go back to the Academy as often as I want in the next few months – entry is free, as I have bought a membership – and examine the real object in person. There certainly is something to be said for viewing the actual object rather than a reproduction – the texture, the way it catches the light, the physicality of its weight and size, details not captured properly in a photo, all kinds of things. But, in a few months these pieces will be gone, and who knows how long it’ll be before they are seen again. No photos also means no photos of the gallery labels – even without sharing photos here on my blog, if I want to talk about these images, I’d really need to take the time and effort to copy down the gallery labels by hand, one by one… being able to take photos and then come back to remind oneself the titles, artists, and other key points is a wonderfully helpful thing. But, alas (I don’t suppose anyone from the Academy is reading this?), it is not to be.
Some interesting pieces, in brief:
*A handscroll landscape (“cityscape”, really) painting of Osaka, by Nakagawa Wadô. Painted in 1937, in a Nihonga mode, this is a fascinating record of a pre-war Osaka, where traditional architecture is juxtaposed with more modern architecture, automobiles, airplanes, and other traditional and modern elements. I’ve never been to Osaka myself, but I would wager that it looks a lot like a lot of other Japanese cities. Levelled in the war, these were rebuilt in a mad dash of rebuilding in the 1950s to 1960s, resulting in hideous cityscapes composed of function-over-form concrete blocks, nearly all of the traditional flavor of the architecture of Osaka, Tokyo (Edo), Yokohama, Nagoya, and other cities lost to “development” and “progress.”
*”Carp” – Mori Tetsuzan (1775-1841), son of the more famous Mori Sosen, known for his monkeys. I am tempted to use the word “realistic”, or at least “naturalistic”, but in any case, it shows dense detail and presumably close observation from life, while still being clearly a very East Asian painting in media and style. The gallery label spoke of the symbolism of the carp swimming freely in the water as representative of Zen concepts of swimming freely in the spiritual world. Or something to that effect. This is why being allowed to photograph the gallery labels (if not the works too) would be nice.
*”Dawn Radiance on Lake Tai (The Yueyang Tower)” – Kishi Renzan (1805-1859). Pair of hanging scrolls.
An intriguingly detailed and well-executed rendering of a Chinese landscape, by a Japanese artist, dominated by architecture. I am not so well-versed myself on the literary and historical significance or resonance of these sites, but I’ll say this much – (1) the Yueyang Tower is rendered in truly engrossing, intriguing, stunning detail in this piece, and does not in fact stand on the shores of Lake Tai, which is in another part of the city, and (2) though I’ve recently been told that Suzhou isn’t all it’s made out to be, it’s still the most famous city in China for its gardens, and for Lake Tai (Taihu), seen on the other scroll here.
Let me interrupt myself for a moment to say that while a part of me might be tempted to be disappointed that there aren’t bigger name artists being represented here – chiefly, the sons and students of the big name artists – there actually is something really quite cool to seeing these amazing pieces by these lesser known artists. Admittedly, if they were not sons and students, but simply totally other artists, and particularly if more of the pieces were newer, I might think that the Academy does indeed have a second-string collection. But, truly, they do not. Truly, these pieces are stunning. I cannot remember the last time I went to the Metropolitan and was genuinely stunned, amazed, intrigued, my breath taken away by even just one piece on display, let alone the entire rotation. Sons and students, second string artists or no, they produced amazing works, and I feel most fortunate for the chance to see them.
*Album of Famous Views of Kyoto. c. 1910. Hata Teruo (1887-1943).
The album format creates a very different atmosphere from the grand open landscapes of the hanging scrolls. These are not grand vistas, but much more intimate scenes, painting regular everyday people enjoying the pleasures of everyday life. It’s a little late, a little modern, but painted beautifully in Nihonga style, it brings up the calm, nostalgic energy of a summer day, and the easy mixing of traditional & modern, Western & Japanese, that characterized the Taishô period (which actually started two years later, but the statement is of course valid for 1910, the end of the Meiji period, two years earlier).
*”Stages of Human Development”. A most interesting and unusual pair of handscrolls by super big name artist Maruyama Ôkyo and his lesser-known son Maruyama Ôju (1777-1815), of whom I had not heard before.
I don’t think I have ever seen two handscrolls that are meant to be viewed together at all, least of all like this. Laid together and extended out, together they show the body of a woman, from the back, one scroll portraying her left side, the other her right, the space between the two paintings running more or less along her spine. Were both painted by both painters working together? Or was one by father and one by son? .. Normally, a handscroll is a very intimate format, held out by one viewer, open just about one arm’s length. But do that with one of these scrolls and you get the view of, for example, just one butt cheek, or one leg and foot, or one side of the elegant coiffure. Though handscrolls are by necessity often shown in museums in a manner unlike that truly intended for them – unrolled far too far – for these two, I cannot imagine that they could be intended to be looked at in any manner but this one. More intriguing is the question of what the rest of the scroll shows. Does it show a young girl growing up, and then growing old? If so, I can appreciate the scene chosen by the staff – she is old enough that there are no questions of creepy pedophilic voyeurism (just regular voyeurism), yet still young enough to be attractive. … What interests me, and of course I trust the assessment of the curators, is that not only does the format seem far too experimental and “modern” for Maruyama Ôkyo (who was, of course, quite innovative in his own ways, but in a manner which, while quite new and innovative for 18th century Japan, is still quite traditional and un-experimental by today’s standards), but the painting style also seems uncharacteristic. Ôkyo is most known for his monochrome ink paintings with amazingly fine detail, after Chinese models, yet this image is in color, with smooth, elegant lines, and not much detail at all. It’s curious.
*An 18th century anonymous copy of a now-lost but quite famous landscape/cityscape/map of Hangzhou and West Lake, by Sesshû (1420-1506), executed beautifully and in amazing condition. Though I don’t know historical Hangzhou (or modern Hangzhou) well enough to know anything much about the individual buildings labeled, the city, then called Lin’an, was the capital of the Southern Song dynasty (1127-1279), a major cultural center, and home to some of the greatest / most famous painters in Chinese history – including Ma Yuan and Xia Gui. Notably different in the topography of its surroundings, it represents an embracing of a somewhat different aesthetic and atmosphere in Chinese landscapes.
. I hope to someday, somehow, obtain a more permanent collection of (digital) images of these works, and of so many others, so that I can not only share them with you all, but can truly appreciate them, remember them, go back to them, examine them, for longer than the five, ten, or fifteen minutes I might find myself enjoying with them at the museum.