I really do have a lot to talk about… and so little time and energy. They keep me busy around here. Or, rather, I keep myself busy, I guess. I keep volunteering for different events and things. I need to stop doing that.
Well, firstly, the Japan Times offered last week a nice short article/interview on the New Orleans-based Gitter-Yelen Collection of Japanese art. That is a pair of names I have seen so many times, I can scarcely remember what one thing they are known for. And probably with good reason, because part of what makes the Gitter-Yelen Collection so amazing is that it doesn’t stick to just one thing. It may well be one of the best collections of work by Zen monk painter/calligrapher Hakuin Ekaku in the US, and a few truly stunning works by Eccentric painter Itô Jakuchû, but it doesn’t end there. Dr. Kurt Gitter and Alice Rae Yelen own works by everyone from Nakabayashi Chikutô to Utagawa Kunisada, from Yosa Buson and Tsuji Kako to Akiyama Yô and Hamada Shoji.
Skimming through their collection online, I can scarcely believe how many of these I have seen in exhibits, how many I’ve seen in lectures and slide shows, in textbooks… and regardless of how famous the works may be, some of these paintings are just truly amazing. Truly wonderful, literally breath-taking artworks.
They have fashioned a beautiful website for their Man’yôan Collection featuring a great many works, and they make their works, housed at the Gitter-Yelen Art Study Center, available to scholars and students. Dr. Gitter and Ms. Yelen truly represent the most wonderful kind of art collectors – the kind who make their collections available to the world. Their works are seen in regular rotation at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and are also very often shown at museums around the world. A number of works from the collection are currently up at the Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art until March 27, after which they will be up at the Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art from June 11 to July 24, and then at the Museum of Kyoto (京都文化博物館) from Sept 3 to Oct 16.
Second, speaking of collectors, I am saddened to learn about, and to report, the death this past summer of Catherine (Kay) Edson, who along with her husband Thomas, who is still living, collected the greatest collection of work by Shibata Zeshin in the US, and quite possibly in the world.
I first learned about Zeshin in a fairly biased manner, seeing as how the chair of the department I was interning for at the time is among the chief scholars on the artist. But, while you might not find Zeshin in a “top ten Japanese artists of all time” list (or, then again, you might), he’s pretty amazing. He may be one of the most famous lacquerware artists out there, especially since so much lacquerware is anonymous; he innovated and experimented in numerous ways, employing a wide variety of materials to substitute for other more precious materials and to simulate a variety of effects, as well as employing various techniques to create different effects and designs on the lacquer boxes. But, I personally have never really been able to get into decorative arts…. Zeshin also painted, with lacquer rather than ink or colors, on silk and paper, producing some truly incredible, beautiful compositions.
I saw an exhibition of works from the San Antonio-based Edson collection in Kyoto last summer, which I think says something about how good the Edson collection is, if there wasn’t some Japanese collector in Kyoto, or elsewhere, who would have been easier or more convenient to loan from. And I was blown away; very glad to have, purely by chance, caught that exhibition the day before it closed.
My sympathies and condolences to her family and friends; the Japanese art community has lost someone who I am sure was a dear friend to many.