The Art of Japan: Kanazawa is a beautiful new website which has emerged recently. It includes numerous pages about a myriad of aspects of traditional and contemporary arts and culture in and around Kanazawa, the capital city of Japan’s Ishikawa prefecture, and is constantly being updated.
Above: The tsutsumi-mon, or “drum gate”, outside Kanazawa Station. A beautiful example of traditional lacquer arts combining with contemporary architectural creativity & innovation to represent a city as wholly modern, but drawing upon a rich past. Something Kyoto Station entirely fails to do. Photo taken myself, during my one brief visit to Kanazawa, in January 2008.
Back in February, the Art of Japan Kanazawa staff collaborated with Japan Society in New York to produce what looks like an exquisite evening of traditional and contemporary culture – including displays of Ishikawa crafts (pottery, lacquerware, etc.), a butoh performance, and saké served by a professional geisha from Kanazawa, one of the few cities which still has an active geisha district. How I would have loved to be there for such an event.
Boy, I so wish I could be in Kanazawa (or Kyoto, or Naha, or half a dozen other places) right now, to have the opportunities to explore such a city, to attend these events, to be surrounded by and immersed in these arts and goings-on. But more than that, I wish I could work for a project like Arts of Japan Kanazawa. It may not be the most prestigious thing (like being a professor or a curator at a major institution), but who cares? How I would love to be constantly immersed, engaged, with a vibrant Japanese arts & culture community, and to make a living at it. I wonder how many other cities have similar projects, similar websites.
Meanwhile, for sadly only a very short time, an incredibly major Japanese artwork is on display at the National Gallery in Washington DC. The “Colorful Realm of Living Beings” (動植綵絵, dôshoku sai-e), a National Treasure of Japan, is a series of thirty hanging scroll paintings by Itô Jakuchû (1716-1800), completed over the course of ten years. They are accompanied at the National Gallery by a triptych of hanging scrolls depicting Buddhas, on loan from Shôkoku-ji, a major Zen temple in Kyoto. The works are easily among the most famous of Japanese artworks, included in many if not all survey textbooks of Japanese art history; I don’t think it’s absurd to compare them to being a Japanese equivalent of Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” but multiplied times 33, filling a room, and creating their own atmosphere.
Just seeing pictures of the installation, I can imagine the setting Jakuchû is said to have aimed to create – of the Buddha presiding before all the living beings of the world, and preaching to them. Standing in this room, you are surrounded by incredible images of a myriad of living beings, from roosters and peacocks described in exquisite detail, sketched from life, to fish, insects, and lizards in a variety of undersea and overland environments, and you feel that you too are in the presence of the Buddha.
One could easily write pages and pages about Jakuchû, his life, his art, but I’ll leave it for now. Check out my Samurai-Archives Wiki article on the artist, and the following:
As usual, embedding doesn’t seem to be working properly, but here is a link to a PBS has a wonderful brief video about the exhibition, including snippets of an interview with guest curator, Harvard professor Yukio Lippit: 18th Century Japanese Scrolls Make Rare U.S. Appearance.
I had no idea that a National Treasure could ever leave Japan – this is the first time that these works are on display, all together, anywhere outside of Japan, and it is incredible that this is happening. I wish I could be there.
The “Colorful World of Living Beings” is on display until April 29, in conjunction with the 100th anniversary Washington DC Cherry Blossom Festival.