Sunday, November 08, 2015

Looking East at the Asian Art Museum

One of the best traveling exhibits to ever appear at the Asian Art Museum has just been installed through February 7th.

Compiled from the permanent collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, the show's name is a mouthful: Looking East: How Japan Inspired Monet, Van Gogh, and Other Western Artists. The 1888 painting above by Frenchman Louis Dumolin, Carp Banners in Kyoto, is a literal "inspiration" of the French fad for everything japonisme.

The exhibit is smart and subtle in charting the cross-cultural explosion that occurred when Japan was forcibly opened to international trade in the 1850s, and Boston's collection is so deep in both Western and Asian art that it can illustrate the affinities, cultural projections, and contradictions in fascinating detail. By the way, you are allowed to take photos without flash at the exhibit, a generous and enlightened decision by the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The installation is well done, pairing Japanese works like the 1857 woodblock print Bamboo Yards, Kyobashi Bridge by Utagawa Hiroshige I with Monet's 1900 painting, The Water Lily Pond.

Mary Cassatt's 1902 painting, Maternal Caress is flanked by the early 19th century woodblock print Otome by Kikukawa Eizan illustrating the same subject.

Sometimes the correspondence is more a matter of attitude and style, as in the woodblock prints of famous Japanese actors in their roles by Utagawa Kunisada paired with a striking Van Gogh painting from 1988 of Postman Joseph Roulin.

A new security guard was patrolling one of the galleries during the press preview, and he mentioned that he had never been around such famous European paintings before as I stopped in front of Matisse's 1924 Vase of Flowers.

The Western art in the exhibit isn't all European, though, and there are representatives of Boston area artists depicting the Oriental art collections of Boston Brahmins, such as the 1921 painting above, The Silver Screen, by Frank Weston Benson.

The cultural influences were bidirectional, and it is sometimes difficult to guess whether a piece is Western or Japanese without looking at the wall labels. The 1925 print of Yosemite's El Capitan, for instance, was created by Yoshida Hiroshi. It would be interesting to see a mirrored exhibit, Looking West, examining the European influence on Japanese artists during the same period.


janinsanfran said...

The photo you posted on FB about this post is, I think, of the picture that lurked in the back of my mind when I created this visual post about rice harvesting in Bhutan:

Civic Center said...

Dear Jan: Glad to be of associative assistance, and I think the painter was Monet rather than Van Gogh like you were thinking.

Hattie said...

The Japanese influence is so pervasive. A friend of mine from India says that it is only after 40 years as a potter that she can make pieces that are not inspired by Japanese models.

Unknown said...

Imagine a City...

Imagine a city where every home had on it's front lawn a piece of sculpture or an art installation.

Imagine a city where each and every business invited artists to exhibit their work to the company's patrons.

Imagine a city where instead of gifting clothing, electronics, chocolate, or cash, a work of art was given, and appreciated.

Imagine a city where each and every home housed and preserved an art collection. Where insecurities over self-interests were dispensed with, and collections reflected those varied tastes.

Imagine a city where glass, pottery, painting, photography. fibers, basketry, and even graffiti were embraced. Where the artists themselves were looked upon as a treasured resource. No matter their perspective.

Imagine a city where any construction project involved multiple artists, in its' execution.

Imagine a city which preserved its' creative heritage and embraced it.

Imagine a city which understood, that capturing a slice of life had merit. But to alter a communities perspective to embrace all thought and belief, strengthened it, not weakened it.

Imagine a city which led the World in cultural munificence which would then reap the reward of becoming a global mecca.

Imagine a city which could step outside of what others were doing could walk the path of its' own making.

Imagine a city where meetings to enact such change, needn't take place. Rather a spontaneous change came from its' citizenry itself.

Imagine a city which artists flocked to; enabling them to create without fear of censorship or derision.

Imagine a city not dependent upon their museums or art schools for their lead in any discussions of artistic merit, but rather the career artists themselves.

I have imagined this city since childhood, as have most of my colleagues. Instead we've swum through muck, hoping such change would miraculously happen without distracting us from our labors. Or moved to the closest metropolis which appeared poised to take the plunge.

Cleveland, like most cities, while not a blank canvas; is one, where the image it sports has faded beyond restoration. The time to paint over it has come. Shiny new unaesthetic buildings, are simply masking the rot.

Marc Breed, Fine Artist

"In the distant future, when America is a mere shadow of itself, who historically, shall be remembered? In sports, an argument can be made for Ruth, Chamberlain, Gretzky, Ali, et al. In Art, there is but one name, Breed."

-Smithsonian Magazine