BEYOND GOLDEN CLOUDS – At the Asian Art Museum

Five Centuries of Japanese Screens
An ideal combination of function and beauty, folding screens represent
some of the highest accomplishments of Japanese painting.
On view through January 16, 2011

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Photo by Lynn Imanaka

This fall the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco presents Beyond Golden Clouds: Five Centuries of Japanese Screens , a special exhibition of forty-one rarely seen large scale Japanese screens dating from the 1500s through the present. The exhibition celebrates the evolution of the folding screen, or byōbu (“wind wall”), from pre-modern to contemporary, highlighting its distinctive position in Japanese culture as both a functional and expressive art form. The exceptional, yet diverse artworks are borrowed from the esteemed collections of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum. The phrase “Beyond Golden Clouds” describes one of the most popular motifs in classical screens, while also expressing the departure from conventional compositions and techniques in the past century.
Click here to purchase tickets on-line: BEYOND GOLDEN CLOUDS

bamboo-with-chinese-yew-and-deer-with-maples
Bamboo with Chinese Yew and Deer with Maples, 1605–1610
Painting attributed to Hasegawa Togaku (Japanese, d. 1623)
Pair of six-panel screens; ink, colors, and gold on paper.

flowering-cherry-and-autumn-maples
Flowering Cherry and Autumn Maples with Poem Slips, 1654–1681
By Tosa Mitsuoki (Japanese, 1617–1691)
Pair of six-panel screens; ink, colors, gold and silver on silk.

The Asian Art Museum’s presentation of Beyond Golden Clouds will include an introduction to the fundamental compositions, materials, formats, and subjects of traditional folding screens, and a selection of self-guided thematic tours for visitors at every level of expertise and interest.

Thought to have been introduced from the Chinese mainland by the 700s, the folding screen provided Japanese artists with a large format that could transform an interior space and accommodate diverse forms of expression. Because screens are easily folded and moved, they can be interchanged according to season, occasion, mood, or decorative taste. The screens in Beyond Golden Clouds encompass a range of styles that reveal the expansive visions of their artists—from grandeur, formality, and austerity to tranquility and contemplation.

pheasant-and-pine
Pheasant and Pine, approx. 1626
By Kano Koi (Japanese, approx. 1569–1636)
Six-panel screen; ink, colors, gold, and silver on paper.

By the Muromachi period (1392–1573), screens were being used for both Japanese-style paintings and the newly adopted Chinese tradition of ink painting. The earliest work in the exhibition is a pair of inkpainted landscape screens by Sesson Shukei (approx. 1490–after 1577; fig. 1). The golden age of the Japanese screen occurred in the Momoyama (1573–1615) and Edo (1615–1868) periods, during which painters used the format to display a range of subjects, styles, and compositions.

Beyond Golden Clouds also explores the diversity of creative expression in the early Edo period (1600s) through such works as Willow Bridge and Waterwheel by Hasegawa Soya (1590–1667) and Flowering Cherry and Autumn Maples with Poem Slips by Tosa Mitsuoki (1617–1691)—the latter by the director of the painting bureau at the imperial court. Other featured works from this era include a formal depiction of birds, flowers, and a pine tree on gold by Kano Koi (approx. 1569–1636), which may be associated with the renowned wall paintings at Nijo Castle in Kyoto; a pair of screens with scenes from The Tale of Genji, the renowned Japanese literary epic; and a superb set of screens bearing scenes of Portuguese missionaries and traders arriving at Nagasaki.

The 1700s and 1800s are represented by screens depicting both Japanese- and Chinese-inspired subjects. A set of twelve ink paintings mounted on a pair of gold screens by Obaku Zen priest Kakutei Joko (1721–1785) evinces Chinese tastes among Japan’s literati circles in the 1700s. An entirely different aesthetic is seen in paintings of fans and flowing water by Rinpa artist Sakai Hoitsu (1761–1828), who drew his artistic inspiration from a Japanese-style painting tradition. Originally executed on sliding-door panels, this painting was later remounted as a pair of two-panel screens. Other works on view include landscapes and calligraphy from both Japanese and Chinese literary sources.

star-festival
Star Festival, approx. 1968.
Kayama Matazo (approx. 1927-2004).
Six-panel screen; ink, color, gold, and silver on silk.

In the twentieth century the Western-inspired establishment of annual juried art exhibitions encouraged Japanese painters to break away from traditional artistic conventions and create works using innovative compositions and colors. The strikingly dense and colorful pair of screens Blue Phoenix by Nihonga (modern Japanese-style painting) artist Omura Koyo (1891–1983) exemplifies this trend. Star Festival by Kayama Matazo (1927–2004), created for such an exhibition, is one of the best-known paintings of postwar Nihonga. Other artists in the late twentieth century moved even further away from their predecessors. The contemporary Mountain Lake Screen Tachi series by Okura Jiro (born 1942), though inspired by traditional folding screens, uses nontraditional materials and double hinges to function as a set of freestanding sculptural elements with limitless installation possibilities.

The exhibit is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue, Beyond Golden Clouds: Japanese Screens from The Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum.
beyond-golden-clouds
The catalogue, published by the Art Institute of Chicago, the Saint Louis Art Museum, and Yale University Press, was edited by Janice Katz, with essays by Philip Hu, Janice Katz, Tamamushi Satako, and Alice Volk. The catalogue is available at the Asian Art Museum store.

MORE FAVORITES FROM THE EXHIBITON

barbarians-right-panel
SOUTHERN BARBARIANS. Mid-1600s. Right Panel.
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868).
Pair of six-panel screens; ink, colors, and gold on paper.

CAT. 9. Locals and Westerners alike witness the arrival of a large Portuguese trading ship with a full crew. The ship is about to dock in the port of Nagasaki on Japan’s southernmost island of Kyushu. Later, as depicted on the right screen (unusually, the progressive composition here reads from left to right, perhaps indicating west to east), the foreigners have made their way into town and are about to call at the settlement set up there by their countrymen, many of whom were Christian missionaries.
panel-1
Panels 1–4. Photos, S.M.
panel-2
Panels 5–8
Such screens—presenting the arrival and activity of the Portuguese in Japan in the 1500s and early 1600s—are known as “southern barbarian” (nanban) screens. The term southern barbarian was used by the Japanese to refer to all Western visitors to Japan at that time, because they first came to Japan by way of Southeast Asian trading bases, some as far away as Malacca (in what is now Malaysia).
panel-3
Panels 9–12
Screen paintings were Japan’s primary way of recording the visual details of festivals, pro- cessions, and the arrival of foreign envoys, as well as to celebrate their pageantry. It is not surprising therefore, that the folding screen was also the preferred format for depicting the presence in their country of the Portuguese. Although such screens as this may initially have been inspired by actual events, most nanban screens, including this pair from the Art Institute of Chicago, were made decades after Portuguese presence in Japan had ended, and thus are likely to have been conjured out of the imaginations of artists who had never seen foreigners.

FLOWERS AND PLANTS OF THE FOUR SEASONS, 1774.
By Kakutei Joko (Japanese, 1721–1785) Edo period (1615–1868). Pair of six-panel screens; ink on paper.

flowers-and-plants-of-the-four-seasons-1774
Photo, S.M.

CAT. 16. Instead of holding one continuous composition, these screens have individual paintings pasted onto each panel. Screens with individual compositions (oshie-bari; literally, “pasted paintings”) are useful for showing the nuances or varieties of a subject, in this case flowers and plants. The individual paintings depict (from right to left): pine, hydrangea, bamboo, grapes, Japanese sago palm, chrysanthemums, bamboo, willow, tree peony, bamboo, orchid, and plum. The selection of plants covers all four seasons, though they are not arranged chronologically. Instead, the paintings seem to be arranged in six sets of contrasting pairs. We can tell this from the location of the artist’s seals on the outer edges of each pair of panels. The emphasis on bamboo may have been a tribute to the artist’s spiritual and artistic mentor, Dapeng Zhengkun (1691–1774), who was known for his ink-bamboo works. The elderly Dapeng, formerly abbot of Manpukuji, an Obaku Zen temple in Uji, south of Kyoto, died four months after the work was completed.

From the Mountain Lake Screen Tachi series, 1990
By Okura Jiro (Japanese, b. 1942). Four-panel screens (a group of five); cashew oil, paint and gold leaf on black walnut.

from-the-mountain-lake-screen-tachi-series-1990
CAT. 32. These screens were produced in Virginia during Okura Jiro’s 1990 residence at the Mountain Lake Workshop, for which he titled them. Only five screens from the series are on display here. Okura created sixteen in all, each its own vertical monument recalling cityscape. When all sixteen are set up side by side, they create the effect of a wall about forty yards long.
The panels are made of black walnut distressed and painted with black and cinnabar red paint then loosely covered with gold foil adhered with rabbit-skin glue. Pieces of gold leaf sway with the slightest movement of air and glisten as they catch the light. It is the artist’s plan that, over time, bits of the gold leaf will fall from the screens and the wood will return to its natural state. His acceptance of the gradual transformation of his art over time relates to the theme of disintegration explored by many contemporary artists as well as to Buddhist concepts of the ever-changing condition of nature.

mountain-lake-screen-photo-sean-martinfield
Photo, S.M.

A video documenting the making of the Mountain Lake Screen Tachi series is on view here. It includes the Shinto ceremony conducted before the trees used in the work were cut down (with permission) in the Jefferson National Forest at Little Stone Mountain, Virginia, as well as the preparation of the planks and the efforts of students and other work- shop participants in gouging the boards with adzes and drilling holes into them. Okura has compared these repetitive, almost meditative activities to chanting a Buddhist scripture.

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Seán Martinfield
Sentinel Editor and Publisher
Seán Martinfield, who also serves as Fine Arts Critic, is a native San Franciscan. He is a Theatre Arts Graduate from San Francisco State University, a professional singer, and well-known private vocal coach to Bay Area actors and singers of all ages and persuasions. His clients have appeared in Broadway National Tours including Wicked, Aïda, Miss Saigon, Rent, Bye Bye Birdie, in theatres and cabarets throughout the Bay Area, and are regularly featured in major City events including Diva Fest, Gay Pride, and Halloween In The Castro. As an Internet consultant in vocal development and audition preparation he has published thousands of responses to those seeking his advice concerning singing techniques, professional and academic auditions, and careers in the Performing Arts. Mr. Martinfield’s Broadway clients have all profited from his vocal methodology, “The Belter’s Method”, which is being prepared for publication. If you want answers about your vocal technique, post him a question on AllExperts.com. If you would like to build up your vocal performance chops and participate in the Bay Area’s rich theatrical scene, e-mail him at: sean.martinfield@comcast.net.


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