|Honda Shorya, Dance, 2000.|
Just before Thanksgiving, DH and I went to the Metropolitan Museum to see Japanese Bamboo Art - The Abbey Collection, on view from June 13, 2017 - February 4, 2018. In her review in The New York Times, Roberta Smith sums up bamboo artistry:
Basketry’s processes do not extensively transform bamboo, as is the case with so much else — ceramics or lacquer, say, or for that matter oil painting. The central technique is weaving. There will usually be some cutting or slicing, often into exquisitely thin strands, and maybe some soaking beforehand; along the way rattan might be used for reinforcement and, toward the finish, lacquer may be applied. But that’s about it. We stay remarkably close to the original natural material, which submits to spectacular skill and structural concepts without losing its identity.Two of the objects near the entrance are filled with flower arrangements (a bamboo cylinder inside the basket holds water) demonstating the function of the objects. The transitory nature of the flowers contrasts with the resilience and persistence of the bamboo art tradition.
|Hayakawa Shokosai, Flower Basket, 1965.|
|Iizuka Shokansai, Dragon in the Clouds, 1990.|
Functional bamboo items have been made in Japan for thousands of years, and bamboo features in one of the earliest recorded Japanese folktales, the 10th-century Tale of the Bamboo Cutter. Bamboo is one of the traditional "Three Friends of Winter", along with pine and plum. Evergreen pine and bamboo brave the cold and snow of winter, and the plum is the earliest flowering tree of spring. A symbol of steadfastness and loyalty, bamboo has been depicted in paintings, ceramics, metalwork, lacquerwork and textiles.
One of the entrances to the show has an installation that is a bit tree-like in its form, an installation by Tanabe Chikuunsai IV, called The Gate. The Metropolitan's exhibit webpage (link provided above) has a time-lapse video of this installation.
|Tanabe Chikuunsai IV, The Gate, 2017.|
What sets this exhibit apart is the partnering, by curator Monika Bincsik, of objects in other media which feature the bamboo motif, alongside the bamboo vessels and sculptures. For example, in the image below, a screen by a Chinese artist provides a backdrop for the bamboo objects. Chinese art has historically had a big influence on traditional Japanese art.
|Screen: Zheng Xie (Chinese), Misty Bamboo on a Distant Mountain, 1753.|
|Tanabe Chikuunsai II, L: Gourd-Shaped Basket. R: Prosperous Peony Basket; both mid 20th c.|
|Tanabe Chikuunsai III, Delight in the Future, 2008.|
|Screen: Maio Motoko, Life's Symphony, 2011. Basket: Yamaguchi Ryuun, Flow, 2002.|
|L: Kibe Seiho, Echo of Water, 2009. R: Moriguchi, Kimono with Flowing Water Design, 1992.|
While some objects don't reference bamboo directly, they do share an aesthetic sensibility with the material. The basket on the left, above, is made in the thousand-line technique, utilizing many thin strips of split bamboo; the kimono at right, patterned using a paste-resist technique, also evokes streams and rivulets of flowing liquid. Images of bamboo itself were popular with textile designers, as seen in the wood cut print below, in the kimono on the left.
|Utagawa Toyokumi, Courtesan & Attendants Making a Giant Snowball, c. 1796.|
|L: Chinese-style Flower Basket, maker unknown, mid 19th c. R: Eiraku Hozen, Vase in Kochi Style, 1st half 19th c.|
The bamboo basket above was donated by Edward Moore, former design director of Tiffany's, who collected Japanese art and gave many objects to the Museum in 1891. The core of the exhibition is the seventy-one works collected by New York-based Diane and Arthur Abbey, who have promised to donate these wonderful objects to The Met.
|Top: Water Jar with the Seven Scholars of the Bamboo Grove, late 18th c. Bottom: Dish with Cherry Blossoms in Bamboo Baskets, c. 1690-1720.|
There is a long history of ceramics with decorative bamboo motifs, and the tea ceremony uses both ceramic and bamboo utensils.
|Top: Li Kan (Chinese) Bamboo and Rocks painting, 1318. Bottom: Maeda Chikubosai I, Tray Basket in the Shape of a Large Leaf, 1935.|
In the second half of the 19th century tea ceremonies were very popular, and wealthy urbanites held large gatherings, often for many guests, requiring multiple floral arrangements in beautiful bamboo baskets. Two dynasties of bamboo artisans, the Hayakawa and Wada families, became especially prominent; their descendants are creating works today.
Traditionally, skills and techniques are handed down from father to son, and mastery requires a long apprenticeship. This, and the fact that bamboo artisans are expected to cut their own timber, is given as the reason few women are represented in this exhibition. Perhaps this will change in the future, and the work will become modern in every sense.
|Honma Hideaki, Flowing Water, 2014.|
There wasn't an exhibition catalog, but the Spring 2017 issue of the Met's quarterly Bulletin, authored by curator Monika Bincsik, provides much more information in a scholarly and engaging text, and can be purchased from the Museum's store.