SEASONS: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art
presented some of the finest examples of Japanese art created over 400 years. Drawn from public and private collections around Japan, the exhibition
revealed the profound Japanese love and appreciation of nature.
For centuries the Japanese people have always adapted their lives to the changing seasons, and their art reflects their sensitivity to seasonal nuances. With the coming of each new season, people change the display of paintings in their home and entertain guests with utensils appropriately designed or decorated. Movable screens, hanging scrolls, writing boxes, tea utensils, ceramics, kimonos and even saddles were often decorated with seasonal motifs, exquisite examples of which are included in this exhibition.
The carefully selected 94 works in the 2003 exhibition included paintings, lacquer, ceramics and textiles including pieces designated as Important Cultural Property or Important Art Objects. Many works in the exhibition are such major pieces of Japanese art they would have been extremely difficult to borrow without the mediation of the Japanese Government's Agency for Cultural Affairs (the Bunkach˘). The Art Gallery of New South Wales is honoured to have been selected to present the first Bunkach˘ exhibition in Australia.
Spring is the cherry blossom
Summer is the cuckoo
Autumn is the moon
And in winter the shimmering snow is fresh to the eye.
Eihei Dogen (1200-53)
Due to the fragility of the works of art, the objects were displayed in two consecutive exhibitions over a period of ten weeks. SEASONS
created two different thematic displays within the overall structure of the exhibition.
Each of the two displays consisted of three sections:
The four seasons
From spring to summer - August to September 2003
From autumn to winter - September to October 2003
Seasons and literature
The four seasons section comprised individual works or sets of works that depict the seasonal cycle and the activities specific to each season. The Japanese appreciate the gradual and inevitable transition from one season to the next to the extent of capturing this passage of the seasons in their art. The section also indicates how many seasonal motifs are infused with poetic associations.
From spring to summer focuses on major icons of these seasons, most notably the cherry blossom, which the Japanese love because enjoyment of its beauty is enhanced by its very brevity. No sooner has it budded and bloomed than it falls; no other flower so poignantly captures how fleeting beauty can be. The Japanese have elevated the appreciation of such transience to an aesthetic experience that pervades their daily lives. Other seasonal icons beautifully rendered in art include hydrangeas in the rainy season and summer festivals.
The second period of this section - From autumn to winter - features autumnal icons, the modest appearance of autumn grasses alluding to the melancholy mood of the season, insects whose varied sounds compensate for the lack of bright flowers in the garden, and the bright maple leaves that attract people outdoors for picnics.
The last section - Seasons and literature - demonstrates the rich legacy of associations rendered by Japanese classical literature's use of seasonal images and metaphors. For example, the motif of plank bridges zigzagging between irises immediately calls to mind a poignant chapter from the famous 10th century Tales of Ise in which the exiled hero is so transfixed by the beauty of irises that he composes a poem longing for the lover he left in the capital. Poetry is so entwined with seasonal references that some kimonos decorated with seasonal motifs also feature poems embroidered on them.
The appreciation of nature is not unique to the Japanese people, but the way they express this appreciation is. SEASONS: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art is an excellent opportunity to share the Japanese fascination with the most subtle signs of the changing seasons and to experience such everyday sights as the moon, cherry blossoms and maples from a new perspective.
SEASONS: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art was co-organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Japanese Government's Agency for Cultural Affairs (the Bunkacho), and the Japan Foundation, with support from the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and VisAsia.
Supporting Sponsor: Optimal Fund Management
On view: August to October 2003
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