The new, permanent Arts of Japan Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, will open to the public on Sunday, February 19. The Japan gallery will be the final installation in a suite of permanent Arts of Asia galleries surrounding Cullinan Hall in the Caroline Wiess Law Building, culminating an effort begun in 2007 to expand the presentation of Asian art at the museum.
The Arts of Japan Gallery will open with a special inaugural exhibition, Elegant Perfection: Masterpieces of Courtly and Religious Art from the Tokyo National Museum, showcasing important objects from the collection of the Tokyo National Museum, including National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties that will stay in Houston for only eight weeks. In April 2012, the MFAH permanent collection of Japanese art will be installed with 16th-and 17th-century ceramics, 12th-century bronze Buddhist ritual objects and a 1000 B.C. sculpture on two-year long-term loan from the Tokyo National Museum. This will be the first time for the Tokyo National Museum to approve long term loans to an American museum.
“We are extremely grateful to the Tokyo National Museum for loaning their National Treasures and other important cultural properties for the opening of the new Arts of Japan Gallery,” said Christine Starkman, MFAH Curator of Ancient to Contemporary Asian Art. “The display of these stunning and rare works immeasurably enriches our ability to showcase traditional Japanese work. Our commitment to exhibit contemporary objects will continue as well, with phase two of the installation and the eventual commission of a major work from a contemporary Japanese artist, showcasing Japanese art through time.”
Overseen by Starkman, the new Arts of Japan Gallery space will reflect a singularly Japanese aesthetic of beauty and quiet elegance. Custom-designed Toshiba LED lighting will illuminate artworks displayed in vitrine cases designed by Glasbau Hahn (of Germany).
The inaugural exhibition, Elegant Perfection: Masterpieces of Courtly and Religious Art from the Tokyo National Museum (through April 6, 2012), showcases more than 25 objects from the prestigious Tokyo National Museum’s permanent collection. This exhibition will cover essential themes and traditions in Japanese art and culture, illuminating the relationship between the rise of Buddhism in Japan and the development of a highly refined court culture. Among the works on loan are a number of rare pieces designated National Treasures, Important Cultural Properties and Important Art Objects, including a rare 11th-century edition of the Manyoshu (one of the oldest existing collections of Japanese poetry, first compiled in approximately 759 AD); a sumptuous indigo paper scroll documenting the Chinese priest Xuan-Zhuang’s travels to India, referred to as the Daito Saiiki Ki; calligraphy by the 16th–17th-century Emperor Goyozei; and such masterworks of Japanese Buddhist art as an 11th-century Heian period seated sculpture of Dainichi Nyorai and a 14th-century painting depicting the Buddha’s departure from this world.
Beginning in April, some of the objects on loan from the Tokyo National Museum, including Neolithic objects, bronze Buddhist ritual implements, lacquer musical instruments and a wide array of fine ceramics, will be shown for two years alongside works in the MFAH Japanese art permanent collection. The Arts of Japan presentation will be consistent with the Arts of Asia gallery displays at the MFAH, showcasing ancient art objects alongside contemporary art objects, such as Japanese photographer Ishimoto Yasuhiro’s celebrated photographs of the sacred Shinto shrine complex at Ise. The shrine is torn down and rebuilt every 20 years on an adjacent plot, thus purifying and renewing the space, while preserving the original design from the 3rd- and 4th-centuries. This process embodies the Shinto belief that what lives and dies is always renewed and reborn.
Continuing the emphasis on Japanese art through the summer, MFAH will debut Unrivaled Splendors: The Kimiko and John Powers Collection of Japanese Art June 17-September 23, 2012 in the 22,000-square-foot Upper Brown Pavilion of the Law Building. Kimiko and John Powers have been collecting Japanese art since the 1960s and have built a prestigious collection of over 300 objects spanning over 12 centuries. The collection is particularly strong in Buddhist art and calligraphy and 17th- and 18th-century scholarly painting. Among the 83 objects that will be shown at the MFAH are large-scale masterworks.
The MFAH members’ opening will include a ribbon-cutting and performance by Akiko Yano, a composer, vocalist and pianist. Yano established herself at an early age and released her solo debut album, Japanese Girl, in 1976. Touring internationally and playing such venues as the North Sea Jazz Festival, Yano released her 27th album in 2008. Akiko, which was produced by Grammy-Award winning producer T Bone Burnett, includes collaborations with guitarist Marc Ribot and percussionist Jay Bellerose. Yano has also composed musical scores for films including Studio Ghibli’s My Neighbors the Yamadas.
Education and Public Programs
A video station inside the gallery will make an 8-minute film, Seasonal Ceramics used in the Japanese Tea Ceremony, available to help visitors explore the symbolism and meaning of the ceramic vessels from the National Tokyo museum. Also offered will be Gallery Talks in March, every Thursday at noon and every Saturday at 2 p.m., for 45 minutes or 20 minutes, free with museum admission. And throughout the run of the exhibition will be tours for adults and students; MFAH Book Club guided visits; and access to the Kinder Foundation Education Center. Public programming highlights are below:
- Sunday, February 19, 2012 at 2 p.m.: Opening Day Lecture/Demonstration: Buddhist Art and Courtly Elegance, presented by Mr. Shimatani Hiroyuki, Vice Executive Director of the Tokyo National Museum. A demonstration and reception follow the talk, free with general museum admission.
- MFAH Book Club selection, An Artist of the Floating World by Kazuo Ishiguro, with guided visits available February 17–September 16, 2012. The MFAH Book Club links works of literature to art in the museum’s permanent collection and book clubs may reserve a Book Club Guided Visit through the museum’s website. Website visitors may also download accompanying discussion guides and use them to facilitate conversation in their book clubs.
- Thursday, March 14, 2012 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.: Spring Break Family Programs: Tea Bowl, Jar, and Dish: Exploring Japanese Art. Families may drop in at Creation Station to create an art-making project in the studio and/or spend time at Sketching in the Galleries, drawing works of art located in any of the Arts of Asia Galleries.
- Thursday, April 26, 2012: Homeschool Family Day: Arts of Asia. Families may visit Gallery Cart to learn more about the ideas and techniques of artists; participate in sketching in the galleries; and create their own works of art in the studio. A Book and a Look, a storybook checkout program, is also available. No pre-registration is required. Program activities are free and admission to the museum is free on Thursdays, courtesy of the Shell Oil Company Foundation.
- Tuesday, May 8, 2012: Homeschool Workshop: Arts of Japan. Designed for families who homeschool children ages 4 to 12, the program features an interactive gallery tour followed by a group discussion in the galleries, as well as an art-making activity. All participants receive materials that may be used to extend the lesson at home and pre-registration is required.
- Sundays, March 4 and 6, June 3, July 1, August 5, and September 2, 2012: Art Improv. Families choose a work of art anywhere in the museum, including the Arts of Japan Gallery, and make friends with it—sketching it, writing about it and talking about it together. Then, they can go to the studio and create a work of art inspired by their new “friend.” Sketching in the Galleries and A Book and a Look, a storybook checkout program, are also available on Art Improv Sundays.
Offered at a later date will be Art for the Mind and Spirit, a Community Outreach Medical Program; Picture Books: Summer Art Camp with Harris County Library and the MFAH; the MFAH Art Detectives Summer Program; Sunday Family Zone & Studio; MFAH Family Day; and Art + Studio. Check www.mfah.org for details to be posted.
Arts of Asia at the MFAH
The Arts of Japan gallery concludes a suite of five permanent Arts of Asia Galleries at the MFAH. Also open to the public and on permanent display are the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Arts of China Gallery; the Nidhika and Pershant Mehta Arts of India Gallery; the Indonesian Gold Gallery; and the Arts of Korea Gallery. The five galleries surround Cullinan Hall on the first floor of the Caroline Wiess Law Building, 1001 Bissonnet Street, totaling about 12,000 square feet.
The Arts of Japan Gallery is made possible with generous support from Japan Business Association of Houston 2011* in memory of Mr. Seigo Arai; Nanako and Dale Tingleaf; Mitsui & Company (U.S.A.), Inc.; Penny and Paul Loyd; Mitsubishi Corporation; Miwa S. Sakashita and John R. Stroehlein; Sumitomo Corporation of America; GE Energy; Donna Fujimoto Cole; Kathy and Glen Gondo; Drs. Ellin and Robert Grossman; Gulf States Toyota, Inc.; Mitsubishi International Corporation- Houston Branch; Akemi and Yasuhiko Saitoh; Satake USA Inc.; Taeko and Nobuya Tomita; Toshiba International Corporation; and Nozomi and Ryuji Watanabe.
*Japan Business Association of Houston 2011 gift made possible in part by JX Group; Kaneka Texas Corporation; Kuraray America, Inc.; Mitsubishi Caterpillar Forklift America, Inc.; NOLTEX LLC; and Toshiba International Corporation.
About the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Founded in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the ten largest art museums in the United States. Located in the heart of Houston’s Museum District, the MFAH comprises two gallery buildings, a sculpture garden, library, theater, two art schools, and two house museums.The encyclopedic collection of the MFAH has some 63,000 works and embraces the art of antiquity to the present.