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Byobu: The Grandeur of Japanese Screens
Friday, February 7, 2014–Sunday, July 6, 2014
Tales and Poems in Byobu: The Grandeur of Japanese Screens
February 7–March 23, 2014
Brush and Ink in Byobu: The Grandeur of Japanese Screens
March 25–May 11, 2014
Nature and Celebration in Byobu: The Grandeur of Japanese Screens
May 13–July 6, 2014
Japanese folding screens, or byobu, were originally constructed to demarcate spatial divisions within a room. Often monumental in scale and sumptuously decorated, byobu have been created by some of Japan’s greatest artists. This exhibition features screens from the mid-16th to early 21st century, representing diverse themes painted by most of the dominant schools of the period, particularly from the 17th and 18th centuries. Byobu: The Grandeur of Japanese Screens includes the Gallery’s finest screens as well as works on loan from private collections, offering a truly comprehensive display of this opulent Japanese aesthetic. The exhibition is presented in three successive installations, each focusing on a different aspect of the Japanese screen tradition.
With opulent colors and glittering gold, the first installation, Tales and Poems in Byobu, presents the subjects of indigenous Japanese waka poems and of fictional and historical tales. Nearly all made during the seventeenth century, at the height of byobu production, the byobu on display embody the two central tenets of Japanese aesthetics, visually contrasting the sumptuous with the subdued.
The second installation, Brush and Ink in Byobu, features the dynamic power of ink when applied by the skilled brush of artists trained in calligraphy. From the early seventeenth to the nineteenth century, artists demonstrated their inexhaustible skills and virtuosity. Subject matter varies widely—from preening chickens and frolicking horses to mythical dragons to contemplative bamboo groves bathed in moonlight.
The third and final installation, Nature and Celebration in Byobu, celebrates both the beauty of nature and the festivities of the Japanese people. The commissions for byobu of this group came from high-ranking samurai lords and nouveau riche merchants, from literati intellectuals and communities of shrine and temple supporters. The most recent work on view, a semi-abstract folding screen from 2004, was made for the tea ceremony, as byobu have been for hundreds of years, demonstrating that the traditional art and cultural of Japan have continued unbroken and thrive in new and exciting ways.
Exhibition organized by Sadako Ohki, the Japan Foundation Associate Curator of Japanese Art. Made possible by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation, and the Council on East Asian Studies, and an endowment created with a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Arts.