Posts Tagged ‘exhibition review’

Exhibition: Art of the Samurai

October 20, 2009

Art of the Samurai:  Japanese Art and Armor, 1156-1868, opening at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Wednesday has been described as the most significant exhibition of Samurai objects in the world. It includes Samurai swords, armor, elaborate saddles, textiles and a range of other related items drawn from both museum and private collections across Japan.  The opening of this exhibition represents the culmination of 10 years of work by the exhibition’s primary curator.

Art of the Samurai can be viewed in two ways.  First, in the context of a historic cultural tradition of Japan, to reveal the meaning of Samurai, and to appreciate the aesthetic qualities of the objects.  On the other hand, as a whole, the exhibition might also be viewed in terms of the influence that the stories and objects of the Samurai have had upon American culture, to consider whether these ideas are consistent with the original perspective, and to consider what this adoption may signify to Americans.

That said, for many visitors, the focus will likely be upon the armor, and especially, the variety of headpieces.  Upon viewing some of the elaborate kabuto, or helmets, in the exhibition, it is not difficult to see how these objects have influenced American media and pop culture, from the well-known inspiration for the Darth Vader character, to the recent proliferation of Samurai theme cartoon programs.  (Not to mention the media imported from Japan itself). The most elaborate of the kabuto are fascinating for their meticulous crafting, and aesthetic expression, as well as their underlying concept.  In form they range from the huge crescent shaped horns of a black lacquer “vader” style helmet, to those adorned with enormous metal insects.  Considering a clamshell-eared helmet one viewer surmised that it was “the original batman.”  Maybe.  In any case, for many American viewers, the kabuto are likely to be the stars of the show.

Not to be overlooked, however, are the blades.  Most are displayed as a pure aesthetic form, floating on plexi-glass supports and unattached to any mountings.  To the untutored, as a group they seem at first to be somewhat indistinguishable, austere objects.  However, their distinct characteristics and the fine aspects of the sword maker’s art can be appreciated with a little effort. By following the storyline of the exhibition layout, an evolution of form is revealed–details such as the variations of a curve and subtle wave patterns on the edge of a blade become points of interest.  Each blade reveals a distinct personality.

Aside from the kabuto and blades, the central galleries contain several full suits of Samurai armor.  The detailed construction of the pieces are quite interesting, and I encourage visitors to look at the back as well as the front.  There on the reverse side one can examine the elaborate knots and fastenings that held the armor onto the body, as well as the delicate metal hardware elements.

Most of the objects in the exhibition are denoted as significant cultural properties or national treasures and have never been seen together as a group, even in Japan.  As such, the opportunity to see this art of the Samurai should not be missed.  Also, note that some of the more fragile pieces will be rotated out and replaced with alternate objects in early December.

Art of the Samurai:  Japanese Art and Armor, 1156-1868

October 21 – January 10, 2010

Metropolitan Museum of Art

Update:  Since the exhibition rotation occurred, it appears that none of the objects pictured above remain at the Met.  Quite a few others have also been replaced with alternatives, including the crescent-horned kabuto mentioned above.

Korean Art at the Met

March 17, 2009

mdog49015 Art of the Korean Renaissance, 1400-1600 opens today, March 17th, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.  The intimately organized exhibition includes examples of Buddhist and Confucian artworks as well as diverse examples of classic Korean pottery.

A major highlight of the exhibition is “Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers,” a 16th century ink on silk in eight separate panels.  The pieces are rarely shown together; in Korea the work is often displayed only two panels at a time because of conservation concerns. The Met’s exhibition is one of the rare opportunities to view the pieces together as a whole.  Each panel depicts scenes along the rivers in different seasons and conditions.  The landscape is dramatic and highly stylized, even romanticized, but in contrast the human figures are more like suggestions of people rather than full representations. They, and strategically placed boats as well, seem to serve as aesthetic punctuation marks for the larger images.


While the individual landscapes are all highly idealized and stylized, the last panel “River and Sky in Evening Snow” (on the far left side of the installation; detail, right) reaches towards a higher level of abstraction.  Much of the romanticism of the other panels is put aside, and here, the strokes that create the trees and rocks take on more physicality and intensity.  The human figures, apparently clothed in traditional straw raincoats, are merely a few transparent brushstrokes.

mfunyamaAnother intriguing landscape is the 1592 ink on silk by Yi Seongil, “The Nine-Bend Stream of Mount Wuyi.”  Planted amongst the fungi-like mountains of this painting, are precise representations of various structures.  (detail, left)  A 16th century portrait of a palace dog and her pups by Yi Am  (detail, top) is also appealing, and a variety of  pottery on display includes “National Treasure no. 175,” which is a surprisingly demure pale bowl made with a rare inlaid porcelain technique.

Art of the Korean Renaissance runs through June 21st.  More information about the exhibition and related programming is available on the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s website.

Related information & resources:

Jinju National Museum of Korea

National Museum of Korea, Seoul,

Zipul Museum, The Straw and Plant Handicraft Museum of Korea

Kyushu National Museum of Japan, Fukuoka