Saturday, May 27, 2006

A.I.C. : Hands of the Heian and Kamakura

It looks like the 12th Century was something of a watershed in Japanese history -- and this large-scale event was marked by new styles of painting - sculpture - and prose -- that are memorable, dramatic, and often-called realistic.

Can we tell that difference from looking at the hands of a few near-life-size statues in the collection of the A.I.C. ?

Here's the Heian:

Heian: 10th-12th C. -- Yakushi Nyorai (deity of healing)

Yakushi Nyorai

Heian: 11th C. -- Bishamon -- deity who guards temples directions)


-------- and here's some Kamakura:

Kamakura:1185-1333 -- Shukongo Jin (deity who protects the law)

Kamakura:1185-1333 -- Shukongo Jin

Kamakura:1185-1333 -- Shukongo Jin

Kamakura: 1185-1333 -- Nyorin Kannon (deity of compassion, wish granting)

Kamakura: 1185-1333 Fudo Miyo-o

Fudo Miyo-o

Kamakura: 1185-1333 Jizo Bosatsu (deity of compassion)

Jizo Bosatsu

I'm not sure what conclusions to draw.

The Kamakura deities of protection seem much more fierce -- with energy being expressed rather than potential -- and that Heian deity of compassion seems
oh-so-delicate. Overall -- maybe the Heian feels more other-worldly or heavenly -- while the Kamakura is more earth-bound.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

A History of Japanese Sculpture

(Sogyo Hachiman (Shinto deity) in disguise as a Monk - 10th century)

The following essay was found on an antiques site -- and I've copied it to this blog because it seems to be very informative -- and nothing stays on the internet forever.

It's orgin - and the the author's name -- were not given -- nor, regrettfully, are all the photographs to which so many references are made. I'm sure that brief histories of Japanese sculpture are available from many printed sources -- but this one seems to be especially valuable since the author makes no effort to hide his taste -- so I'm thinking that his passion has been aesthetic as well as historical.

You will notice that Asakura Fumio is mentioned as a current instructor in the Imperial Academy of Fine Art -- and one of the other instructors died in 1942-- so it cannot have been written any later.

Haniwa horse, 250-600 AD

Before the introduction of Buddhism, in the middle of the 6th century, Japanese sculpture seems to have been quite simple and archaic in its material and technique. There remain only statuary objects stuck on burial-mounds built in the proto-historic period. They are crude terra-cotta figures, which is one of the examples preserved in the Tokyo Imperial Household Museum.

Bodhisattva in Hanka pose, Koryuji Monastery, 7th C.

It seems that highly-developed Buddhist figures in bronze and wood were produced quite suddenly in the first half of the 7th century. Some representative examples of these early Buddhist figures still remain in the Horyü-ji monastery in Yamato. They were mostly produced in the reign of the Empress Suiko, because of which they are known by the name "Suiko sculpture." In the Suiko sculpture there are two styles ; one is the Tori style, and the other the Korean style. In the Golden Hall of the Horyu-ji monastery is enshrined the triad image of Shaka-muni Buddha which is made by the sculptor Tori (Fig. 28).

This is the most representative example of the Tori style sculpture. This triune figure is of cast bronze still bright with gold. It expresses archaic dignity, but its pose and lines are too stiff and over conventionalized. Technically, this figure shows the direct indebtedness to the Chinese North Wei stone sculpture. The best example of the Korean style of the Suiko sculpture will be seen in the wooden figure of Kwannon, also in the Golden Hall of the Horyu-ji.

It is extremely slender and tall, almost transcendental in form and height. When compared with the former example, this expresses much more delicacy and the curved rhythmic beauty of lines. The wooden figures of the Suiko sculpture were carved out of a single block of wood, and always decorated with colors or brightened with gold-foil.

In the second half of the 7th century there developed a new style of sculpture due to the influence of the Gupta style of Indian sculpture which was introduced into Japan through China. The style and form of this new school is very different from that of the Suiko sculpture, and it is known by the name " Hakuho sculpture." It has curves much fuller and more rounded, illustrating more human life. The bronze statue of Sho-kwannon (Fig. 30) in the Yakushi-ji monastery is an important example of this new style, produced in japan. Its posture is stern and majestic, and the form of body is realistic. The thin transparent drapery is so filmy that one may feel the pulsating warmth of the body. Such gracefulness is the most conspicuous feature of the Hakuho sculpture of the Hakuho era (645-709).

In the history of Japanese sculpture there were two golden ages. The first in the 8th century, which is known by the name " Tempyo sculpture," and the second is the " Kamakura sculpture " in the 13th century. In the first golden age a striking development was made with new media of clay and dry-lacquer under the influence of the T'ang sculpture of China. In these media almost perfect beauty of human form was visualized with spiritual dignity. There still remain a number of such masterpieces in some monasteries in Nara and its vicinity.

In the Hokke-do (Sangwatsu-do) chapel of Todai-ji are two figures representing Nikko and Gwakko, which stand on either side of the main figure of the chapel. Both are representative masterpieces made of clay in the 8th century. Their planes, lines and volumes are beautifully formed by fine clay merely hardened with drying, assuming a beautiful silvery gray color. The well-rounded and quiet classical repose ex-presses inner spirituality. The refined dignity of the divine face, which is miraculously combined with human beauty, is not surpassed by any other statue in the world (Fig. 31). Indeed, in this piece the plastic genius of Nara sculptors is most skilfully carried out. A number of examples of other masterpieces in clay will be found in the Nara Imperial Household Museum, the Kaidan-in chapel at Nara and in the Horyuji monastery near Nara.

In the sculpture of dry-lacquer statue, different methods were used. However, the most practical of all the methods was the so-called " hollow statue" process, in which a model of clay was made and covered with lacquered cloth. When both the clay and lacquer had hardened, the inside of the figure was dug out, leaving a hard shell, which would neither warp nor split. On the surface thus obtained were elaborated all the details of the statue by lacquer mixed with makko or powdered incense wood. Excellent examples in dry-lacquer may be seen in the Nara Imperial Household Museum. Among them are four of the ten great disciples of the Buddha Shaka-muni which are owned by the Kofuku-ji monastery. They are successful in representing individual personality, as will be seen in the one reproduced in Fig. 32.

In the Hokke-do chapel at Nara, and the Toshodai-ji and the Shorin-ji monasteries near Nara, will also be found some masterpieces of dry-lacquer work.

In the 9th century a notable development was made in wooden sculpture, and the clay and dry-lacquer, which were very popular with the Tempyo sculptors, declined and finally died out. Those wooden statues produced in the 9th century are lofty, sublime and inspiring ; and in their technical finish there are two kinds. One is embellished with colors on gesso ground or laid over with gold leaf on lacquered ground. The wooden figure representing Nyoirin-Kwannon, which is enshrined in the Kwanshin-ji monastery in Kawachi, is an excellent example which was once adorned with colors, although they are now almost gone (Fig. 33). The work is marvelously successful in rendering his mystic power. It has grace of form and expression, and though it has six arms it does not give any impression of being grotesque.

Another kind is finished entirely in wood, and makes use of the color of wood to obtain a beautiful finish. The statue produced by this method is called dan-zo. One of the excellent examples of this technique is the Eleven-headed Kwannon enshrined in the Hokke-ji nunnery near Nara (Fig. 34). The figure is carved out of sandal-wood. The form of the body is excellent, and harmoniously blends with the noble beauty of the main face, while the carving of its folds of drapery is sharp and deep, admirably expressing the spirit of the age.

In the following three centuries, viz. 10th, 11th and 12th, the sculpture was somewhat eclipsed by the prosperity of painting. However, in its technique a new method developed in wooden sculpture which was usually carved out of one block of wood. The new method was a joinery structure. The head was carved separately and inserted in to a part of the neck ; the body was composed of three parts, and the hands and arms also were carved separately and then dove-tailed into the body.

Those statues produced in these three centuries are called " Fujiwara sculpture after the age known as the Fujiwara Period (or later Heian Period). The characteristic features of the Fujiwara sculpture are the round face, the delicacy of form and the picturesque ornamentation.

It was also noticeable that professional sculptors appeared for the first time in the 11th century. Among the fore-most was Jocho, who established a carving studio in Kyoto and there taught his pupils. AIthough they imitated his style, they could not surpass their master. The large image of Amida enshrined at the Ho-o-do, or Phoenix Hall of the Byodo-in at Uji, near Kyoto, is said to be a representative work carved by Jocho (Fig. 35).

It is made of wood and entirely overlaid with gold-foil. Buddha sits cross-legged on a lotus pedestal with his hands on his knees.

The most representative example of the picturesque statues produced in the 11th century, is the figure of Kichijo-ten, the deity who is the incarnation of beauty, from the Joruriji monastery, now preserved in the Tokyo Imperial House-hold Museum.

She holds on the palm of her hand a gem, which has a magic power to give fortune to her devotees. The chiseling is magnificent, and the costume is beautifully decorated in colors with typical designs of the age.

The advent of the second golden age of sculpture in the Kamakura Period seems due to the following four causes :-

1. The martial spirit of the age created by the new military administration and the attitude of sculptors responding to this spirit, was one of the four causes which brought about this golden age of sculpture.

2. The great demand for Buddhist figures owing to the reconstruction of the great monasteries at Nara and the erection of new Buddhist temples in Kyoto and Kamakura.

3. The unique opportunity the sculptors had in seeing a great number of masterpieces remaining in Nara from the Nara Period, the first golden age of sculpture.

4. The influence of Chinese statues and paintings of the Sung Dynasty which were characterized by realistic features.

There appeared two great master sculptors representing the Kamakura Period, Japan's second age of sculpture. They were Unkei and Kwaikei. Unkei, the son of Kökei, succeeded in expressing the new spirit of the age. He had great skill to interpret activity and courage. Even when his subject was placid, he tried to catch the intrinsic movement with a vital touch of his chisel. The two Nio or Deva Kings standing at the gate of the Todai-ji monastery in Nara show Unkei's genius at his best. They are the largest statues of Nio in Japan, having a height of 26.9 ft.

Their majestic features are well proportioned to their Herculean physique. They are indeed physically perfect and unequalled in the expression of terrifying fierceness. Although these two statues are attributed to Unkei and Kwaikei, they most typically represent the type and technique of Unkei. He was skilled also in portrait sculpture. The figure of Seshin, now placed on view in the Nara Imperial Household Museum, is a masterpiece by which his genius is shown in portrait sculpture (Fig. 38).

In this figure the individual character of the priest is wonder-fully visualized by his genius. The bold, forceful, and rhythmic folds of drapery chiselled out of a simple block of wood reveal a personality, grand not only in physique, but in spirit. Kwaikei, the great contemporary of Unkei, showed the new spirit by his embellishing of old forms. He was most skillful in representing peaceful subjects, such as Buddhas or Bodhisattvas, while Unkei showed his genius in rendering chivalrous subjects, as has been already explained.. The greatest of his works is the figure of Hachiman-Bodhisattva of the Todai-ji monastery in Nara (Fig. 39).

Its form and expression are full of reality, and there is nothing superhuman about it. It looks like an ordinary man with a calm and noble posture. But Kwaikei had almost no pupil who mastered his technique and style for the future, and Unkei had four sons, who all mastered their father's style and technique, and played an important role in the development of the Kamakura sculpture. The figure of Kongo-rikishi is an excellent example of the work attributed to Jokei, one of Unkei's sons. In this figure, we see the very spirit of the Kamakura sculpture, highly expressed by the active movement of its limbs and the sweep of the drapery which give a perfect rhythmic unity. This may now be seen in the Nara Imperial Household Museum.

Buddhist sculpture in Japan reached its highest development in the Kamakura Period. From then it continually de-clined, and never revived its supremacy.

Temple Guardian (Art Institute of Chicago)

However, masterpieces of portrait figures of high priests were produced in the Muromachi Period (1334—1573) which followed. This was because of the popularity of Zen Buddhism. It is also noticed that the carving of Noh masks made a new development owing to the popularity of the Noh drama among the feudal barons and aristocratic class.

In the Momoyama Period a unique development was made in architectural sculpture, which will be described elsewhere.

Coming down to the Edo Period, sculpture declined even more, except for small things such as masks, netsuke and so forth.

At the close of the 19th century Japanese sculpture began to make a new start under the influence of the West. At this time plaster-modelling and casting by Western methods were introduced.

The department of sculpture in the Imperial Academy of Fine Art is now composed of the following eminent sculptors :

Tatehata Taimu, Naito Shin, Yamasaki Choun, Asakura Fumio, Saito Sogan, Kitamura Seibo, Hirakushi Denchu, Sato Chozan, Fujii Koyu.

Asakura Fumio

Late last year, my world-hopping cousin, Doug Miller, visited Tokyo and emailed me about the "father of modern Japanese sculpture" -- a.k.a. -- "The Rodin of the Orient" -- a.k.a. Asakura Fumio (1883-1964 -- and finally -- I've gotten around to looking him up.

The problem is though --- his Tokyo home/garden/studio is more famous than his sculpture. I guess it's a beautiful place -- and on the list of small museums to visit when traveling --- but even though it seems that Fumio made A LOT of sculpure -- very little is on the internet -- there's nothing in the A.I.C. library -- and no books have been found.

Here's the master at work -- and I suppose that this whole set-up (nude models, armatures, standing clay figures) was a bizarre event in the Japanese culture at the time. (maybe it still is)

I'm also guessing that he made many life-size nudes -- but the only one I found was this figure from a Tokyo train station on a travelers blogsite. Why are there none from local museums or pages of local attractions ?

He was also famous for depicting the life of cats -- and this was one I liked.

This is another tourist picture -- this time from his home/museum. The museum has a website -- with pictures of the contemporary sculpture on display -- but nothing by the old master himself. (I find this very curious)

This is a monument to Admiral Makoto Saito (who was assasinated by right-wing militants in the years leading up to WWII). A very majestic piece.

And, although I hate it, this may be his most famous work -- installed in front of his home/studio. What happened ? Rodin's "Gates of Hell" seem to have inspired several multi-figure compositions around the world (including Chicago) -- and all the ones I've seen (including Rodin's) have been disasters.

I assume that Fumio had many students over his long life -- and so far, the best one I've found has been his daughter, Kyoko, who, if still living, would be in her eighties by now.

The two pieces above are by Asakura Kyoko.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Attack on the Sanjo Palace

I've only been to Boston a few, brief visits -- but a highlight from each visit had to be this scroll at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts.

I've never seen anything like it -- before or since -- it's like an epic action movie -- shot by John Ford -- where every scene is shot perfect -- telling the story -- beginning to end -- accross a scroll that's 20 feet long.

You can see that the action is violent -- the confusion is everywhere -- but it's an organized chaos -- and that's why it's so memorable.

I've just begun the Heike Monogatari -- an epic novel that covers the same 12th C. events -- and was written in the same period as the scroll was made (13th C.)

I'm completely a novice at Japanese history -- so I can't yet put this event into a wider context -- but it's so thrilling to have the story and its illlustration side-by-side.

BTW -- the scroll got to Boston through the grace of Ernest Fenollosa (1853 - 1908)-- an American scholar who taught philosophy at Tokyo University and is famous for his collaboration with Ezra Pound for introducing Asian literature and philosophy to American scholars. Apparently he bought it from the Honda family. (any relation to the fictional protagonist of Mishima's tetralogy ?)


News Flash! (May, 2010)

A much better version on the internet
can now be found here

A.I.C. : Lee Mikyung

Once every year, I send a memorial to the emperor (i.e. the new director of the Art Institute) -- giving him valuable advice concerning the administration of his empire.

I realize that -- given my bad attitude -- were this a real emperor/empire -- I would have been beheaded several years ago -- but Mr. Cuno tolerates my opinions -- and is actually kind enough to write me in reply.

The problem is --- whatever I raise an issue -- he addresses it -- but not as I would have wished.

For example -- on one of my walks through the galleries, I discovered the following piece:

Ode to Balsam Flowers (detail)

The above is a small section of a 4-screen , 6-foot high, display of calligrapy --
by the Korean artist Lee Mikyung. According to the label, the script is an anachronistic, Korean style preserved by aristocratic women ( while their husbands preferred to write in Chinese characters).

Lee Mikyung was born 1918 -- and this piece was done in 1991 -- so chronologically, she would be considered a contemporary artist. (everything done after 1950 is now considered "contemporary")

I'm glad the piece is being shown --- it's a bit regimented/formal -- i.e. the characters don't seem to play with each other very much --- but each one is wonderful to study -- and god knows there are enough of them.

When I wrote to Mr. Cuno, I asked why this traditional Korean contemporary calligraher was on display --- but not-one-single traditional Euro-American -style painter was on the walls. (and god knows there are enough of those -- painters of portraits/landscape/still-life etc) Why should traditional Korean culture be honored -- but not our own ?

Last week I discovered that this problem had been solved: the Lee Mikyung had been sent to the basement -- and a different ( and much older ) Korean painting was now on display.

I suppose this is just a coincidence --- but in the same memorial, I asked why members should wish to renew their membership to the museum -- since the admitance fee is "pay what you wish" -- and the only real benefit was free admission to the high-priced special exhibits (which new museum policy has discontinued)

And now -- I have just learned that "pay what you wish" will soon be replaced by "pay $12" (or some such amount)

So once again -- my concerns were addressed -- but not in the way I would have wished !

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Dream of George Grey Barnard

George Grey Barnard (1863-1938) was a small-town Iowa boy who shot to the top of the art world about 100 years ago --- beginning as an enthusiastic taxidermist (taxidermy is sculpture, you know) -- spending a brief time at the Art Institute of Chicago -- and spending 20 years -- on and off -- in Paris.

For those who visit the Met in NYC -- there's an incredible two-figure, over-life-size marble in the room of American sculpture. It's a concept piece called "The two natures of Man" -- and he carved it in his late twenties. (it doesn't quite hit the mark for me -- but still--- I've got to admire his prodigious talent and ambition)

I was introduced to him in Lytle Park in Cincinnati (that's my beloved Taft Museum in the background). My father admired this figure -- so I paid hommage to it every time I went to the Taft (great collection of Barbizon painters and English portraits and landscapes, BTW ). From behind --- the figure of Lincoln might be seen as a very large, frumpy man (he's eight-feet tall) urinating in the park -- so my father always referred to it as the "pissing Lincoln"

Here's a story about that statue that I've lifted from somewhere on the net:

"The statue was completed in 1916 and, after being exhibited in New York, was sent to Cincinnati where it was unveiled by William Howard Taft in March, 1917. Later, in response to a desire to commemorate the century-long peace between the United States and Britain following the Treaty of Ghent, Charles Taft agreed to pay for a replica of Barnard's Lincoln to stand outside the Houses of Parliament in London.
However, Barnard's depiction of Lincoln - "the lugubrious expression, the stooped shoulders, the shabby clothes, the gigantic hands and feet" - was condemned as "grotesque and defamatory." Robert Lincoln, the President's son, joined a large group of objectors that deemed the statue unfit for display in London. Instead, it was presented to the city of Manchester where one newspaper proclaimed, "whilst London was to receive Lincoln the president, Manchester had got Lincoln the man; a statue of power and dignity, whose face had that 'something fitted to touch the spirit of the children of future generations like the great Stone face of another American imagining.'" Another paper contrasted Barnard's representation of Lincoln with those "fantastical sculptures which give us heroes in foolish postures, as they never were and never could be.""

Neat -- huh ?

This figure of Lincoln is heroic -- but it's a special, American kind heroism -- fit for the back-woodsy hills of Kentucky that are right accross the river from this small Cincinnati park. The "man of the people" -- who stands for freedom -- for everyone -- high and low, rich and poor, bigshots and nobodies, Euros and Afros, whites and blacks. Nothing special about him - nothing special about his family -- it's all about a shared ideal of a nation for everyone.

And here's a shot of the artist himself -- standing beside an enormous version of Lincoln's head.

And something else that everyone who visits NYC should know: the Met's stand-alone museum of Medieval art in Fort Tryon Park (way up near the tip of the island) -- called the "Cloisters Museum" began as a collection of Medieval architectural fragments assembled by George Grey Barnard. He was a medievalist ! -- and, of course he was --- because he wanted to see sculpture that might be called expressive rather than classical. He was both a great collector -- and a great sculptor -- and I take my hat off for him -- twice.

Have you ever been up to Washington Heights? and walked around those majestic gardens and magnificent views of the Hudson River valley -- on a hot, sunny, summer's day ? And then ... walked over to the cool, dark interiors of the Cloisters Museum -- with all it's sacred sculpture -- the fabulous Unicorn tapestries -- and the medieval courtyards -- so close to one of the world's busiest cities -- but so quiet -- that the only sound is the buzzing bees in the herbal gardens ? If so -- you too can pay hommage to the sculptor who got this place started -- and not just to the Rockefeller who ended up buying it and giving it to the Met.

But Medieval sculpture wasn't all Barnard was assembling on these heights above Manhattan -- he also had a dream to construct an "Art Acropolis" -- a peace memorial, in the wake of WWI -- that would honor the dead and celebrate life with a garden of monumental sculpture (not just his own) -- a site that would draw other talents equal to his own -- like the great cathedrals of the Middle Ages that drew generation after generation of great sculptors and artisans.

(above is a mock-up of the "Rainbow Arch" -- that would serve as a gate to this park -- it was to be 5-stories tall)

(above is a life-size detail from that plan -- ready to be copied over to marble)

So what happened ? Why wasn't the park built ?

The story goes --- that Barnard sold his medieval museum and the surrounding land to Rockefeller -- who leased the studio back to Barnard -- but eventually evicted him from it -- and finally donated the whole thing to the Met.

Barnard spent the last 20 of his life on this project - leaving all his models at a stone-cutters yard and leaving an estate that was supposed pay for constuction --- but nobody seems to know any more of the story. Did the cash run out ? (it was the height of the Depression, after all) Did somebody renege on a deal ? Was the City of New York unwilling to follow through with the plan ? Had they ever agreed to do it in the first place ? ----- who knows ?

But as I look at the 'Rainbow arch' pictured above -- and the sculpture that adorned it -- I'm not sure that I'd be that enthusiastic about it either.

It's a noble effort --- an admirable dream -- but those wan, ghostly, somewhat effete figures, just don't make for me -- like say -- the monumental work of the younger sculptor, Paul Manship, whose work Rockefeller put into Rockefeller Plaza.

I'm just not sure that this great dreamer was ready to make something like an "Art Acropolis" -- and maybe his nation wasn't ready to dream such a dream either.