Monday, September 27, 2010

Roger L. Weston Wing of Japanese Art

Perhaps I'll calm down
in a few months,
but the only word
I can find for the new
Roger L. Weston Wing
of Japanese art
at the Art Institute of Chicago

And I could kick myself
for not photo-documenting
the display that it replaces.

Perhaps it's only sentimentality
that attaches me to the
quiet, meditative space that
the museum's collection of
Medieval Japanese sculpture
used to inhabit.

But I think that Cleo Nichols,
who designed the space in 1992,
successfully solved the problems
involved in displaying a diverse collection
of Buddhist sculpture
that originated in many different
centuries and temples,
and cramming it all into a small,
but aesthetically pleasing space.

The key, I think,
was letting one statue sit freely
on a platform in the center of the room
protected by a railing instead of a glass case,
allowing it to command the space of the room;
then setting the other sculptures into
glass protected niches set into the
surrounding walls;
and leaving the whole room dark,
with dramatic lighting on each statue.

as you can see at the top,
the pieces have been set into
glass display cases that protrude into the room,
making the entire display
feel like those cases
of ethnic paraphernalia
that used to be found
in the Field Museum of Natural History
(back before they updated their displays)

The sense of sacred space is gone.

And the room feels dry, dead, and clinical.

(though maybe that's O.K.
for displaying the pre-Buddhist
tomb effigies that are shown above.
After all, those pieces were made for a crypt,
not a shrine)

they mostly left the Ando Gallery alone,
except that even there
they damaged it
by removing the heavy glass doors
that used to seal it off and make it feel
like such a quiet, secluded place,
that was part of Japan
instead part of an art museum.

What was the head designer,
Kulapat Yantrasast,
thinking about
as he made these woeful changes?

And as final slap
in the face
of anyone who enjoys
the rest of Asian art,
the Chinese painting and Korean ceramics
that used to be located in this area
have been removed,
while announcing that:

“The movement of several collections into the Modern
Wing last year has allowed us to better demonstrate our commitment to the arts of Asia by reworking existing galleries and creating new galleries for their display"

A statement which would only come true
if some of that new space
were ever used to display the Asian art
that was taken off view
to make room for the Japanese.

But I think that
no more new space is left.

It's all been taken
by the new galleries
of African and Pre-Columbian art.

Shibata Zeshin

But now that I've vented my disappointment,
here's some of the good stuff
that has been put on display here
for the very first time.

Much of it coming from the collection
of Roger L. Weston.

Ogata Korin

I was a bit surprised that
both Korin and Zeshin,
are also known for their paintings.

Nishikawa Sukenobu

This was my favorite.

Kensai Eisen,

Katsukawa Shunsho

Bunsai Eishi,


I have a hard time believing
that Utamaro really painted this one.

Unless he was 13 years old.

But, indeed, the label says it was done
in 1805-6,
the last year of his life,
when the artist was
in his early fifties.

Maybe he was ill.

Bizen Ware
Sake bottle. 17th Century

Here's a very enjoyable ceramic
from Weston's collection,
and there were also some
new pieces of pre-Buddhist sculpture,
purchased with his donations.

Given his generosity,
proven and anticipated,
it made sense to give the Japanese collection
much more floor space.

But I'm doubting the Chinese collection
will ever get its space back,
at least until the museum
builds another wing
in another 50 years or so.

And Chinese civilization is the sun
for which Japanese
is a distant, even if incredibly beautiful,

This is the first time
that bamboo baskets
have made it onto permanent display.

Here's a key
to determine
who made what.

They're all 20th Century

There's also room now
for a case
of tea ceremony ceramics

as you can see,
some are recent,
and some date back
to the 16th Century

left: Raku ware tea bowl with design of descending geese, 18th/19th C.
right: tea bowl by Raku Ryonyu, 1756-1834

Tea Bowl by Kato Shuntai