S2020 E490 | CLIP

NYC-ARTS Choice: Arts of Japan at Brooklyn Museum

Curator Joan Cummins speaks to NYC-ARTS about some of the works on display in the Arts of Japan gallery at Brooklyn Museum. The objects on view trace over 2,000 years of innovation in Japanese art, including Buddhist temple sculptures, paintings, textiles and woodblock prints. The gallery also includes ceramics that reveal Japan’s 10,000-year history of craftmanship in this medium.

AIRED: May 01, 2020 | 0:06:59


>> Good evening, and welcome

to "NYC-Arts."

I'm Paula Zahn

at the Tisch WNET Studios

at Lincoln Center.

We'll begin our program tonight

with a trip

to the Brooklyn Museum

to visit its newly renovated

Arts of Japan gallery.

The objects on view trace

over 2,000 years of innovation

in Japanese art,

including Buddhist temple

sculptures, paintings,

textiles, and woodblock prints.

Also on view are ceramics

that reveal Japan's 10,000 year

history of craftsmanship

in this medium.

Here's a look now at some of the

highlights of this exhibition.


>> We've been closed for

about six years,

and we are so excited to finally

bring out these galleries

with all of our beautiful

treasures and to tell new

and interesting stories

that we've never told

with the collection before.

The Brooklyn Museum is quite

unusual in its large

holdings of material

from the Ainu culture

of Northern Japan.

We are very fortunate

to have roughly 1,000 artifacts

in the collection

from the Ainu people,

and that ranges from carved wood

objects to personal ornaments

to costumes,

what they actually wore

usually in a ceremonial setting.

And we have a number of robes

from the Ainu people

that were probably

special occasion attire.

Most of the robes made by

the Ainu costume makers

were made of an

indigenous fabric called attush,

which was made of bark cloth.

And it has a texture

kind of like burlap.

The robe that we're showing

right now is unusual because

it's made entirely of cotton.

And cotton was something

that they had to trade for

because they couldn't grow

cotton up in the northern climes

of Hokkaido Island.

So cotton as a trade good

would have been a luxury item.

The robes that were made

entirely of cotton

were very much status objects.

This wonderful oversized

green head

of a Buddhist guardian figure

dates from the 1200s,

from the Kamakura period,

which is a moment

when sculpture in Japan

became much livelier,

much more expressive.

The head is much larger

than life-size

and would have stood atop

a figure about 12 feet high.

And it would have been

one of four figures marking

the four corners of a platform

around an even larger

seated Buddha at the center.

And they would have been

really dramatic figures

in the dark, sort of dim light

of the temple.

You would have looked way up

toward the ceiling

and seen the figures'

glinting eyes and white teeth,

and they would have been quite

intimidating and quite dramatic.

The eyes are, in fact,

made out of rock crystal

that's been painted

on the reverse and then

inserted into the wood head.

So a fierce figure like this

to a Western audience

often can be mistaken

for a demonic or evil presence.

But in fact, in this Buddhist

tradition, these were good guys.

They're fierce,

but they're on our side.

They are fighting

for the right things.

One of the great highlights

in the new gallery

is a pair of folding screens

that date from about 1610.

These were made for

the interior of a castle,

and they have

largely gold backgrounds

which would have helped

to reflect light in the dark

interior of the castle

and made the room

sort of more warm and glowing.

The theme of these two

folding screens

is drying fishnets,

which is not something

that we in the modern world

see a lot of.

But back in the days

when fish nets were made

of natural materials,

there was concern

that they would get moldy.

And of course,

if you're a fisherman,

you'd need to throw them.

So you need your fishing net

to be lighter, not so wet.

So it was a common sight

in fishing villages

throughout the world

to see nets hanging out to dry.

And that was considered

extremely scenic,

picturesque by artists

and poets in East Asia.

And so they became a famous

kind of romantic trope

that you see over and over again

in East-Asian art.

The fishing nets

are, on the surface,

the subject matter

of the screen.

But as you look

carefully at the screen,

we see that it also represents

the four seasons.

So we're going to read it

from right to left,

which is how Japanese is read.

So if you start at the far right

end, you see that there

are grasses growing

around the fishing nets,

and they're relatively short.

Then as you move to the left,

you have taller grasses.

So you've gone

from spring to summer.

The next screen,

the grasses are a little

bit brown around the edges,

and they've gone to seed.

That's fall.

And then in the far left,

we have grasses that are

completely desiccated and dusted

with a light dusting of snow.

And that's winter.

The Brooklyn Museum houses

a wonderful collection

of Japanese prints,

many of which have not been out

on view in decades.

Now, this is from the same

series as "The Great Wave,"

the image by the great Japanese

print designer Hokusai.

And it's a series that focuses

on Mount Fuji.

The mountain is so large that

you can have sunny blue skies

on one side of the mountain and

thunderstorms on the other side.

And that is, in fact,

what we're seeing here --

lightning and dark clouds

on the front,

while there are blue skies

off in the distance.

The Brooklyn Museum's

Arts of Japan gallery is a space

that we will be changing

many times over the course

of the next several years

in order to show more

and more of our treasures.

And we encourage people

to come in and make discoveries

of their own.


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