Artworks representing animals—real or imaginary, religious or secular—span the full breadth and splendor of Japanese artistic production. As the first exhibition devoted to the subject, The Life of Animals in Japanese Art covers 16 centuries (from the sixth century to the present day) and a wide variety of media—sculpture, painting, lacquerwork, ceramics, metalwork, textile, and the woodblock print. A selection of some 315 works, drawn from Japanese and American public and private collections, includes seven that are designated as Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government. The artists represented range from Sesson Shūkei, Itō Jakuchū, Soga Shōhaku, Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, to Okamoto Tarō, Kusama Yayoi, Issey Miyake, Nara Yoshitomo, and Murakami Takashi.
Covering 18,000 square feet in the East Building Concourse, the exhibition is organized into thematic sections that explore the various roles animals have played in the art of Japan. A fully illustrated catalog is being published in association with Princeton University Press.
Credit: Exhibition overview from museum website
Whether or not you go, The Life of Animals in Japanese Art is a sweeping exploration of animals in Japanese art and culture across sixteen centuries
Few countries have devoted as much artistic energy to the depiction of animal life as Japan. Drawing upon the country’s unique spiritual heritage, rich literary traditions, and currents in popular culture, Japanese artists have long expressed admiration for animals in sculpture, painting, lacquerwork, ceramics, metalwork, textiles, and woodblock prints. Real and fantastic creatures are meticulously and beautifully rendered, often with humor and whimsy. This beautiful book celebrates this diverse range of work, from ancient fifth-century clay sculpture to contemporary pieces.
The catalog is organized into themes, including the twelve animals of the Japanese zodiac; animals in Shinto and Buddhism; animals and samurai; land animals, winged creatures, and creatures of the river and sea; and animals in works of humor and parody.
Contributors address such issues as how animals are represented in Japanese folklore, myth, religion, poetry, literature, and drama; the practice of Japanese painting; and the relationship between Japanese painters and scientific study.
Featuring some 300 masterpieces from public and private collections, many published for the first time, The Life of Animals in Japanese Art is a sumptuous celebration of the connections between the natural world and visual and creative expression.
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