Cultural heritage of Kyoto on display at Met exhibition

Cultural heritage of Kyoto

Workshop of Ogata Kenzan (1663–1743), set of five camellia-shaped side dishes (Mukōzuke) with camellia patterns. Edo period (1615-1868), 18th century. Stoneware with white slip and polychrome overglaze enamel (Kenzan ware). Gift of Florence and Herbert Irving, 2019, the Metropolitan Museum of Art

NEW YORK – The Metropolitan Museum of Art’s upcoming exhibition in its Arts of Japan Galleries will examine the rich cultural heritage of Kyoto, Japan, highlighting decorative artworks—including lacquers, ceramics, and textiles—created from the eighth century to the present. Opening on July 24 and showcasing more than 200 objects in four rotations, almost all drawn from the Met collection, “Kyoto: Capital of Artistic Imagination” will explore how changes in the city’s social, political, and religious structures influenced its artistic output.

Among the works on view, highlights include an exquisite medieval armor believed to have been donated to a Kyoto shrine by Ashikaga Takauji (1305–1358), founder of the Ashikaga shogunate; a set of five camellia-shaped side dishes in vivid colors by the workshop of the famous potter and painter Ogata Kenzan (1663–1743); and a rare 18th-century hand-painted satin overrobe by Gion Nankai (1677–1751). The works will be augmented by a selection of paintings, including an early 17th century pair of folding screens.

The exhibition is made possible by The Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation Fund.

In 794, Heian-kyō (modern-day Kyoto) became the seat of the imperial court, and Kyoto remained the capital of Japan until 1868, when the court was transferred to Tokyo. The Heian period (794–1185) saw the flourishing culture of the court aristocracy, leading to new developments in the arts, but in 1185 a new military government was formed, marking the rise of the samurai class. In the exhibition, the political transition is well captured in the early 17th-century folding screen The Rebellions of the Hōgen and Heiji Eras. During the Muromachi period (1392–1573), the Ashikaga shoguns nurtured the formation of tea culture, Noh theater, ikebana, and ink painting and established the Higashiyama culture. One of the masterworks representing this era is a pair of folding screens by Sōami (d. 1525), who served as an artistic adviser to the Ashikaga shoguns.

The Momoyama period (1573–1615) is often referred to as Japan’s Golden Age, evoking a sumptuous, dynamic style, with gold lavishly applied to architecture, lacquer furnishings, folding screens, and garments associated with grand castles. The revitalization of the city after decades of war created a burgeoning milieu for all kinds of art forms, and in addition to the continued trade with China and Korea, the arrival of Portuguese and Dutch merchants and Catholic missionaries brought new technologies and goods to Japan. The exhibition will include luxurious lacquers made for the domestic market, a large Nanban coffer created for the European market and a stunning battle surcoat (jinbaori) designed for a high-ranking samurai using European import materials. The exhibition will also highlight the practice of tea (chanoyu) by presenting treasured tea utensils and calligraphies.

After the establishment of the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603 in Edo (present-day Tokyo), Kyoto’s role became focused on ceremonial and cultural activities. The new political regime had a profound effect on all art forms and the urban lifestyle of Kyoto. The increasing economic power of the merchant class widened the audience for the arts beyond the traditional base of the nobility and military elites. Kyoto excelled in the production of lacquers and certain types of ceramics and turned into a major textile production center. In the exhibition, bold Rinpa-style ceramics and lacquers, refined Noh robes, and richly embellished kimonos will be juxtaposed with hanging scrolls and folding screens depicting Kyoto and its citizens in the 17th to 18th century. Works of the late Edo ceramicists, including Nin’ami Dōhachi and Eiraku Hozen, will also be included in the exhibition.

The last decades of the Edo period saw revived interest in Heian-period court culture and literati traditions along with the intention to create new styles. The exhibition demonstrates the enthusiasm among American collectors for exploring the complex artistic legacy of Kyoto.

The exhibition, which will be on view through Aug. 2, 2020, is organized by Monika Bincsik, Diane and Arthur Abbey Associate Curator of Japanese Decorative Arts.  It is made possible by the Miriam and Ira D. Wallach Foundation Fund.