Asian Art Museum Presents Beyond Golden Clouds: Five Centuries of Japanese Screens

. November 15, 2010 . 0 Comments

The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco presents Beyond Golden Clouds: Five Centuries of Japanese Screens, a special exhibition of forty-one rarely seen large scale Japanese screens dating from the 1500s through the present.

Fans and Stream, approx. 1820/28. By Sakai Hoitsu (approx. 1761-1828). Sliding doors (fusuma) mounted as a pair of two-panel screens; ink, color, gold, and silver on silk. Saint Louis Art Museum, Friends Fund (140:1987a,b)

The exhibition—on view through January 16, 2011—celebrates the evolution of the folding screen, or byōbu (“wind wall”), from pre-modern to contemporary, highlighting its distinctive position in Japanese culture as both a functional and expressive art form.

The exceptional, yet diverse artworks are borrowed from the esteemed collections of the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum. The phrase Beyond Golden Clouds describes one of the most popular motifs in classical screens, while also expressing the departure from conventional compositions and techniques in the past century.

The Asian Art Museum’s presentation of Beyond Golden Clouds will include an introduction to the fundamental compositions, materials, formats, and subjects of traditional folding screens, and a selection of self-guided thematic tours for visitors at every level of expertise and interest.

Thought to have been introduced from the Chinese mainland by the 700s, the folding screen provided Japanese artists with a large format that could transform an interior space and accommodate diverse forms of expression. Because screens are easily folded and moved, they can be interchanged according to season, occasion, mood, or decorative taste. The screens in Beyond Golden Clouds encompass a range of styles that reveal the expansive visions of their artists—from grandeur, formality, and austerity to tranquility and contemplation.

By the Muromachi period (1392–1573), screens were being used for both Japanese-style paintings and the newly adopted Chinese tradition of ink painting. The earliest work in the exhibition is a pair of inkpainted landscape screens by Sesson Shukei (approx. 1490–after 1577; fig. 1). The golden age of the Japanese screen occurred in the Momoyama (1573–1615) and Edo (1615–1868) periods, during which painters used the format to display a range of subjects, styles, and compositions.

Beyond Golden Clouds also explores the diversity of creative expression in the early Edo period (1600s) through such works as Willow Bridge and Waterwheel by Hasegawa Soya (1590–1667) and Flowering Cherry and Autumn Maples with Poem Slips by Tosa Mitsuoki (1617–1691)—the latter by the director of the painting bureau at the imperial court. Other featured works from this era include a formal depiction of birds, flowers, and a pine tree on gold by Kano Koi (approx. 1569–1636), which may be associated with the renowned wall paintings at Nijo Castle in Kyoto; a pair of screens with scenes from The Tale of Genji, the renowned Japanese literary epic; and a superb set of screens bearing scenes of Portuguese missionaries and traders arriving at Nagasaki.

The 1700s and 1800s are represented by screens depicting both Japanese- and Chinese-inspired subjects. A set of twelve ink paintings mounted on a pair of gold screens by Obaku Zen priest Kakutei Joko (1721–1785) evinces Chinese tastes among Japan’s literati circles in the 1700s. An entirely different aesthetic is seen in paintings of fans and flowing water by Rinpa artist Sakai Hoitsu (1761–1828), who drew his artistic inspiration from a Japanese-style painting tradition. Originally executed on sliding-door panels, this painting was later remounted as a pair of two-panel screens. Other works on view include landscapes and calligraphy from both Japanese and Chinese literary sources.

In the twentieth century the Western-inspired establishment of annual juried art exhibitions encouraged Japanese painters to break away from traditional artistic conventions and create works using innovative compositions and colors. The strikingly dense and colorful pair of screens Blue Phoenix by Nihonga (modern Japanese-style painting) artist Omura Koyo (1891–1983) exemplifies this trend. Star Festival by Kayama Matazo (1927–2004), created for such an exhibition, is one of the best-known paintings of postwar Nihonga. Other artists in the late twentieth century moved even further away from their predecessors. The contemporary Mountain Lake Screen Tachi series by Okura Jiro (born 1942), though inspired by traditional folding screens, uses nontraditional materials and double hinges to function as a set of freestanding sculptural elements with limitless installation possibilities.

About the Asian Art Museum
The Asian Art Museum is a public institution whose mission is to lead a diverse global audience in discovering the unique material, aesthetic, and intellectual achievements of Asian art and culture. Holding more than 17,000 Asian art treasures spanning 6,000 years of history, the museum is one of the largest museums in the Western world devoted exclusively to Asian art.

Asian Art Museum 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA 94102

Category: Fine Art

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