Thursday, August 26, 2010
Flowers of the Four Seasons: Ten Centuries of Art from the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture
Saitō Ippo: Flowers of the Four Seasons, late 18th–early 19th century, Japan (detail); ink and colors on gold leaf; six-fold screen; 36 3/4 x 95 1/4 in.; Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture.
There's a lot of hype in the art world. Heck, I've done it myself, carried away by the energy of the moment. I've looked back later and known that I was uncritically enthusiastic about a piece, an artist, a show, that upon reflection didn't hold up. "Treasure" is another word that's so often misused but this really is a treasure of a show. In fact, it's so good that I would put it in a short list of the "must-see" shows of the fall, next to the up-coming exhibit of post-impressionist artists opening soon at the De Young.
Room after room is full of exquisite, joyous, beautiful, fascinating art, starting with an early statue of Daitoku myō-ō, one of the Five Great Kings of esoteric Buddhism (the earliest piece in the show), free standing screens, hanging scrolls, ink painting, ceramics by a living treasure of Japan to bamboo pieces that have evolved into stunning three-dimensional sculptures.
The collection is the work of one man. Willard C. Clark's passion for Japanese art and culture has resulted in a collection that ranges from the late Heian period (794–1185) to the twenty-first century, including all major areas of artistic endeavor—screens, scrolls, wood sculptures, textiles, ceramics, and works of bamboo. Indeed, each piece in the collection, having been personally selected by Mr. Clark, reflects his own refined and exquisite taste.
Yamamoto Baiitsu: Plum; Bamboo and Pine (Three Friends of Winter), late Edo period (detail), ink with flecks of gold paint on paper, one of two six-panel screens; 60 9/10 x 142 7/10 in. (detail); Clark Family Collection.
Clark studied architecture at UC Berkeley and animal husbandry at UC Davis in the early 1950s. He started his art collection with modestly priced purchases of art on his several visits to Japan from Hawai’i where he was stationed as a young officer in the United States Navy. After his release from the military in 1963, he took charge of the family business, quintupled its size, and embarked on an even more successful venture exporting bull semen overseas. As Clark’s businesses grew, so did the size and scope of his immense art collection.
In 1995 he founded the Clark Center, a museum for Japanese art, to better protect these precious works and to make them available for public viewing. From 2002 to 2003 highlights from the collection traveled to five cities in Japan, including Tokyo and Osaka, where they were admired by thousands of visitors. Given the Center’s relative remoteness (Hanford is 45 minutes from downtown Fresno), too few in the United States have had a chance to view this important collection. The BAM/PFA exhibition will change this by presenting to the public the most significant pieces from each of the key areas of the collection. Occupying three main galleries, this exhibition is one of the largest displays of Japanese art in the museum’s history. The artworks are arranged by themes that elucidate the beauty and special characteristics of Japanese art and culture, as well as the unique nature of this collection.
Much of the Flowers of the Four Seasons exhibition comprises work from the Edo, or pre-modern, period (1603–1868). The hanging scrolls and folding screens on display portray a variety of subjects; playful images of urban life, the elegant diversions of nobility, portraits of Buddha, natural and idealized landscapes, flora, birdlife, and other animals. The overall effect of this variety of imagery is a remarkable view of the artistic creativity in Edo Japan. Wood and polychromy Buddhist sculptures, dating from the Heian period to the Kamakura period (1185–1333), are the oldest pieces in the exhibition.
Another portion of the exhibition focuses on late-twentieth century bamboo sculpture. Japanese farmers and artisans plaited bamboo for hundreds of years, but it wasn’t until the mid-twentieth century that bamboo began to be thought of as a sculptural medium in its own right. Flowers of the Four Seasons highlights signature works of some of the most significant modern bamboo sculptors including Ueno Masao, Mimura Chikuhō, Nagakura Ken’ichi, and Uematsu Chikuyū. Contemporary artist Fukami Sueharu’s collection of light blue ceramic sculptures, with sleek edges and softly contoured planes that evoke sword blades or ocean waves, round out the exhibition and demonstrate that Clark’s interests encompass both the past and the future of Japanese art.
On October 31st, Willard G. Clark, founder of the Clark Center, will converse with Amy Poster, Curator Emerita of Asian Art at the Brooklyn Museum, about his lifelong collecting of Japanese art. Afterward, he and Ms. Poster will offer an informal walk through of the exhibit.
Through January 2011
Berkeley Art Museum
2625 Durant Ave.
Berkeley, CA 94720
All pieces copyright the Clark Family Collection
Images courtesy of the Berkeley Art Museum
Many thanks to Peter Cavagnaro for his invaluable help