Bamboo art and time
Fast growing, enduring, and pliable when treated bamboo is the preferred food of pandas who live on its shoots, part of the daily life of East Asia for two millennia (the Chinese and Japanese characters for bamboo are incorporated in a thousand others including flute, writing brush, box and basket) and the malleable material of patient and dedicated artists in a five hundred year tradition in Japan that is still going strong, combining the abstract qualities of fine art and the hands on satisfaction of usefully transforming Nature, as well as symbolizing longevity, strength and hardiness, and this revelatory show is an outstanding selection of what has resulted over the last two centuries, from flower vases and boxes and shapes in the form of a cicada and other representations of nature to splendidly woven bowls and wave forms and even a huge spiralling wave rising over the entrance to the exhibition ordered from a current master (Tanabe Chikuunsai IV), all of it imbued with the timeless quality of extended and careful attention and construction taking as long as a year or more, starting with the initial personal choice of wood from the north, middle or south of Japan, which runs accordingly from hard to soft, and including here seventy one choice works promised the Met by Diane and Arthur Abbey, collectors who became fascinated by bamboo art in 1999, and will now transform the Met’s holdings of this art form which started with Edward Moore designer at Tiffany who in 1891 gave the museum nearly eighty bamboo baskets as well as other Japanese craft work, and the unfolding of these exquisite forms in the spacious low lit Sackler Wing galleries under the kindly gaze of tall Buddhist statues is informed by a very well illustrated magazine format monograph by curator Monika Bincsik which celebrates the emergence of this art form to world attention in the last forty years.
The exhibition is made possible by Diane and Arthur Abbey.
For hundreds of years, simple, everyday utensils as well as refined bamboo vessels were made according to local traditions and techniques passed down from generation to generation. It was not until the end of the 19th century that bamboo craftsmanship began to be recognized as one of the traditional Japanese decorative arts, and later as an art form.
Organized broadly by three geographical production areas—Kansai, Kanto, and Kyushu—the exhibition will feature masterworks by pioneer bamboo artists of the Meiji (1868–1912) and Taisho (1912–1926) periods as well as later masters such as Iizuka Rokansai, who created innovative works that became the foundation for contemporary bamboo art. The show will also feature pieces by modern bamboo artists. The works will be augmented by a selection of paintings and decorative arts exploring related themes, such as the four seasons, floral compositions (ikebana), and the tea ceremony.