Art Watch: Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection at The Metropolitan Museum of Art

October 20, 2015–July 31, 2016 (rotation in early February)

Exhibition Location: Arts of Japan, The Sackler Wing Galleries, second floor, Galleries 223–231

A spectacular array of Japanese works of art will be on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, in a special exhibition featuring works of art drawn from the recent landmark gift to the Museum by the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation. Opening on October 20, Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection is a tribute to the discerning New York City collector who built what is widely regarded as the finest and most encompassing private collection outside Japan.

Beginning in the 1960s, over the course of nearly 50 years, Mary Griggs Burke (1916–2012) assembled an unparalleled art collection. It was exhibited by the Tokyo National Museum in 1985, the first-ever Japanese art collection from abroad to be shown there. The themes selected for the current exhibition, including numerous works added to the collection since the Bridge of Dreams exhibition at the Met in 2000, The Metropolitan Museum of Art logoreflect Mrs. Burke’s own collecting interests.

The works on view will include masterpieces—paintings, sculpture, ceramics, calligraphy, lacquerware, and more—dating from the 10th to the 20th century. Among the highlights are a powerful representation of the Buddhist deity Fudō Myōō from the studio of the celebrated sculptor Kaikei (active 1185–1223), a sumptuous set of early 17th-century screens showing Uji Bridge in Kyoto, and Itō Jakuchū’s (1716–1800) tour-de-force ink painting of plum blossoms in full bloom illuminated by moonlight. Organized by theme and presented in two sequential rotations, the exhibition will reveal, through a single, distinguished collection, the full range of topics, techniques, and styles that are distinctive to Japanese art.

Sublime Buddhist Art: The first gallery of the exhibition, flanking the entrance to the Buddhist altar room, will feature a pair of wood and lacquer sculptures of the protective deity Fudō Myōō and the compassionate bodhisattva Jizō. Both are from the atelier of the master sculptor Kaikei, who, like his contemporary Unkei, is renowned for tempering the powerful realism of the Kamakura period (1185–1333) to create universally compelling sculptures.

Kaikei, active ca. 1183–1223, Fudō Myōō Japan, Kamakura period (1185–1333), early 13th century. Lacquered Japanese cypress (hinoki), color, gold, and kirikane, inlaid with crystal. H. 20 1/4 in. (51.5 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of The Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015. Photo: Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Kaikei, active ca. 1183–1223, Fudō Myōō
Japan, Kamakura period (1185–1333), early 13th century. Lacquered Japanese cypress (hinoki), color, gold, and kirikane, inlaid with crystal. H. 20 1/4 in. (51.5 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of The Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015. Photo: Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Shinto Icons: Traditions of the Shinto religion that are indigenous to Japan are captured in rare, 10th-century examples of male and female Shinto deities carved from single blocks of sacred wood. A highlight in this group of rare early sculptures and paintings is the late 14th-century Deer Mandala of the Kasuga Shrine, which expresses the magical powers of the animal that served as a messenger for Shinto deities.

Court Calligraphy: In the ninth century, the creation of the kana script to inscribe vernacular Japanese led to a flowering of literature, painting, and calligraphy. Mrs. Burke, who had a special interest in Japanese courtly literature, was drawn to fine examples of kana, which in ancient times was often referred to as onna-de (literally, the “women’s hand”), since it was practiced and perfected by female calligraphers at a time when courtiers were expected to master Chinese-style calligraphy. Several outstanding examples of kana calligraphy from the 11th to the 13th century will be included in the exhibition.

Shibata Zeshin, Japanese, 1807–1891, Jūbako with Taro Plants and Chrysanthemums Japan, late Edo (1615–1868)–Meiji (1868–1912) period, 19th century. Colored lacquer with gold and silver maki-e. H. 16 1/2 in. (41.9 cm); W. 9 in. (22.9 cm); D. 9 5/8 in. (24.4 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of The Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015. Photo: Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Shibata Zeshin, Japanese, 1807–1891, Jūbako with Taro Plants and Chrysanthemums
Japan, late Edo (1615–1868)–Meiji (1868–1912) period, 19th century. Colored lacquer with gold and silver maki-e. H. 16 1/2 in. (41.9 cm); W. 9 in. (22.9 cm); D. 9 5/8 in. (24.4 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of The Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation, 2015. Photo: Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Zen Ink Painting: At first shown exclusively in temples, ink paintings with Zen themes soon moved to the secular world. A highlight of this section will be a painted handscroll, Ten Oxherding Songs (dated 1278), in which the actions of a young herdsman and the powerful ox he tends serve as metaphors for the quest for enlightenment. The Burke Collection is renowned for its strong representation of evocative ink landscapes by Zen monk-painters of the medieval period.

Soga Shohaku, Japanese, 1730–1781, Lions at the Stone Bridge of Tendaisan Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), 1779. Hanging scroll; ink on silk Image: 44 7/8 in. × 20 in. (114 × 50.8 cm). Overall with mounting: 79 × 25 1/2 in. (200.7 × 64.8 cm) The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of The Mary andJackson Burke Foundation, 2015. Photo: Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Soga Shohaku, Japanese, 1730–1781, Lions at the Stone Bridge of Tendaisan
Japan, Edo period (1615–1868), 1779. Hanging scroll; ink on silk
Image: 44 7/8 in. × 20 in. (114 × 50.8 cm). Overall with mounting: 79 × 25 1/2 in. (200.7 × 64.8 cm)
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Mary Griggs Burke Collection, Gift of The Mary andJackson Burke Foundation, 2015. Photo: Courtesy of The Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Great Stylistic Transition: This section will demonstrate Mrs. Burke’s fascination with a critical juncture in the history of Japanese art, the period of radical transformation in stylistic tendencies between the 16th and early 17th centuries. The new tendency can be detected through the many magnificent examples—not only in painting, but also in the decorative arts, especially lacquer—that will be on view in this section. Another of the great strengths of the Burke Collection is its array of screen paintings, and the Metropolitan Museum has received some 30 spectacular examples. The screen paintings on view will include a dramatic evocation of Uji Bridge in Kyoto, famed for its literary associations, and the six-panel screen Women Casting Fans from a Bridge, a rare and important example of the rise of genre painting. Continue reading