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, reflect 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.
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.
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.
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.
Literature in Art: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection is also significant for its works in every medium that illustrate scenes from traditional Japanese narratives, especially the courtly classic of the early 11th century, The Tale of Genji. A painting based on an episode from the 10th-century Tales of Ise, by the celebrated 17th-century Kyoto painter Tawaraya Sōtatsu (died ca. 1640), will be featured in the second rotation.
Tea and Austere Beauty: The vibrant quality and tactile surfaces of ceramics produced for use in the tea ceremony, first codified in the 16th century, also illustrate the aesthetics of the period. Outstanding examples of Ko Seto, Black Seto, White Shino, and Kyō-yaki ware will be presented in this section, juxtaposed with paintings and calligraphy resonating with the wabi aesthetic, which prioritizes unaffected, serene, and even rustic qualities of rough-hewn tea wares.
Literati Painting: The development of the Nanga School provides another example of the way in which Japanese artists were open to new themes, techniques, and ways of seeing during the Edo period. Artists in this school based their work on the art of Chinese literati masters. Works on view will include the renowned screen painting Gathering at the Orchard Pavilion, by Ike Taiga (1723–1776).
Ideals of Feminine Beauty: The final section of the exhibition will focus on sumptuously colored paintings of beauties by artists of the Ukiyo-e school. Paintings in this genre were among the first objects acquired by Mrs. Burke and her husband, Jackson Burke, when they began collecting seriously in 1963. The late-17th-century Beauty of the Kanbun Era, illustrating changes in fashion during this period, is just one of the exquisite works in this group that will be on view.
Celebrating the Arts of Japan: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection is organized by John T. Carpenter, Mary Griggs Burke Curator of Japanese Art, with Monika Bincsik, Assistant Curator of Japanese art, and Aaron M. Rio, Jane and Morgan Whitney Fellow, all from the Metropolitan Museum’s Department of Asian Art. The exhibition is made possible by the Mary Griggs Burke Fund, Gift of the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation, 2015. In conjunction with the exhibition, the Museum will offer a variety of education programs.
The publication Art through a Lifetime: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection, a catalogue raisonné edited by Miyeko Murase, includes illustrations of all of the works given to the Metropolitan Museum by the Mary and Jackson Burke Foundation. An earlier Met publication, Bridge of Dreams: The Mary Griggs Burke Collection of Japanese Art, also includes many works that will be on view in the exhibition.
The exhibition will be featured on the Museum’s website, as well as on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter via the hashtags #ArtsofJapan and #AsianArt100.