May 12, 2012

Public Lecture in Kyoto May 28

--Celebrating Design and Craftsmanship: Early Acquisitions of Japanese Art at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art-- Lecture will be from 6:30-8:30 in Room 213 of the Fusokan on the Doshisha University Campus Sponsored by the Kyoto Consortium for Japanese Studies.

ABSTRACT: The Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art is recognized for its superb holdings of Chinese art. Yet in its formative period, 1930-35, the museum also began amassing an extraordinary collection of Japanese art under the oversight of Harvard University Art Museum curator and lecturer Langdon Warner (1881-1955), one of the earliest specialists on Asian art in the USA,who also led excavations in China and Central Asia, and advised the Cleveland and Philadelphia Art Museums on acquisitions during the course of his long career. For the Nelson, Warner bought large and diverse groups of textiles, arms and armor, ukiyoe prints and paintings, lacquer, ceramics, and Buddhist art that represented his personal feelings for Japan's defining spiritual, aesthetic, and cultural characteristics, and above all highlighted the Japanese as among the world's greatest designers and craftsmen. When the Japanese collection came under the jurisdiction of Chinese art historian Laurence Sickman in 1935, much of this collection fell into obscurity because of his emphasis on Chinese art. After Sickman became Director in 1953 he began a renewed effort to collect Japanese art, but then emphasized the acquisitions of masterpieces by famous artists and other arts such as porcelains, large-scale folding screens, early Buddhist sculptures, and lacquers, that could be described as refined products of Japanese elite culture, all reflective of the aesthetic taste of post-war Japanese art enthusiasts. Recently, as art museums re-evaluate their collections, they are becoming interested once again in the types of formerly ignored objects that Warner collected, recognizing that the aesthetic achievements of diverse cultures may encompass art forms that fall outside the parameters of artworks deemed "masterpieces" or "fine arts" by Western criteria. Scrutinizing the early Japanese collection at the Nelson with these issues in mind illuminates more than changing attitudes towards appreciation of Japanese art. It raises questions about the presentation,collection, and interpretation of world art in art museums today.