For lovers of Japanese art I can wholeheartedly recommend the current "Kazari: The Impulse to Decorate in Japan" exhibition at the Suntory Museum Of Art at Tokyo Midtown in Roppongi.
Japanese art and culture is often associated with the ideal of understatement or wabi sabi - modesty and simplicity presented in physical forms.
However, as the exhibition notes make clear, a concurrent theme of adornment, ostentation and decoration is equally as strong in Japanese art, design and artistic performance. This is known as kazari in Japanese.
The exhibition traces the "impulse to adorn" from early Jomon pottery through to such contemporary expressions of kazuri in nail art and decorations (deko) on mobile phones.
The exhibition takes up two floors of the museum and on display are beautifully ornate Buddhist vajra (sceptres), ceramics, lacquerware, kimonos, bizarre samurai helmets and armor, hanging scrolls and the metal railings from the floats at Kyoto's Gion Matsuri.
Other exhibits on show are the flamboyant costumes and masks of Iwami kagura from Shimane, kabuki items and exquisite combs made from wood and tortoise shell.
Many of the designs will come as a shock to Japanese, who have seen none of these ostentatious images in their high school textbooks - a post-modern samurai battle flag and a skull and graveyard design on an indigo kimono are particularly memorable.
My informed companion pointed out that the one of the presidents of the Suntory Group - a Kansai-based liquor giant famous for their production of whisky and beer - who founded the museum in 1961, certainly had an eye for the adorned and exotic.
Shinichiro Torii, the grandson of Suntory's founder, was supposedly the lover of Mineko Iwasaki, the geisha from Gion, who inspired the book and movie Memoirs of a Geisha, before replying with a blockbuster of her own Geisha of Gion in a rebuttal of Arthur Golden's dipiction of her in Memoirs of a Geisha.
An interesting sub-plot to a fascinating exhibition.
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Friday, June 13, 2008