“Ghost” and “Snow” in the Japanese Pavilion

In celebration of its 20th anniversary, the Pavilion for Japanese Art is showing paintings acquired in the past two decades. A couple of the works are just-added and first-rate.
The 2009 Japanese Art Acquisition Committee purchased Shibata Zeshin's Ghost, said to be the finest of Zeshin's four treatments of the theme. Japanese ghosts traditionally have disheveled hair, a gaunt face, and no lower body. Zeshin's interpretation is more a femme fatale in the spirit of Western symbolism. The spook levitates out of the picture, and the framing band of fabric also fades toward the bottom, as if the painting itself is a "ghost." That's not all. The support, though not the picture itself, is an exercise in trompe l'oeil. The surrounding brocade is not real fabric, nor are the two white "silk" bands at top.

In several respects, "Ghost" evokes Edvard Munch's woodcut and lithograph Madonna. Munch too has an illusory frame, incomplete on the bottom, surrounding a wild-tressed maiden. No date is given for LACMA's new painting, but Zeshin died in 1891, four years before the first woodcut versions of Madonna.

In Suzuki Kiitsu's Snow on Cypress: Full Moon—a gift of Janice and Charles Holland and Lin and Franklin Torn—the least important things get the most emphasis. Lichens command more attention than the tree they grow on; a momentary drop of wet snow upstages the eternal moon. In turn, Kiitsu's hard-edge Rimpa techniques preempt the subject matter. Between these paintings and the Furuta Oribe plates, LACMA's Japanese department really has something to brag about, in a tough time for museum acquisitions.


Donald Frazell said…
This has always been a wonderful collection, unfortunately, we had to take Philips idea of an architect and ugly building to get them. Excellent additions, I see the Museum has done very well lately, foregoing silly Contempt works for real art. Their Oceanic and Latin American additions should do nicely here on SoCal, especially with our Museum of Latin American Art here in Long Beach, with the soon to open Oceanic Museum across the street bringing in more "con-current" works, ones with real mental, emotional, and physical value. Unlike Contempts games, absurdities and dated witticisms.

Now, the ugly green and bad lighting in the Japanese Pavilion are easily at least partially rectified. Cover the nasty pale green, reminiscent of the styrofoam used in middle school shop class to build scale models of housing. Paint them white, with better translucent panels to both protect the works, and allow them the natural light they were designed to be seen in. Without the nasty fake organic green, which is as opposite to the naturalism of Zen as humanly conceivable.

Still a waste of space with the spiral ramp, but would be more in spirit with the works, and human life. Perhaps some hand made paper white screens for extra protection from sun light, and as reflectors of non harmful rays. This is easily possible, for far less monies than wasted on the childish nonsense of the Broad Musuem. Dated before it was even assembled, Dinosaurs of the Age of Excess, over, done, finished.

art collegia delenda est
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