The Garden in Asia

On November 23, we opened the new exhibition The Garden in Asia. This exhibition looks at how the garden and nature has influenced artists throughout East and South Asia over the centuries, and allows us to put more of our permanent collection on view.

The Garden in Asia is divided into three parts: The Garden Observed, The Garden as Artist’s Laboratory, and The Garden’s Ambiance. This Chinese lacquer tray from the 17th century is a beautifully-made work from the first section, which presents several examples of how gardens were rendered by artists. Using a mother-of-pearl inlay (not too different from the Korean najeon technique we covered in a recent post), the artist(s) have created a finely detailed scene of scholars enjoying a garden by the light of the moon. During periods of political uncertainty, scholar-gentlemen often withdrew from the problems of their world to their gardens, composing paintings and poetry. The scholars shown here are in keeping with that tradition. This was surely a very labor-intensive work; the texture of the plants, architecture and even the robes worn by the scholars has been created with tiny mother-of-pearl slivers. Because the detail is so fine, it’s certainly worth a look in person!

Many of these works emphasize how important a garden was to scholars and artists in Asia. This 1971 woodblock print of the Temple of the Silver Pavilion in Kyoto, Japan, built in 1474, shows how this influence even continues today. This temple is an excellent example of how Zen gardens were constructed and used. The stark landscape in the foreground shows the traditional rocks and raked gravel, framed by trees. This minimalist design was intended to enhance focus and eliminate distraction, in contrast to the lush scenes found in Chinese and other Asian gardens. In addition, this kind of garden was designed to be viewed from a single location, or “in-position viewing.” The trees, rocks and architecture have been carefully laid out for an ideal scene. Again, this is in contrast to the Chinese gardens that encourage “in-motion viewing,” as seen in the above tray with scholars roaming throughout the entire garden.

The Garden in Asia also has a unique element– the chance to experience a Chinese garden for yourself! Our courtyard garden is done in a traditional Chinese style, and lends itself to “in-motion viewing.” After taking in the exhibition, see our garden from a new perspective. How does your view change as you walk around? ~CM

Lacquer Tray, China, 17th century, Lacquered wood, mother-of-pearl, Gift of Cynthia L. Mazo in honor of Bernarr Mazo, 1991.75.2
Noriaki Okamoto (dates not known), Ginkakuji (Temple of the Silver Pavilion), Japan, 1971, Woodblock print on paper, Henrietta Hill Swope Collection, 1981.12.188


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