Last Chance: Kimono in the 20th Century

February 28, 2013

We’re coming to the end of our exhibition Kimono in the 20th Century! This exhibition has been on view for almost a full year with a rotation of kimono last fall– if you saw the exhibition in its first months, there’s a whole new set to see, but only for a few more days. Today, we’re looking back on the fun we’ve had with the exhibition. In addition, don’t miss this Sunday’s panel on the modern design that was so influential to the kimono artisans who made the textiles in the exhibition.

kimono shoe

 Making of an Exhibition: Kimono in the 20th Century
Go behind the scenes to learn how our curatorial team decides how to best display the objects in the exhibition.




Obis for Fall
Learn how the design of kimono and obi reflect the seasons, and how different obi knots have different meanings.




indo Wedding Textiles in Asia
In addition to the kimono as wedding attire, this post also highlights Korean and Indonesian textiles.



Wedding Textiles in Asia

February 21, 2013

Korean wedding

Wedding traditions vary all over the world. On Sunday, March 10 from 12-2 p.m., learn more about the traditional Korean wedding ceremony at our afternoon of Korean culture, featuring a wedding reenactment and a traditional meal. Korean weddings are traditionally held at the bride’s family home, and includes a ceremony that involves the couple bowing to each other and sipping wine to seal their commitment. After, the couple will take part in another ceremony called pyebaek, in which the newlyweds bow toward the groom’s parents and offer symbolic gifts, such as jujubes or chestnuts (symbolizing children). At the end, the parents will toss the jujubes and chestnuts back at the bride. While traditionally this ceremony has been reserved for the parents of the groom, today couples are increasingly including the bride’s family as well.

In Korea, a marriage is such a special ceremony and celebration that common people could wear special attire for it that was exclusively worn in the palace, such as the ensemble worn by the woman above on the left. Garments like these were worn as everyday attire by a queen and as vestments by court ladies in the Joseon dynasty (1392-1910), but as wedding attire outside the palace. While some rented these suits from local administrators, some villages collectively owned outfits that villagers could share.

 slendangYou can also find ceremonial clothing on view now in the galleries! In the Orientation Gallery, the three textiles on view from South Asia and Indonesia demonstrate the shawl-like textiles commonly used in those regions, in contrast to the robe silhouettes commonly used in China, Japan and Korea. These textiles could also have ceremonial functions in addition to simply being worn; this Indonesian slendang (shoulder cloth) was likely draped across the shoulders of the bride and groom to symbolize their union. Additional Indonesian textiles are on view in the adjacent gallery featuring the exhibition Marking Transitions: Ceremonial Art in Indonesia, which we’ve written about before (hurry to see the show in person–it closes March 24!).


In our other exhibition Kimono in the 20th Century (also closing soon on March 10), you can find a tomosode, or a dark kimono characterized by family crest markings and yuzen (resist-dyeing) designs. These kimono were traditionally worn by brides until the 1930s, when the more elaborate uchikake  became popular. After that, the tomosode was more commonly worn by the bride’s mother or older sisters. To this day, the tomosode remains the most formal type of kimono.

Again, check out our upcoming program featuring a Korean wedding reenactment on our website here, and make sure to see Kimono in the 20th Century and Marking Transitions before they close! ~CM


Slendang (shoulder cloth), Indonesia, Palembang (south Sumatra province), 20th c., Silk and gold threads, Gift of Mrs. Eleanor McLain, 1993.71.1

Tomosode, Japan, 1930-5, Itome yuzen on chirimen, embroidery, couched gold wrapped threads, padded hem, crepe silk, lining, Gift of Mrs. Paul Hunter, 1981.3.2

It’s the little things in “The Garden in Asia”

February 15, 2013

photo (14)Hopefully by now you’ve had the opportunity to stroll through our exhibition The Garden in Asia (if not, check out these two previous blog posts or come to the curator’s tour on Saturday, February 16 at 2 p.m.). But have you taken the time to enjoy the smaller details? The exhibition is full of them!

Above, a red lacquer tray from Japan seems a little abstract at first glance– the color isn’t that of a leaf in nature, and is small compared to the real banana leaves on which it’s modeled. But upon closer inspection, you can see a small snail resting on the leaf. It’s a whimsical detail that takes the piece back to its natural origins, recalling the various living things that would surround a banana tree. This particular plant has been historically appreciated for its large leaves  that provided shade in hot weather or shelter on rainy days, creating pleasing sounds as raindrops struck the leaves, and has appeared in numerous artists’ sketches and studies.


In ukiyo-e (or ‘pictures of the floating world’) of the Edo period, the image of a courtesan yearning for a reunion with her lover was a common subject. Here, the garden, a private domain where one’s mind freely roams, is an ideal setting for this courtesan who misses and dreams of the object of her affection. In this scroll, a courtesan seated on a bench in a garden exhales smoke from her pipe with a wistful gaze, and a small figure appears in the smoke plume as she daydreams. The tiny figure is facing away from us and from the courtesan, seemingly unaware of the woman’s affection.

These two objects certainly aren’t the only works waiting to be discovered in the exhibition– and for that matter, in the whole museum! Throughout our galleries, artists and artisans have added details and surprises to a wide range of objects. So next time, take a minute to look closely at your favorite work– you might just see something you haven’t noticed before. ~CM


Tray, Japan, 20th century, Lacquered wood, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. James S. Munroe in memory of Jane Richardson Baldwin Colborn, 1991.60.8

The Pipe Dreamer (detail), Japan, Edo Period (1603-1868); c. 1760, Ink, color, gofun, paper, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Bruce Ross, 1985.55.5

Classic Asian Literature

February 12, 2013

World Lit-The Bhagavad Gita01-8As we’ve seen in many of our exhibitions, art is often influenced by classic stories. In the recent exhibition Masterpieces of Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, many of the works illustrated well-known stories and legends of the day, including that of Kiyohime and Kintaro (also depicted in our recent Gajin Fujita show).

Many of these stories are still well-known today, even outside the culture in which they originated. Becoming familiar with these stories can help us better understand another culture and its history, and even lead us to find commonalities in stories we grew up with. In many cases, these classics are also spectacular works of literature in their own right. On Sunday, February 17, we’ll explore three such works as we screen episodes of the Invitation to World Literature series, featuring Journey to the West, The Bhagavad Gita and The Tale of Genji. These three works, originating from China, India and Japan respectively, are well-known classics that also have a fascinating place in history.

Journey To The West Journey to the West was written in the 16th century during the Ming dynasty, and is one of the four great classics of Chinese literature. Attributed to Wu Chengen, this tells the story of the Buddhist monk Xuanzang’s (also called Tang Sanzang) pilgrimage from China to India. He meets many obstacles along the way, including several demons. He also meets four characters that join him in his journey along the way: Sun Wukong, a monkey; Zhu Bajie, a pig; Sha Wujing, a river ogre; and the son of the Dragon King of the West Sea, who most often appears as a horse. Buddha himself is implied as the architect of the various obstacles Xuanzang faces, for he must overcome 81 challenges before he can attain enlightenment and Buddhahood. Upon finally reaching Vulture Peak in India (Griddhraj Parvat in northeast India), Xuanzang is presented with scriptures from the Buddha. The group returns to China and is rewarded by the heavens. While the scenes in the novel are quite fantastical, the basic plot is actually based in truth. Xuanzang did exist, and made a pilgrimage from 629-646 C.E. to study Buddhist scripture. His story was very popular well before it was published as Journey to the West, even including the more surreal elements.

The Bhagavad GitaThe Bhagavad Gita was written between the fifth and second century B.C.E., and is a 700-verse work as part of the larger Hindu epic the Mahabharata. The text mostly focuses on a conversation between the prince Arjuna and the god Krishna, who serves as his charioteer and guide in the story. Set in the midst of a war, Arjuna is sad and confused about the reason for fighting and turns to Krishna for wisdom. Many scholars see this setting as an allegory for life’s moral challenges. Krishna explains to Arjuna that he should not run away from his duties, but should face them fully– action is better than inaction. However, action should be conducted under the principles of detachment for the possibility of spiritual freedom.


Finally, the Tale of Genji is said to be the world’s first novel, written in the early 11th century by Murisaki Shikibu, a Japanese noblewoman. Though women were usually illiterate at the time, she proved particularly adept at reading and writing the era’s court language. Genji is the son of a Japanese emperor whose romantic exploits lend insight into the customs of the period. The novel includes some 400 characters over a lengthy span, and many of the vignettes have inspired artwork for centuries– including beautifully detailed illustrations for editions of the book itself.

To learn more about these three classics, don’t miss our screenings of Invitation to World Literature this Sunday. We’re showing each 30-minute episode twice– check our website for a full schedule. ~CM