Contemporary Art in “The Garden in Asia”

"Katsura Kyoto" by Kiyoshi SaitoAs you’re enjoying the contemporary works in Constructed Visions, don’t forget that there are several more contemporary works throughout our galleries. In The Garden in Asia, you can find two wonderful contemporary Japanese works on paper that complement the more traditional objects that surround them.

In the section “The Garden’s Ambiance,” you’ll see objects that convey the artist’s appreciation of how nature can elicit emotion. Whether meditative, imaginative or wistful, emotions can be communicated by the artist through his or her depiction of a space. The two contemporary pieces in this section are no exception– both reference specific spaces in Kyoto that elicit contemplation.

Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto has been widely recognized for its extraordinary garden and pavilion designs. Set in wooded surroundings and commissioned by Prince Toshitito (1579-1629), the complex expresses the idea of rustic simplicity. Each garden in Katsura Villa makes a reference to real or mythical landscapes in its design. Depicted here is the garden surrounding Shokin-tei, or Pine Lute Pavilion, and its distinct features include the “rocky shore,” shown as the white pathway to the villa here. It was laid out with carefully chosen white pebbles to evoke the long sand spit of Amanohashidate, one of the most famous of Japan’s scenic spots. The view from the villa could have served to facilitate meditation, bringing the viewer in touch with the illusion of alluded landscape.

Kiyoshi Saito successfully conveyed the minimalist aesthetic of the tea house and its garden in this simple composition, seen at top. Gardens such as this were created for viewing pleasure as well as to be a place for reflection and spiritual refreshment. While looking at this garden, one could empty his or her mind of worldly concerns, or gain spiritual energy from a quiet contemplation.

"Stone Garden in Kyoto" by Masayoshi KasugaiStones have a special place in East Asian gardens. The Chinese have long valued scholar’s rocks for their natural beauty as well as symbolic meaning, and the museum’s garden features several fine examples. Although the idea of including stones and rocks in the garden was borrowed from Chinese prototypes, the Japanese further developed the idea of karesansui, or dry landscape, in which stones became the main material of the garden landscape. Karesansui, literally meaning ‘dry mountains and water,’ at its early stage metaphorically stood for rocks, waterfalls, streams and ponds. During the medieval or feudal period (1185-1603) in Japan when Zen Buddhism gained popularity among the elite class, rock gardens had more philosophical and spiritual associations. Compared to gardens with lush greenery and blooming flowers, the harsh and ascetic appearance of the stone gardens was thought to better represent the rigorous spiritual process of Zen meditation.

Masayoshi Kasugai, a master papermaker and fiber artist, conveyed the dry and arid surface of a stone garden onto his canvas with this collage of hand-dyed mulberry fibers. By presenting layered rocks in a folding screen format, Kasugai creatively replicated the spatial composition of the karesansui with slopes and hills.

You might also remember another contemporary woodblock print in this exhibition– Noriaki Okamoto’s Ginkakuji, which was mentioned in a previous post. Viewed alongside works that are substantially older, these contemporary works show that the garden and nature continue to influence artists today. When you visit this exhibition, make sure to visit Pacific Asia Museum’s own courtyard garden, and see how you’re inspired too! ~CM

Kiyoshi Saito (1907-1997), Katsura Kyoto, Japan, 1956, Woodblock print on paper, Gift of Peter Ries, Pacific Asia Museum Collection, 2002.37.6

Masayoshi Kasugai (b. 1921), Stone Garden in Kyoto, Japan, 1952, Paper collage, Gift of Margot and Hans Ries, Pacific Asia Museum Collection, 1986.78.1


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