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Dish with Design of Dandelions, Nabeshima ware. Edo period, 18th century. Glazed porcelain with overglaze enamels. Tokyo National Museum

HOUSTON, TX.- The new, permanent Arts of Japan Gallery at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, will open to the public on Sunday, February 19. The Japan gallery will be the final installation in a suite of permanent Arts of Asia galleries surrounding Cullinan Hall in the Caroline Wiess Law Building, culminating an effort begun in 2007 to expand the presentation of Asian art at the museum. The Arts of Japan Gallery will open with a special inaugural exhibition, Elegant Perfection: Masterpieces of Courtly and Religious Art from the Tokyo National Museum, showcasing important objects from the collection of the Tokyo National Museum, including National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties that will stay in Houston for only eight weeks. In April 2012, the MFAH permanent collection of Japanese art will be installed with 16th-and 17th-century ceramics, 12th-century bronze Buddhist ritual objects and a 1000 B.C. sculpture on two-year long-term loan from the Tokyo National Museum. This will be the first time for the Tokyo National Museum to approve long term loans to an American museum.

“The initiative to re-locate and re-install the MFAH Asian art collection began nearly five years ago with the Arts of Korea Gallery and concludes with the completion of the Arts of Japan Gallery—the last in the suite of five,” said Gwendolyn H. Goffe, interim director, MFAH. “Thanks to the vision of the Asian communities in Houston, the space for Asian art at the MFAH has quadrupled, several significant art objects have joined the permanent collection and our commitment to Asian art exhibitions and educational programming continues.”

“We are extremely grateful to the Tokyo National Museum for loaning their National Treasures and other important cultural properties for the opening of the new Arts of Japan Gallery,” said Christine Starkman, MFAH Curator of Ancient to Contemporary Asian Art. “The display of these stunning and rare works immeasurably enriches our ability to showcase traditional Japanese work. Our commitment to exhibit contemporary objects will continue as well, with phase two of the installation and the eventual commission of a major work from a contemporary Japanese artist, showcasing Japanese art through time.”

Overseen by Starkman, the new Arts of Japan Gallery space will reflect a singularly Japanese aesthetic of beauty and quiet elegance. Custom-designed Toshiba LED lighting will illuminate artworks displayed in vitrine cases designed by Glasbau Hahn (of Germany).

The inaugural exhibition, Elegant Perfection: Masterpieces of Courtly and Religious Art from the Tokyo National Museum (through April 6, 2012), showcases more than 25 objects from the prestigious Tokyo National Museum’s permanent collection. This exhibition will cover essential themes and traditions in Japanese art and culture, illuminating the relationship between the rise of Buddhism in Japan and the development of a highly refined court culture. Among the works on loan are a number of rare pieces designated National Treasures, Important Cultural Properties and Important Art Objects, including a rare 11th-century edition of the Manyoshu (one of the oldest existing collections of Japanese poetry, first compiled in approximately 759 AD); a sumptuous indigo paper scroll documenting the Chinese priest Xuan-Zhuang’s travels to India, referred to as the Daito Saiiki Ki; calligraphy by the 16th–17th-century Emperor Goyozei; and such masterworks of Japanese Buddhist art as an 11th-century Heian period seated sculpture of Dainichi Nyorai and a 14th-century painting depicting the Buddha’s departure from this world.

Beginning in April, some of the objects on loan from the Tokyo National Museum, including Neolithic objects, bronze Buddhist ritual implements, lacquer musical instruments and a wide array of fine ceramics, will be shown for two years alongside works in the MFAH Japanese art permanent collection. The Arts of Japan presentation will be consistent with the Arts of Asia gallery displays at the MFAH, showcasing ancient art objects alongside contemporary art objects, such as Japanese photographer Ishimoto Yasuhiro’s celebrated photographs of the sacred Shinto shrine complex at Ise. The shrine is torn down and rebuilt every 20 years on an adjacent plot, thus purifying and renewing the space, while preserving the original design from the 3rd- and 4th-centuries. This process embodies the Shinto belief that what lives and dies is always renewed and reborn.

Continuing the emphasis on Japanese art through the summer, MFAH will debut Unrivaled Splendors: The Kimiko and John Powers Collection of Japanese Art June 17-September 23, 2012 in the 22,000-square-foot Upper Brown Pavilion of the Law Building. Kimiko and John Powers have been collecting Japanese art since the 1960s and have built a prestigious collection of over 300 objects spanning over 12 centuries. The collection is particularly strong in Buddhist art and calligraphy and 17th- and 18th-century scholarly painting. Among the 83 objects that will be shown at the MFAH are large-scale masterworks.

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Seated Dainichi Nyorai, Important Cultural Property, Heian period, 11th century. Lacquered wood. Tokyo National Museum.