Suzuki Kiitsu, Japanese, 1796–1858, Shø-Kannon, 19th century, ink, color, and gold on silk; hanging scroll, The John R. Van Derlip Fund; purchase from the collection of Elizabeth and Willard Clark 2013.31.33.
MINNEAPOLIS, MN.- The Minneapolis Institute of Arts is celebrating the acquisition of the Clark Collections of Japanese Art with the special exhibition “The Audacious Eye: Japanese Art from the Clark Collections”. The exhibition presents 120 highlights that showcase 1,200 years of Japanese art from the 8th century to 2012. The exhibition is a first in a series that will feature the Clark Collections and emphasize the richness of the MIA’s Japanese collection—one of the finest in the nation.
From the restrained to the exuberant, refined to bold, naturalistic to abstract, humorous to resolute, conventional to eccentric, Japanese art is characterized by polarities that derive from cultural traditions formed through native as well as imported and then adapted ideas and aesthetics, especially from China. Since the late 19th century, collectors from Western countries, captivated by the various motifs, media, and expressions of Japanese art, embarked on amassing impressive collections for their curiosity and pleasure. Bill and Libby Clark are firmly placed in this tradition and succeeded in assembling one of the finest collections of Japanese art in private hands.
Passionately collecting since 1978, the Clarks and the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture, a not-for-profit museum which they founded near their home in central California in 1995, amassed 1,700 works of art ranging from paintings to woodblock prints, ceramics to textiles, wood sculptures to works of bamboo and lacquer ware.
The Clark Collections reflect the scope of Japanese art in all its polarities—restrained and exuberant, humorous and resolute, conventional and eccentric—derived from a long history of combining native and imported ideas and aesthetics. Since the late 19th century, collectors from Western countries, captivated by the various motifs, media, and expressions of Japanese art, embarked on amassing impressive collections for their curiosity and pleasure. Bill and Libby Clark are firmly placed in this tradition and succeeded in assembling one of the finest collections of Japanese art in private hands.
“Bill did not follow market trends or restrict himself to a specific medium, time period, artist, or motif,” says Andreas Marks, curator of Japanese and Korean Art at the MIA and director of the Clark Center at the MIA. “He freed himself to collect whatever he liked, whatever caught his audacious eye, and he strove to find strange, peculiar, curious, intriguing works that ‘spoke to him.’”
Testifying to his idiosyncratic collecting, the works range from the 13th-century wood sculpture of Daiitoku Myoo, the Buddhist Wisdom King of Awe-Inspiring Power, to a pair of 20th-century six-panel folding screens by Mano Kyotei (1874–1934), showing the Gods of Thunder, Wind, and Rain on silver ground.
The exhibition is divided into eight sections, starting with Visualizing Buddhist Faith, a series of sculptures and paintings from the 8th to the 14th century. It was a period of revitalization of Buddhist art, as new subjects and techniques broadened the genre along with the audience. These works are unique products of medieval Japan, and invaluable for observing the country’s changing tides of religious belief.
Chinese Influence: 15th to 16th Century explores Japan’s unabashed embrace of Chinese ink painting. The austerity of the form appealed to the Confucian values of directness, modesty, and restraint, while Chinese subjects, such as the hawk depicted in a superb ink painting by Kanø Yukinobu (1513–73), spoke to the unity of martial prowess and aesthetic discernment that the Japanese warrior class pursued.
Diversification in the 17th Century showcases the booming arts of the Edo period (1603–1868). The relative peace and stability of the era supported the emergence of an educated, cultured, and affluent audience, including commoners, whose patronage helped the arts flourish and spread into a number of distinct movements.
Idiosyncrasies of the 18th Century presents some of the period’s most celebrated eccentric artists, including Maruyama Økyo (1733–95), Nagasawa Rosetsu (1747–99), Soga Shøhaku (1730–81), and Itø Jakuchū (1716–1800). Famed for their individualistic styles, these artists broke with the mainstream and embarked on unconventional, bold ideas.
Assimilating the Exotic in the 19th Century shows how Japanese artists came under the influence of art from mainland Asia and the West despite contact with foreign countries being strictly limited during the Edo period. Some, such as Tani Bunchø (1763–1840) and Suzuki Kiitsu (1796–1858), experimented with Western techniques like single-point perspective. Others, including Kiitsu and Sakai Høitsu (1761–1821), looked to the past to create fresh interpretations of Japan’s decorative heritage.
Tradition and Modernity in the Late 19th Century tracks the revival of older themes in painting at a time when Japan was both rapidly modernizing and looking back fondly to its own heritage.
Novel Expressions in the First Half of the 20th Century covers the exciting period of travel and exchange before World War II, when Japanese artists were granted unprecedented access to diverse influences that soon appeared in their own work, including Western realism.
The final section, Contemporary Visions of the Last 15 Years, brings things up to the present with largely threedimensional works created by living artists who have reinvigorated established art forms.
Kanø Yukinobu, Japanese, 1643–82, Hawk, 16th century, ink on paper; hanging scroll, gift of the Clark Center for Japanese Arts and Culture 2013.29.93.
Moon and Waves, early 19th century, Suzuki Kiitsu, 1796–1858 Ink and color on silk Gift of Elizabeth and Willard Clark 2013.30.13.