Made in Japan
Britain‘s year-longJapan Festival is represented in Edinburgh by three exhibitions ofvery different content. Andrew Gibbon Williams went to them all.
To judge by this year‘s festival publicity one would think that Ninagawa's theatre was the only Japanese event worth attending. Far from it. Edinburgh is witnessing the first manifestations of the nationwide Japan Festival. It runs until the end of the year and has cost a total of £20 million; the Scottish events alone have been facilitated by sponsorship off-100.000.
Japanese culture is intensely visual so. not surprisingly. a people who are more adept than most at making and designing have produced a fair proportion of the world's artistic glories. At the Royal Museum of Scotland festival visitors have the opportunity ofsavouring some of these for the first time outside Japan. ‘Behind Golden Screens: Treasures From The Tokyo Fuji Museum' is one of those rare exhibitions where even the most minor exhibit is little short ofwonderful and the best defy prosaic verbal description.
Like most things Japanese — ironically in view of 20th century military history — the screen was a Chinese import. It had been used in China for at least two centuries before the birth ofChrist. but it was the Japanese who. after the 7th century. were to revive its design and transform its surfaces into arenas where intensely beautiful narrative and ethereal reflection could hold court.
For most of this century fastidious styles have been inimical to western taste: if my own response to this Japanese work is in any way a barometer ofwider taste then perhaps their time has come again. Two long screens painted in the 17th century depict scenes from the Tales
ofGenji (a sort of medieval Japanese
courtly romance). Cavalry prance with convincing agility. oxen pull decorative carriages. ladies of the court extract kimonos from ceremonial boxes; compared with the Bayeux Tapestry this is ‘real life‘. in spite of the fact that the scenes are distributed across a totally unrepresentational blanket of
Kyogen mask from Behind Golden Screens: Treasures From The Tokyo Fuji Art Museum
golden clouds pierced by foliage. Indeed. animals— especially birds - figure prominently. Fabulously coloured phoenixes cavort amongst peonies. In monochrome. hawks and cranes. drawn with the awesome facility of a I’isanello. swoop and forage.
However. a more precise notion of Japanese everyday life is given by a series ofprints called the Fifty-'I‘hree Stations ()fThe Tokaido. The Takaido was the ancient ceremonial way linking Kyoto and Edo (modor Tokyo). It was dotted with tea houses and other such locations to which pilgrims could repair and in these prints an immense variety of incident proliferates: a horse is watered. a market man hoists a basket ofcarp. elegant ladies engage in the celebrated tea ceremony.
('omjmsitionally these prints
evince an asymmetrical charm. and it 5
is not difficult to see how late 19th century European artists were seduced by it. A well-known print of a plum tree by Horoshige is included; this is one of several by the best known Japanese printmaker. copied by Van Gogh. Screens and prints are complemented by exquisite lacquer work. netsukc. armour and weaponry. I could have done without the militaria: nevertheless it serves to ﬂesh out the idea ofJapanese civilisation.
The Fine Art Society. ever since its
close association with that greatest of
l9th century Japanophiles. Whistler. has done much to foster a British fascination with things Japanese. From the Japan festival it has mounted a gem-like exhibition of four artists who travelled there during the Meiji period. This was the time immediately after the forced opening of the country‘s closed and xenophobic society when virtually every landscape and street-scene offered the artist a romantic subject.
Sir Alfred East was actually sent by the Fine Art Society in the 1880s. His views are fine as far as they go. imbued as they are with an authentic-feeling Japanese spirit. but they do not possess the loving humility to be found in the smaller. less-grandiose pictures of Mortimer Menpes. a Whistler acolyte. It is the colouring of Menpes — faded-looking but. paradoxically. intense — which strike me as absolutely right.
He also has an eye for the intriguing composition. a quality nowhere more evident than in a tiny picture of a Japanese boy seated on a bench. The Scottish duo. George Henry and E. A. Hornel. made a real meal ofJapan. imposing on it a kind of Mediterranean sultriness in the manner of the French painter of brilliant colour and imposto. Monticelli. Best are Hornel‘s Japanese silk shops. but he might well have dished much the same treatment to Liberty‘s.
At the Talbot Rice Art Gallery. an exhibition called Zen: Hamano And Ryu. contemporary Japanese painting in severely abstract vein confirms all one's worst fears about the cultural price the civilized world has had to pay for General McCarthy's victory. Personally I do not feel that a ﬂourishing Tokyo Stock Exchange was worth Hiroshima. Cultural colonisation — particularly by the United States — is a terrible thing.
Behind ( I olden Screens: 'l'reasures From The Tokyo Fuji A rt Museum is at the Royal Museum ofScotlantl. Chambers Street. until 20 ()(‘t.
Opening The Window: British Artists i
In Meiji Japan 1880—1990. at the Fine A rt .S'ociety. and Zen .' H amano Anti Ryu. at the Talbot RieeArt Gallery continue until 7Sept.
Bronze Workers by Mortimer Menpes t
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Tessa Bottin's | The Knight's Move
I Stolen Glances I’hotographsby lesbians. challenging received notions of beauty. bravery and sexuality. I Stolen (ilances: l.(’.\‘l>lull.\’ Til/(e l’ltt)l()grttplt.\’. Stills (iallery. until [4 Sept. 50p.
I Sir William Gillies (1898-1973) A retrospective of oils and watcrcoloursby the Scottish artist w ho. together with Redpath I and .‘vlc'I’aggart. l spearheaded the l Edinburgh School of painters. Sir ll'i/liam (ii/lies. Botlrne l'tne A r! and The Scottish (iallery. anti/30 A Ill". free. I Redoute‘s Roses The original 18th century rose watercolours of Pierre-Joseph Redoute. one of the world's most famous botanical artists and a fayouritc of Marie Antoinette and Empress Josephine. Rerloute's Roses. Royal Botanic (fan/ens. until 15 Sept. [.3 (U). I Michael Andrews Andrews' stunning vast paintingsof Atrstralian landscapes. and sortie smaller. Scottish scenes. Michael A wireless Ayers Rock and Other Landscapes. (iallery of Modern .-l rt. anti/39.81721. £3 ([1). I Ian Hamilton Finlay Britain‘s foremost concrete poet and leader of the Little Sparta I Vigilantes is honoured with the first major ! retrospectixe of his printed work. Ian Hamilton l'inlalv anrl The H'iltl Hawthorn Press 1958-»- / ()‘Il. l'ruitmarkel (iallerv. [Hill/[4517M £3 (1/). l
Cool. tastelul and relaxing. That’s how galleries usedto
be. and ilyou look hard enough,you mightlind oneor
two still are ..
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