Hot on the heels of Edinburgh’s contribution to the Japan Festival 1991 come two instructive collections hosted by Glasgow Museums and Art Galleries. Miranda France investigates.
The nationwide Japan Festival 1991 has some people confused. When exactly did it start. and why are we having it anyway? For the record. it was launched in August. to mark the 100th anniversary of Britain‘s Japan Society. Sir Peter Parker. Chairman ofthe Festival. thinks that it will be ‘fun‘. and. more importantly. that it will help to ‘demystify and to challenge‘ our misconceptions. ‘For too long'. he has said. ‘the British have been shown only stereotypes from Japan. A much more complex and intriguing Japan awaits us.‘ While the rest ofthe UK revels in sumo wrestling and tea ceremonies. kimono workshops and cooking lessons. Scotland has been celebrating in style — first with the Royal Museum's Treasures ofthe Fuji Museum exhibition. still running in Edinburgh. and now with two mind —broadenin g collections
from Glasgow Museums.
Artfor Industry. at Kelvingrove. dates back to 1878 when. at the instigation of Professor Robert Henry Smith - who was teaching Engineering at Tokyo University — the Japanese government made the City of Glasgow a gift of over 1000 contemporary objects. including ceramics. furniture. lacquer and metalware. textiles and paper. documented and packaged in 31 cases. In return Glasgow. renowned for its technological know-how. was asked to send industrial samples to the Tokyo National Museum. The exchange was part ofJapan’s drive for modernisation. Ten years earlier the country's fourteen-year—old emperor had sworn that ‘Knowledge shall be sought throughout the world so as to strengthen the foundations of imperial rule.‘ Superior aspects of
‘ Western technology had convinced Japan to lift
trading restrictions which went back 200 years.
The government‘s gift was intended to give an idea. not just ofJapanese manufacturers capabilities. but ofwhat daily life was like in a country whose doors had long been closed to Western eyes. Hence there are samples of paper for covering domestic wooden screens. showing that — while the wealthy decorated their interiors with painted lacquer screens and scrolls — poorer households could also be brightened with splashes ofcolour. Western furniture was fashionable and the collection includes a tall circular lacquered table. made by a Japanese craftsmen. but thoroughly Victorian in its appearance. and there is a large and very impressive selection of ceramics. textiles and even musical instruments. Upstairs is a the museum‘s own rare collection of Ukiyo-e or ‘Floating World' prints. so called because the subjects appear to be floating above clouds. by Kunisada. Hiroshige and others. depicting actors of 18th and 19th centuries and legendary heroes.
Glasgow Muscums’ showpiece is without any doubt the fantastic Mingei exhibition at the Burrell. Allowing for the fact that anything looks good set against its pine-floored. light-filled galleries. this is a well chosen. simple show — the perfect answer to Kelvingrove‘s many glass cases oftrinkets.
Mingei means simply ‘art of the people‘. and was
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Soetsu Yanagi. tounderot the Mingei tradition
coined by Soetsu Yanagi to describe the simple. hand-crafted objects that began to be supplanted by industrialisation in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Yanagi headed a movement to draw artesans back to the tradition. inspired. incidentally. by three tenets ofthe British craftsman William Morris: the value of the art of common people. the value of common household utensils. which he collected and called zakki, and the value of anonymity among his craftsmen and women. Together with Shoji llamada and British-born potter. Bernard Leach. he founded the Japan Folk Crafts Museum and was influential in reviving Japanese interest — recently seduced by
l I, . a I (V I, [,1 ' '4] 'v E. I 1‘; ‘l: . Y‘ .
ro as Ayuma Yojiro, by Kunichika
ActorDanju (1835-1900) Western style — in their own heritage. It is a revival which survived long after his death and. indeed. still survives in much the same way as he envisaged it.
This exhibition includes simple but stunning silk kimonos, large. chunky stoneware jars and plates and porcelain sake bottles — ceramics which could not be more different from the ‘typical' delicate tea sets so familiar to Western eyes. The colours are earthy. the patterns bold and minimalist. rather than intricate. The whole is refreshingly surprising. very much worth a visit.
It is also worth mentioning here that the Burrell is to hold a series ofconcerts by young Japanese musicians on Tuesday evenings. starting Tue 24 Sept. and that you can see an impressive array of works by contemporary Japanese printmakers at the Glasgow Print Studio until Sat 28. Workshops and children‘s activities start soon at Edinburgh's Royal Museum. Sumo wrestling. regrettably. is not on the agenda.
Art for Industry: The Glasgow-Japan Exchange of 1878 is at the/1r! Gallery (C- WIUSFUIN. Kelvingroi'c anti/5 Jan [992. Mingei: The Living 'l‘rtulition in Japanese Arts is at the Burrell ( ‘o/lcction until 0
The List 13 — 26 September 1991 51