The movement now called Rinpa began in the early 17th century as a reaction to the sometimes over-the-top, flamboyant taste of the warlord-dominated Momoyama period (1573-1615.) Beginning in the Imperial capital, Kyoto, the movement began with the master artists Hon’ami Koetsu (1558-1637) and Tawaraya Sôtatsu (fl. ca. 1600-1640.) The name Rinpa is a Meiji period invention using the second character of ‘Korin’ and ‘pa’, so that the combination was a deferential appellation meaning ‘School of Rin’.
Koetsu and Sotatsu conceived an almost revolutionary approach to artistic expression using two-dimensional, compositional planes that were based on traditional, courtly yamato-e paintings, but employed radically new use of colours, colour combinations, graphic abbreviations, compositional planes and unusual combinations. This new approach continued in the work of Ogata Korin (1658-1716,) later with those two mid-Edo artists influenced by him, Sakai Hoitsu (1761-1828) and Suzuki Kiitsu (1796-1858) and is still a powerful artistic influence in contemporary arts in Japan and elsewhere. In the same way that the radicalism of the 20th century Art Deco movement spread into almost all art forms, Rinpa incorporated not only painting, but also expanded into ceramics, calligraphy, textiles, metalwork and lacquer.
This remarkable exhibition, organised by John T. Carpenter, Curator of Japanese Art in the Department of Asian Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, features some 90 brilliantly executed works of art by Rinpa-school artists and will include works from the museum’s own holdings, as well as loans from public and private collections on the East Coast, to include renowned works in a variety of media: painting, textiles, lacquer ware, and ceramics, etc. The second rotation will include nine screens, six pairs of screens, one set of fusuma, nine paintings, nine ceramics, four cloisonné, as well as illustrated books, calligraphy, textiles, interior furnishings, works in lacquer and bamboo and metalwork.
The screens will include those by the studio of Tawaraya Sotatsu, Kamisaka Sekka, Konoe Nobutada, Ogata Kenzan, Ikeda Koson and the famous Ogata Korin himself who is represented by two pairs of his screens, the instantly recognisable Irises at Yatsuhashi (Eight Bridges), as well as Cranes, Pine and Bamboo, both pairs from the Met’s own collection. Irises at Yatsuhashi is so iconic in the public’s eye that the pair could serve as an exhibition in themselves.
The hanging scrolls and paintings include works by Korin, Karasumaru Mitsuhiro, Tawaraya Sotatsu himself , Sakai Hoitsu, Suzuki Kiitsu, Ogata Kenzan (Korin’s brother,) Kamisaka Sekka and Sakai Oho; the three calligraphy scrolls are all by Hon’ami Koetsu, one of the two founding masters of Rinpa. The ceramics are a very happy mix of the old and the new with contemporary pieces by Kondo Yutaka, Nakamura Takuo, Wakao Toshisada, Miyashita Zenji, Koike Shoko and Fukami Sueharu and 17th-, 18th- and 19th-century pieces in the style of Nonomura Ninsei, Ogata Kenzan himself, Kyo-yaki Kenzan style and iron-brown, slip-decorated Kenzan style wares.
The small lacquer section will include four almost identical suzuribako that depict a woodcutter in the styles of Ogata Korin and Hon’ami Kôetsu and one attributed to Korin – good for visual comparison. A bold, black silk crêpe Showa period (1926-1989) kimono is bordered with pines and clouds in paste-resist dyeing and is blatantly Rinpa in its composition. The four cloisonné on view are all A+ Meiji works by the Ando Company (attributed), Hattori Tadasaburo (two) and Kawade Shibataro. They are technically perfect and convey the Rinpa message, but come across as lifeless, like much of Meiji decorative art. For simple good humour, there are two 20th-century entries, a madake bamboo-shaped sculpture by Monden Kogyoku (born 1916) and PixCell-Deer#24 by Kohei Nawa from 2011 depicting a taxidermied deer decorated with crystal glass and acrylic beads.
Printed books are always difficult to display because pages cannot be turned, but the Met has devised a clever solution to this stalemate. Special digital displays of illustrated books by Kamisaka Sekka will be available in the galleries so that visitors can ‘turn the pages’ of the actual early 20th-century books that will be exhibited in cases nearby.
The overriding feeling of this exhibition seems to be good-natured exuberance because in it, a lively, almost happy, sense of artistic liberty has taken flight – whimsical perhaps. Static? No. Light and unrestrained? Yes. Worth a leisurely visit – or two? Absolutely!
BY MARTIN BARNES LORBER
From 13 September to 13 January, this is the second rotation, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 5th Avenue, New York 10028, www.metmuseum.org. A catalogue accompanies the exhibition.