BAMBOO BASKETRY. "The Gate," a piece by Tanabe Chikuunsay IV,
is seen at The Metropolitan Museum of Art. The artwork is part
of an exhibit called "Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey
Collection," which is on view through February 4, 2018 at the
New York museum. (Photo/The Metropolitan Museum of Art via AP)
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #15 (August 7, 2017),
Met exhibit looks at Japan’s fine craft of
By Katherine Roth
The Associated Press
NEW YORK — Bamboo is getting attention these days as a
versatile and sustainable material for housewares, so the timing
is good for a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit that explores
Japan’s ancient craft of basketry.
"Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection" is devoted to
masterworks, including a half dozen works by two artists
designated as Living National Treasures in Japan. To highlight
the works’ virtuosity and context, they have been displayed
alongside paintings, ceramics, bronzes, kimono, and other pieces
from different genres.
The exhibit also explores other traditional Japanese arts
that are entwined with bamboo basketry, such as ikebana flower
arranging and the tea ceremony. Bamboo is so central to Japanese
culture that the Japanese and Chinese character for bamboo is
part of over a thousand other characters, including those for
many items traditionally made of bamboo, such as flutes, writing
brushes, boxes, and baskets.
The Met’s show, organized by Monika Bincsik, assistant
curator in the department of Asian art, tells the story of
bamboo through almost 100 works dating from the late 19th
century to the present. It focuses on the refined beauty and
technical complexity of Japanese basketry. The exhibit will
remain on view through February 4, 2018.
Although the oldest Japanese baskets date to the 700s and
were mainly used as offering trays and holders for lotus petals,
there was little focus on Japanese bamboo art in the western
world until relatively recently, Bincsik says. Most of the works
featured in this show are taken from the Diane and Arthur Abbey
Collection, and most have never before been shown to the public.
More than 70 of the works on exhibit were recently promised as
gifts to the Met.
The show opens with a dramatically curvaceous
floor-to-ceiling sculpture by master craftsman Tanabe Chikuunsay
IV. With its voluptuous shape, the site-specific piece is woven
out of rare tiger bamboo, which is mottled with dark spots.
The introductory section shows how bamboo was used for
hundreds of years for everyday utensils as well as refined
containers. It was a craft generally honed by specific families,
with expertise handed down from one generation to the next. Some
leading bamboo artisans created their own schools, many still
But it was not until the late 19th century, the exhibit
explains, that bamboo craftsmanship began to be recognized as,
first, a veritable Japanese decorative art and, later, as a bona
fide art form. Later masters such as Iizuka Rokansai created
innovative works that were the foundation for contemporary
The show includes textiles passed from bamboo basketry
mentors to their students as a sort of diploma, or graduation
gift, signalling an apprentice’s elevation to the rank of
skilled craftsman. These precious textiles were passed down time
and again over generations.
Most of the exhibit is organized geographically into three
major Japanese regions; Kansai (mainly Kyoto and Osaka), Kanto
(mainly Tokyo), and the southern area of Kyushu.
Highlights include "Basket for Trans- porting Tea Ceremony
Utensils," made in the late 1800s by Hayawaka Shokosai I. He is
believed to be the first bamboo craftsman to sign his work,
paving the way for increased recognition of the works of
"Moon Reflected on Water" was made in 1929 by Sakaguchi
Sounsai. It was the first bamboo work accepted into a
government-sponsored art exhibition, that year.
Another major work is "Offering or Fruit Tray with
Intersecting Circles Design," made in about 1947 from smoked
timber bamboo by Shono Shounsai, who in 1967 become the first
Living National Treasure of bamboo art.
There are baskets that incorporate ancient arrows, still
revealing their red or black lacquer. A vase called "Dragon in
Clouds" by Iizuka Shokansai is twisted out of a single stick of
bamboo. Another work, "Woman," made in 2004 by Nagakura Ken’ichi,
is also formed from a single stick of bamboo, and resembles a
sculpture by Giacometti.
One takeaway from the show is that the possibilities of
bamboo may turn out to be as vast and limitless as the form is
The exhibit will not travel beyond New York, but is
accompanied by a slim but detailed publication, Japanese
Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection, with text by Bincsik and
photos (Metropolitan Museum of Art, Bulletin, Spring 2017).