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CMA invites you to view historical artistic transformation of 19th century Japan

Some views of the various exhibit rooms of “Remaking Tradition: Modern Art of Japan from the Tokyo National Museum” now on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Some views of the various exhibit rooms of “Remaking Tradition: Modern Art of Japan from the Tokyo National Museum” now on view at the Cleveland Museum of Art.
Mark Horning

At the end of nineteenth century and into the early part of the twentieth century huge political, artistic and social changes were happening in Japan. In 1853 Commodore Matthew C. Perry’s fleet arrived at the harbor in Urago, Japan thus opening up this isolated country to the world and in turn Japan to Western influence. Politically it spelled the end of the Edo period of feudal government under the Tokugawa military regime as the Meiji Restoration took place that centralized power to the emperor. By doing this, Japan was trying to protect itself from Western colonization while at the same time attempting to modernize itself so as to be equal to other countries of the world who sought to plunder this rich land.

Take time to see the first installment of this rare exhibit.
Mark Horning

Realizing that Western civilization had much to offer as far as advances in various sciences and engineering techniques as well as art, Japan sent their brightest youth to study abroad in Europe and the United States. What they brought back was not only the latest in scientific and artistic endeavors but also revolutionary cultural changes. The result was a traditional Japan trying to hold onto its past and maintaining its autonomy while quickly becoming a formidable world power.

It is felt by some teachers and students of art that the various Japanese artists and students who traveled to Europe may have had an influence on the Impressionist painters that were coming to the forefront at that time. It is clear when looking at the later works of such artists such as Claude Monet that Japanese architecture and style can be seen in their works.

At this same time there was a great upheaval in the Japanese artistic community where the tradition of using large portions of empty space in the picture plane was being questioned and a new modern Japanese style of contemporary art was emerging. This modern Japanese school of art (known as Nanga) encompassed nearly every inch of usable space and in such works such as “Mount Fuji Rising above Clouds” the clouds themselves have a delicate texture and presence when viewed from a distance, in short, seemingly empty space was used to tell a story. With the return of the art students back to Japan, Western influence could be seen in new Japanese works being produced at the turn of the century. Portraits had a “western” look to them not only in subject placement but also in painting technique.

Today marks the opening of The Cleveland Museum of Art exhibit “Remaking Tradition: Modern Art of Japan from the Tokyo National Museum”. The exhibit features fifty-five extraordinary works of modern Japanese art dated from the late nineteenth to the twentieth century. The show will include six pieces that the Japanese Government has designated ‘Important Cultural Properties’.

What makes these pieces so fascinating is the complexity of their simplicity. From afar you see a white vase (Vase with Butterfly and Peony Design in Relief by Seifu Yohei III, 1851–1914) but under close scrutiny much detail is revealed. The same is true of the work you come in contact with upon entering the first room (Machida Hisanri, First Director of the Tokyo National Museum) this intricate wood carving captures a Zen like quality that this subject had to have possessed in order for the artist (Takeuchi Kyuichi, 1857–1916) to be able to capture in this exquisite piece. I suggest you put aside ample time to truly explore the exhibit and to look for the intricate detail found in each piece. It will be time well spent. As you leave the exhibit, be sure to spend some time in the exhibit gift shop where you will find various publications and artistically rendered works that you can purchase to own.

The multi-media exhibit comes from the extensive collection of the Tokyo National Museum and includes examples of painting, sculpture, tapestry, ceramics and calligraphy. This is the first time for an exhibit of this size to be seen outside of Japan. The exhibit will be on display from February 16 through May 11, 2014 and will be housed in the Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Exhibition Hall.

“Remaking Tradition: Modern Art of Japan from the Tokyo National Museum” is part of a cultural exchange between the two museums. The Cleveland exhibit “Admired from Afar: Masterworks of Japanese Painting” features highlights of the Cleveland’s Museum’s extensive Japanese art collection as well as pieces from the Korean, Chinese and European collections. The Cleveland exhibit will be on display at the Kyushu National Museum from July 8 to August 31, 2014.

“Thanks to our long-term friendship and partnership with the Tokyo National Museum, it is our privilege to bring this important exhibition of art from a period in the cultural life of Japan to America,” said Fred Bidwell, interim director of the Cleveland Museum of Art. “Audiences will be fascinated by how the currents of Japanese culture and style represented by our beloved collection of traditional art are reflected in the evolution of Japanese Modern art in these objects of superb craftsmanship and artistry.”

“Despite a recent surge in Western academic interest in the arts of the Meiji, Taishō, and early Showa periods, there have been few major exhibitions on Japanese modern art in the United States,” stated Sinéad Vilbar, curator of Japanese and Korean art at the Cleveland Museum of Art. “This exhibition represents a special opportunity to bring Tokyo National Museum's holdings to a wider audience in the United States.”

Several of the light-sensitive objects displayed in this exhibition, including Mount Fuji Rising above Clouds by Yokoyama Taikan (1868-1958), Meishō by Tsuchida Bakusen (1887-1936) and Spring Rain by Shimomura Kanzan (1873-1930), will rotate. The first rotation will be through Sunday, March 30 and the exhibition will re-open to the public on Thursday, April 3. Those who paid to see the first rotation will be invited back at no extra charge to view the new rotation of works.

Highlights of Remaking Tradition: Modern Art of Japan from the Tokyo National Museum include:

Portrait of Reiko, 1921. Kishida Ryūsei (1891–1929). Oil on canvas; 48.25 x 55.88 cm. Tokyo National Museum, A-10568. Important Cultural Property.

Maiko Girl, 1893. Kuroda Seiki (1866–1924). Oil on canvas; 80.4 x 65.3cm. Tokyo National Museum, A-11258. Important Cultural Property.

Mount Fuji Rising above Clouds, c. 1913. Yokoyama Taikan (1868–1958). Pair of six-fold screens, color on gold-leafed silk; 187.2 × 416.3 cm (each screen). Tokyo National Museum, A-10533.

Spring Rain, 1916. Shimomura Kanzan (1873–1930). Pair of six-fold screens, color on silk; 190 x 406 cm (each). Tokyo National Museum, A-10517.

Footed Bowl with Applied Crabs and Brown Glaze, 1881. Miyagawa Kozan I (1842–1916). Ceramic; 37 cm. Tokyo National Museum, G-105. Important Cultural Property

Priest of Brahmanism, 1914(Taishō 3). Satō Chōzan (1888–1963). Wood with polychromy; 63.9 cm (with base). Tokyo National Museum, C-1501.

Poems from the Man’yōshū Poetry Anthology, 1959. Miyama Ryūdō (1903–1980). Two-fold screen, ink on paper; 68.8 x 121.1 cm. Tokyo National Museum, B-3148.


Adult tickets for Remaking Tradition: Modern Art of Japan from the Tokyo National Museum (which is now open to the public) and Van Gogh Repetitions (set to open to the public on March 2, 2014) are $20. Admission to the “Remaking Tradition” exhibit includes re-entry to view the second rotation of objects set to happen on Thursday, April 3, 2014. The exhibition is free for museum members. Complementary exhibition programming includes lectures, tours and educational programs.

Related Programming

Remaking Tradition: Modern Art of Japan from the Tokyo National Museum is accompanied by a variety of related programming. For more information and updates, please refer to

MIX: 現代
Friday, March 7, 2014
5:00–9:00 p.m.

Your MIX ticket grants free access to this stunning exhibition featuring Japanese art from the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Tickets are $7, $9 day of event; CMA members FREE.

Changing Images of the Body in Modern Japanese Art
Saturday, March 15, 2014
2:00 p.m.
Dr. Bert Winther-Tamaki, chair of Art History and
professor of Visual Culture at the University of California

Wednesday, April 16, 2014
6:30 p.m.
Sponsored by Case Western Reserve University
Gregory Levine, historian of Japanese art and architecture

Wednesday, April 23, 2014
6:30 p.m.
Sponsored by Case Western Reserve University
Dr. Alice Tseng

In Conversation
Remaking Tradition
Saturday, May 3, 2014
2:00 p.m.
Free; exhibition ticket required.
Eriko Tomizawa-Kay, fellow at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

“Remaking Tradition: Modern Art of Japan from the Tokyo National Museum” is organized by the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Tokyo National Museum. This partnership with the Tokyo National Museum is an achievement made possible by the support of the Japan Foundation.

About the Cleveland Museum of Art

The Cleveland Museum of Art is renowned for the quality and breadth of its collection, which includes almost 45,000 objects and spans 6,000 years of achievement in the arts. The museum is a significant international forum for exhibitions, scholarship, performing arts and art education and recently completed an ambitious, multi-phase renovation and expansion project across its campus. One of the top comprehensive art museums in the nation and free of charge to all, the Cleveland Museum of Art is located in the dynamic University Circle neighborhood.

The Cleveland Museum of Art is supported by a broad range of individuals, foundations and businesses in Cleveland and Northeast Ohio. The museum is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. Additional support comes from the Ohio Arts Council, which helps fund the museum with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans. For more information about the museum, its holdings, programs and events, call 888-CMA-0033 or visit

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