Jakuchu’s Adorability and Shoen’s Beauty: “Kawaii” in Japanese Art

Yamatane Museum of Art

poster for Jakuchu’s Adorability and Shoen’s Beauty: “Kawaii” in Japanese Art

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The term “kawaii,” meaning cute, adorable, or charming, is becoming more familiar overseas due to growing interest in Japan’s “kawaii” culture. Looking back over the centuries, we find that the Heian-period “Pillow Book” includes a section entitled “Adorable Things,” with a list that includes infants and baby sparrows. A culture that enjoys the charm and ephemeral nature of the small, the very young, and the immature as “kawaii” has a long history indeed. This exhibition focuses on “kawaii” as it has gripped people’s hearts over the ages, in art as well as in literature. On display are works with subjects including children, with their innocent gestures and charming expressions, as well as birds, insects, cats, dogs and other living things that are familiar parts of our lives and make us say “kawaii!”

“Fujibukuro-no-sōshi” (Tale of the Wisteria Basket; Suntory Museum of Art) from the Muromachi period depicts anthropomorphized monkeys in a simple style similar to children’s books. Itō Jakuchū, an Edo-period artist, used his grid-painting technique in “Birds, Flowers, and Animals of the Four Seasons” folding screen (Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art) to portray his subjects with great affection. More recently, modern Nihonga artists continue to capture charming moments in nature and in our daily lives. In works such as “Horned Owl” (Yamatane Museum of Art), for example, Takeuchi Seihō observed animals tenderly, while Shoen Uemura’s “Girls Folding Paper Cranes” (Yamatane Museum of Art) shows girls innocently enjoying origami. The oil paintings of Morikazu Kumagai and illustrations of Rokuro Taniuchi have a gentle quality that would be perceived as “kawaii” today. In addition to paintings from the medieval through the contemporary periods, this exhibition contains a wide variety of other works such as small cosmetics cases that capture the “maidenly heart.” Through Japanese art, visitors can examine not only the adorableness of outward appearances, but the “kawaii” implicit in simple lines, colorful palettes, and humorous styles.

Part 1: 1/3–2/2, Part 2: 2/4–3/2. Some works will be alternated between Parts 1 and 2.


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from January 03, 2014 to March 02, 2014



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