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SEASONS:<i>The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art</i>

Shimomura Kanzan, <i>Poet Fujiwara-no Teika in Mt. Ogura 1909</i>. Pair of six screens; colour on silk. 157.0 x 333.5cm each

Spring is the cherry blossom
Summer is the cuckoo
Autumn is the moon
And in winter the shimmering snow is fresh to the eye. 
                                                                                                                 Eihei Dogen (1200-53)

SEASONS: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art  presents some of the finest examples of Japanese art created over 400 years. Drawn from public and private collections around Japan, the exhibition reveals the profound Japanese love and appreciation of nature.

For centuries the Japanese people have always adapted their lives to the changing seasons, and their art reflects their sensitivity to seasonal nuances. With the coming of each new season, people change the display of paintings in their home and entertain guests with utensils appropriately designed or decorated. Movable screens, hanging scrolls, writing boxes, tea utensils, ceramics, kimonos and even saddles were often decorated with seasonal motifs, exquisite examples of which are included in this exhibition.

The carefully selected 94 works comprise paintings, lacquer, ceramics and textiles including pieces designated as Important Cultural Property or Important Art Objects. Many works in the exhibition are such major pieces of Japanese art they would have been extremely difficult to borrow without the mediation of the Japanese Government's Agency for Cultural Affairs (the Bunkachô). The Art Gallery of New South Wales is honoured to have been selected to present the first Bunkachô exhibition in Australia.

Due to the fragility of the works of art, the objects will be displayed in two consecutive exhibitions over a period of ten weeks. SEASONS creates two different thematic displays within the overall structure of the exhibition. Each of the two displays consists of three sections:

  1. The four seasons
  2. From spring to summer - 16 August to 21 September 2003 
    From autumn to winter - 26 September to 26 October 2003
  3. Seasons and literature

The four seasons section comprises individual works or sets of works that depict the seasonal cycle and the activities specific to each season. The Japanese appreciate the gradual and inevitable transition from one season to the next to the extent of capturing this passage of the seasons in their art. The section also indicates how many seasonal motifs are infused with poetic associations.

From spring to summer focuses on major icons of these seasons, most notably the cherry blossom, which the Japanese love because enjoyment of its beauty is enhanced by its very brevity. No sooner has it budded and bloomed than it falls; no other flower so poignantly captures how fleeting beauty can be. The Japanese have elevated the appreciation of such transience to an aesthetic experience that pervades their daily lives. Other seasonal icons beautifully rendered in art include hydrangeas in the rainy season and summer festivals.

The second period of this section - From autumn to winter - features autumnal icons, the modest appearance of autumn grasses alluding to the melancholy mood of the season, insects whose varied sounds compensate for the lack of bright flowers in the garden, and the bright maple leaves that attract people outdoors for picnics.

The last section - Seasons and literature - demonstrates the rich legacy of associations rendered by Japanese classical literature's use of seasonal images and metaphors. For example, the motif of plank bridges zigzagging between irises immediately calls to mind a poignant chapter from the famous 10th century Tales of Ise in which the exiled hero is so transfixed by the beauty of irises that he composes a poem longing for the lover he left in the capital. Poetry is so entwined with seasonal references that some kimonos decorated with seasonal motifs also feature poems embroidered on them.

The appreciation of nature is not unique to the Japanese people, but the way they express this appreciation is. SEASONS: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art  is an excellent opportunity to share the Japanese fascination with the most subtle signs of the changing seasons and to experience such everyday sights as the moon, cherry blossoms and maples from a new perspective.

SEASONS: The Beauty of Transience in Japanese Art  has been co-organised by the Art Gallery of New South Wales, the Japanese Government's Agency for Cultural Affairs (the Bunkacho), and the Japan Foundation, with support from the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo and VisAsia.

Supporting Sponsor: Optimal Fund Management

Saturday, 16 August 2003, 9.30am - 5pm

Leading Japanese art scholars and curators from Japan, United States and Australia explore seasonal influences on painting, poetry, kimono and ceramics focusing on artists and works in the exhibition.

Tuesdays, 1 - 2pm from 5 August to 21 October 2003

Is the cherry blossom just a cliché? Delve behind Japanese imagery and symbols with in-depth lectures on art history, literature, garden design and film.

Fridays, 1 - 2pm from 22 August to 17 October 2003
See the exhibition from a different angle in conversation with curators, artists and experts.

Mondays to Fridays, 2pm

Weekends and publc holidays 12 noon
Free guided tours will take place in the exhibition.

Wednesdays, 6.30pm from 20 August to 1 October 2003 
Exciting and thought provoking talks and performance including Riley Lee and Taikoz, and Philip Brophy on anime.

Saturdays 2 - 3pm from 30 August to 27 September 2003
A selection of traditional art making, music and haiku poetry reading in the surrounds of the exhibition.

Sundays 12.30pm from 17 August to 19 October 2003 
The Australian Institute of Music presents music inspired by nature including Vivaldi's Four Seasons in the Gallery's Old Courts.

FILM SERIES Seasons and Stories
Wednesdays, 2.30pm and 7.15pm
Sundays, 2.30pm

From 20 August to 19 October 2003
The effect of the elements and the seasons upon human behaviour is something Japanese film directors exploit frequently and subtly. Often nature and the physical environment literally dominate Japanese films. They set the atmosphere and, for Japanese directors, atmosphere can be more important than plot. The details of time, place, background and season, often conveyed in a single image, are used to build up important details and nuances within these dramas.

Weekdays, 10.30am - 12noon
29 September to 10 October 2003 (excluding 6 October)

Practical workshop Nature Trail (5 to 9 years) Japanese paper craft and origami.

Tuesdays, 2 - 4pm
30 September & 7 October 2003 only

Practical workshop Painting Season (9 to 13 years) Brush up your ink painting skills.

29 September to 2 October, 6 October to 10 October 2003, 1.30pm
Sunday, 5 October, 2.30pm

Free performance Making up manga. Let Dave Hackett show you how to create your own Japanese-style cartoon character.

An extensive programme for teachers and students includes A Day in Japan for the primary level and screenings of Spirited Away for secondary groups supported by language worksheets and an on-lineeducation kit.

On view:Saturday, 16 August to Sunday, 21 September 2003
Friday, 26 September to Sunday, 26 October 2003
Art Gallery of New South Wales
Art Gallery Road, The Domain, Sydney
Telephone:(02) 9225 1744
or recorded information (02) 9225 1790
National Toll Free 1800 679 278
Hours:10am to 5pm, 7 days a week
Art After Hours: Wednesday nights until 9pm
Admission:$10 adults $7 members/concessions
Media Information and Interviews:Claire Martin
Telephone 61 2 9225 1734 or 0414 437 588

IMAGE CREDIT: SHIMOMURA Kanzan (1873-1930) Poet Fujiwara-no Teika in Mt Ogura 1909 (detail).
Pair of six-fold screens; colour on silk. 157 x 333.5 cm each. Yokohama Museum of Art