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Freer and Sackler Galleries Present Once-in-a-Lifetime Exhibition of Legendary Japanese Master Tawaraya Sōtatsu Oct. 24–Jan. 31, 2016


“Sōtatsu: Making Waves” and Related Exhibition “Bold and Beautiful” Celebrate 400th Anniversary of Popular Japanese Rinpa Style



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June 2, 2015

The first major exhibition in the Western hemisphere devoted to the revered 17th-century Japanese master Tawaraya Sōtatsu debuts Oct. 24 at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, in Washington, D.C. “Sōtatsu: Making Waves,” on view through January 31, 2016, is the first and only opportunity to see more than 70 of Sōtatsu’s celebrated masterpieces from Japan, the U.S. and Europe together, along with homage works by later artists.

An unlikely genius who emerged from the most turbulent period in Japanese history, Sotatsu (ca. 1570–ca. 1640), was a commoner whose powerful designs revolutionized Japanese visual culture and brought traditional courtly arts to the masses. Highlights include the celebrated screens “Waves at Matsushima,” “Dragons and Clouds” and his arguably most famous work, “Painted Fans Mounted on a Screen” from Japan’s Imperial Collection, as well as paintings on folding screens, poem cards and handscrolls and designs for luxury book editions (view image gallery).

“This is an unprecedented moment, the chance for U.S. audiences to discover one of the most important and influential Japanese painters of the past 400 years through his greatest works,” said James Ulak, senior curator of Japanese art at the Freer and Sackler. “Sōtatsu’s designs profoundly changed both Japanese and Western art, yet only now is his name emerging from the shadows.”

Sōtatsu’s works are instantly recognizable, with bold, almost abstracted, design, vibrant colors, lavish fields of gold and silver and tarashikomi (dropping ink onto a wet background to create delicate detail). These innovations later became known as the Rinpa style, which permeated Japanese decorative arts for almost four centuries.

Much of his life, however, remains a mystery. “Making Waves” will explore how Japan’s massive social upheaval allowed a common Kyoto fan-shop owner to become a sophisticated designer with aristocratic connections. Later, a resurgence in his popularity in the early 20th century inspired new generations of Japanese artists, styles such as Art Deco and Western luminaries such as Gustav Klimt and Henri Matisse. As a result, Sōtatsu’s 400-year-old work appears unexpectedly modern.

Museum founder Charles Lang Freer collected several of Sōtatsu’s most noted paintings and is widely credited with introducing both Sōtatsu and his frequent collaborator Hon’ami Kōetsu (1558–1637) to Western audiences. Due to restrictions in Freer’s will, the works cannot travel.

Opening June 28, the related exhibition “Bold and the Beautiful: Rinpa in Japanese Art” traces Sōtatsu’s long-ranging influence through the work of later Rinpa artists, especially Ogata Kōrin (1658–1716), his brother Ogata Kenzan (1663–1743). The exhibition features almost 40 works from the Freer’s remarkable collection of Rinpa paintings, ceramics, prints and lacquers, emphasizing the style’s bright, elegant simplicity.

Japan’s cultural leaders have declared 2015 the 400th anniversary of the Rinpa style, commemorating the 1615 founding of the Kyoto artist colony where Rinpa emerged. In a year rich with Rinpa displays throughout Japanese museums, the Smithsonian’s “Making Waves” and “Bold and Beautiful” will be the only major U.S. presentations.

Sōtatsu: Making Waves is co-organized by the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Japan Foundation. The exhibition is supported by All Nippon Airways Co., Ltd. with special thanks to the Tokyo University of the Arts. Additional generous support is also provided by the Anne van Biema Endowment Fund.

In his visit to the Freer and Sackler Galleries on April 29, 2015, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe noted to assembled guests the importance of the landmark exhibition of the Japanese artist Tawaraya Sōtatsu’s works and pledged support to the ongoing, vigorous programming that promotes Japanese art and culture to U.S. audiences.

A full-color exhibition catalog, published in fall 2015, will be the first English-language survey of Sōtatsu.

The Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Ave. S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. Hours are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day (closed Dec. 25), and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information about the Freer and Sackler galleries and their exhibitions, programs and other public events, visit asia.si.edu or follow twitter.com/freersackler or facebook.com/freersackler. For general Smithsonian information, call (202) 633-1000.  

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The Freer|Sackler is closed for renovation and reinstallation. The popular exhibition Turquoise Mountain: Artists Transforming Afghanistan is still on view in the International Gallery. (Enter through the Ripley Center.) Join us for our reopening celebration on October 14–15, 2017.