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"Patterned Feathers, Piercing Eyes: Edo Masters From the Price Collection" Opens at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery

Media only: Ellie Reynolds, 202.633.0521; Elizabeth Bridgforth, 202.633.0521
Public only: 202.633.1000
Exhibition images: Click for high-resolution images
Exhibition dates: November 10, 2007–April 13, 2008

Media Preview: Wednesday, November 7, 2007, 10 a.m.

October 5, 2007

More than 100 of the finest paintings from the Japanese Edo period (1615-1868) will be featured in "Patterned Feathers, Piercing Eyes: Edo Masters from the Price Collection," on view Nov. 10 through April 13, 2008 at the Smithsonian's Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. During the unusual five-month span of the exhibition, several complete rotations will be scheduled to accommodate the scale of the collection and provide protection for light-sensitive works. Each rotating painting will be similar in style to the one it replaces.

The 109 masterworks are part of the Etsuko and Joe Price Collection of Corona del Mar, Calif., regarded as one of the finest private collections of Japanese art in the world. The paintings recently were part of a highly acclaimed four-venue tour in Japan that attracted more than 800,000 visitors.

Amassed during the past five decades, the Price collection celebrates painting of the Edo period, a time when Japan had purposefully cut itself off from extensive contact with the rest of the world. Curiously, during that period of national seclusion, independent and diversely creative artists flourished as never before.

The exhibition will not be organized by artists or schools, however, nor will it be in chronological order. Instead, the exhibition will allow visitors the freedom to view the works that attract them and stir their imaginations. "Patterned Feathers, Piercing Eyes" will occupy two levels of the Sackler's special exhibition gallery and opens with an introduction to Joe Price and his foundation in architecture. The introduction will be followed by, among others, a gallery featuring a rotation of three large screens, including one by Itō Jakuchū titled "Birds, Animals, and Flowering Plants in Imaginary Scene." With its prominent white elephant in the midst of a peaceable kingdom and its distinctive mosaic pattern, the screen is believed to be a memorial to textile merchants.

At the collection's core are screens, hanging scrolls, fans and some of the finest examples of the distinctive, hauntingly preternatural renderings of animal life by Itō Jakuchū (1716-1800). One of the most innovative and imaginative of Kyoto's 18th-century painters, Jakuchū's prominence in recent decades has been greatly aided by the Prices' intensive collecting of his works.

The exhibition's title "Patterned Feathers, Piercing Eyes" derives from some of the most characteristic features of Jakuchū's works. The detailed patterns evident in many of the paintings, especially those of birds, are attributable to the high regard artists of the period held for textile designers. The expressiveness in the eyes of the various animals, demons, deities and funny people in the paintings suggest they all inhabit the same world, rather than different spiritual levels, as was the prominent religious theory of the time. The animal world becomes more animated, landscapes have their own light, spirits are alive and history is contemporary, evoking a mood of familiarity with the presence of all worlds, both above and below.

The exhibition will provide an exceptionally rich representation of the diversity that characterized painting production in the Edo period. Included will be works by Kansai-region artists, such as Maruyama Ōkyo (1733-1795), Nagasawa Rosetsu (1754-1799) and Mori Sosen (1747-1821), known for his paintings of monkeys and deer. In addition, works by artists of the Edo Rimpa school, such as Sakai Hōitsu (1761-1828) and Suzuki Kiitsu (1796-1858), as well as hand-painted ukiyo-e and other masterpieces also will be on view.

Joe Price trained as an engineer and was a protégé of Frank Lloyd Wright. It was under Wright's influence that Price began collecting Japanese paintings in the 1950s. In fact, Price purchased his first painting while on a business trip to New York with Wright. During the course of nearly half a century, Price and his wife, Etsuko, have amassed a painting collection of more than 200 works. "Patterned Feathers: Piercing Eyes" is the result of Price's long-held affection for the Sackler's sister museum, the Freer Gallery of Art and its collections. Price approached James Ulak, deputy director of the Freer and Sackler galleries and the exhibition's curator, asking that the museum serve as a venue for his collection following its tour of Japan.

Price believed Japanese paintings should be seen in natural light. While that is not always possible in a museum setting, one of the highlights of the exhibition at the Sackler will be a special lighting effect in one gallery that is meant to simulate the changes in light one would notice if viewing the artwork at different times of the day. All works will be displayed without standard Plexiglas glazing.

The exhibition will be accompanied by a 300-page, full-color catalog containing numerous illustrated essays and color reproductions of each of the objects included in the exhibition. There also will be a number of educational programs during the exhibition, such as films, musical performances, lectures and tours.

After it leaves the Sackler, the exhibition will travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art.

Support for this exhibition has been provided by Nikkei Inc., and the Anne van Biema Endowment.

The Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., and the adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Ave. S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Freer houses a major collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the exhibitions section of the galleries' website:

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