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James Ulak

Senior Curator of Japanese Art


A specialist in the history of narrative painting production in 14th and 15th century Japan, Dr. Ulak received his Ph.D. from Case Western Reserve University (Cleveland) in 1994. In 1995, Dr. Ulak joined the staff of Freer|Sackler as Curator of Japanese Art (1995-2003). He has also held the positions of Head of Collections and Research and Chief Curator (2002-03) and Deputy Director (2003-10).

Dr. Ulak also served as a researcher at the Cleveland Museum of Art (1982-85), associate curator of Asian art at Yale University Art Gallery (1987-89), and associate curator of Japanese art at the Art Institute of Chicago (1989-1994).

In administrative capacities at Freer|Sackler, Dr. Ulak has supervised curatorial, research, archival, library, design, conservation, conservation science activities, and fine arts collections management. He has been extensively involved in the development and funding of programs for research in East Asian painting conservation and has published on a wide range of topics in Japanese art. In addition to interest in medieval Japanese narrative painting, he has written on 18th century “eccentric” painters and on Japan’s artistic encounters with modernity in the late 19th and early 20th century.  He has developed and produced numerous exhibitions, often in conjunction with Japan’s Agency for Cultural Affairs. In addition to his work at Freer|Sackler, he serves as an advisor to a number of museums, private collections, and foundations in the United States, Europe, and Japan.

On April 29, 2010 the Government of Japan conferred on Dr. Ulak the Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Rosette in recognition for exceptional achievement in strengthening Japan-US bilateral relations in the area of cultural exchange.


Please note: The Freer Gallery of Art will be closed to the public from January 2016 until summer 2017. The Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Library, and Archives will remain open for the duration of the renovation. Learn more »