Japan supernatural opens at Art Gallery of New South Wales

AGNSW Takashi MurakamiFeaturing over 180 wildly imaginative works by some of the greatest Japanese artists of the past and present, from historical master Katsushika Hokusai to contemporary superstar Takashi Murakami, the Art Gallery of New South Wales presents Japan supernatural as part of the 2019–20 Sydney International Art Series.

Japanese artists across the centuries have created a lively parade of magical animals, fiendish imps, legendary monsters and ethereal spirits. Known in Japan by many names including yokai, yurei, bakemono and mononoke, manifestations of the paranormal are prevalent in folklore, literature, theatre and art.

As audiences step into the realm of the supernatural across almost 300 years of Japanese art they’ll view magnificent paintings, large-scale installations, miniature carvings, humorous illustrations and the vibrant ukiyo-e woodblock prints that define the tradition of the supernatural in Japanese art.

Centred on a monumental installation of painting and sculpture by Takashi Murakami, Japan supernatural features works by the late manga artist Mizuki Shigeru and contemporary artist Taro Yamamoto as well as masks by Hideta Kitazawa.

Also in the exhibition are rich and nuanced works by leading female Japanese contemporary artists Fuyuko Matsui, Miwa Yanagi, Tabaimo and Chiho Aoshima.

These artists continue the creative lineage of visualising the unseen, their works presented together with some of the greatest Japanese artists of the past including Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Tsukioka Yoshitoshi and Kawanabe Kyosai.

The paintings, woodblock prints, illustrated books and objects come from museum collections around the world and from the Gallery’s significant collection of Japanese art, which began in the late 1800s with the gift from Japan of a group of ceramics and bronzes to the then new Gallery, following the Sydney International Exposition in 1879.

Art Gallery of NSW director Dr Michael Brand said the exhibition is the largest and most complex exhibition of Japanese art in the Gallery’s history.

“This project is the outcome of extensive discussions between a broad Gallery team and our international museum colleagues, as well as private collectors around the world. It has resulted in some of the finest works of Japanese art ever created on display exclusively in Sydney,” said Dr Brand.

“In particular, works are coming to us from the British Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston and the Minneapolis Institute of Art whose collections of Japanese art are outstanding.”

“A key work from the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is Toriyama Sekien’s five-metre-long, exquisitely rendered scroll, Night procession of the hundred demons (Hyakki yako zu) c1772–81. This extraordinary painted handscroll depicts a large cast of otherworldly characters – a perfect welcome to the exhibition for our visitors,” said Dr Brand.

Additional works for Japan supernatural from the MFA, Boston include prints by renowned artists Tsukioka Yoshitoshi and Kawanabe Kyosai, with a selection of works from Yoshitoshi’s series One hundred ghost stories from Japan and China (Wakan hyaku monogatari) 1865 as well as Momotar? scattering beans for setsubun (Momotar? mamemaki no zu) 1859.

Prints designed by Kyosai include A nose-pulling contest with an elephant (Zo no hanabiki) and The great tengu does calligraphy (Sho no dai tengu) from the series One hundred pictures by Kyosai (Kyosai hyakuzu) 1863.

Among the many striking works from the Minneapolis Institute of Art are all images from the series One hundred ghost stories (Hyaku monogatari) c1831–32 by Japan’s internationally beloved artist Katsushika Hokusai, including the chilling portraits The ghost of Oiwa (Oiwa-san), The mansion of plates (Sarayashiki) and Laughing demoness (Warai hannya),* as well as exceptional paintings by Shibata Zeshin, Kyosai and Yoshitoshi.

From the British Museum comes the work of celebrated artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Mitsukuni defies the skeleton spectre conjured up by Princess Takiyasha 1845–46. This woodblock print triptych depicts a notorious scene from legend, a terrifying giant skeleton or odokuro summoned by a princess in revenge for the murder of her father.

Works in the exhibition are also drawn from the collections of The Broad in Los Angeles, the National Gallery of Australia, the National Gallery of Victoria, the National Library of Australia, the Museum of Applied Arts and Sciences, and from private collections in Japan, Germany and Australia.

Exhibition curator and Art Gallery of NSW senior curator of Asian art Melanie Eastburn said the exhibition celebrates representations of the tales, events and beings of the mysterious unseen worlds in Japanese art from the Edo period (1603–1868) to the present day.

“Japanese artists have used intricate narratives and powerful imagery to make the invisible world of the supernatural tangible,” said Eastburn. “The imagination and skill of artists such as Sekien, Kuniyoshi and Yoshitoshi continue to resonate just as contemporary expressions of legend, fairy tales and spirits in the work of Murakami, Aoshima, Yanagi, Kitazawa and Matsui captivate viewers, luring us into the beguiling, tangled realm of demons and spirits.”

Japan supernatural
Art Gallery of New South Wales, Art Gallery Road, The Domain (Sydney)
Exhibition continues to 8 March 2020
Entry fees apply

For more information, visit: www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au for details.

Image: Takashi Murakami, Japan Supernatural: Vertiginous After Staring at the Empty World Too Intensely, I Found Myself Trapped in the Realm of Lurking Ghosts and Monsters, 2019. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Foundation Purchase 2019. © 2019 Takashi Murakami/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Courtesy Kaikai Kiki