Thursday, September 20, 2012

Japanese lacquerware at the DAM

Posted By on Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 9:04 AM

You can be forgiven for hesitating over a blog like this. Japanese lacquerware isn't everyone's point of interest, to put it gently.

But for those of you who love luxurious design tempered by a minimalist aesthetic — a balance uniquely Japanese — the Denver Art Museum will unveil All that Glistens: A Century of Japanese Lacquer Nov. 18. The exhibit highlights the lacquer-making process with items recently added to the DAM's permanent collection.

Incense Container (kogo) with Vine and Berries, Tsuishu Yozei

The 30-piece show includes a DAM commission that illustrates the labor intensive process step-by-step, complete with the tools and materials involved. According to the museum's press materials:

Elegantly decorated and highly durable lacquerware has been a Japanese tradition for centuries, used as early as 7000 B.C. Lacquer is derived from the sap of the urushi tree native to Japan and other Asian countries. Though potentially poisonous to those who handle it, when purified and processed, lacquer becomes a clear, viscous liquid that becomes strong and durable when it hardens. Various pigments, commonly black, red and gold, are added to create rich colors. Mother-of-pearl, eggshell and precious metals can be laid on lacquer objects, creating stunning decorative details that complement the brilliant surface.

But all this beauty isn't saved for special occasions. A lot of the finest Japanese lacquerware are everyday objects: bowls, brush sets, jewelry boxes, etc. Function and form live side by side; fine artistic touches aren't reserved for non-functional objects and that's the lynchpin behind museum pieces like these. The book Rimpa, though more concerned with screens, fans and the Rimpa school in particular, is a fine introduction to Japanese decorative arts.

Pair of Hand-Warmers (teaburi) with Rabbits and Ferns, Suzuki Hyosaku
  • Denver Art Museum
  • Pair of Hand-Warmers (teaburi) with Rabbits and Ferns, Suzuki Hyosaku

All that Glistens is included with regular museum admission, similar to Dana Schutz's solo show. I suggest catching both, or for a more focused experience, see All that Glistens with Becoming Van Gogh, as the Dutch artist was highly inspired by Japanese art. (P.S. Tickets for Van Gogh are available now.)

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