Gold in Japanese Art. Light from Shadow

Gold in Japanese Art. Light from Shadow
Yareah Magazine

Gold in Japanese Art. Light from Shadow

Honolulu exhibitions. Light from Shadow at the Honolulu Museum of Art. Illuminates use of Gold in Japanese art. Opens Feb 6 2014. Exhibition featuring some of museum’s most important Japanese works celebrates 30th anniversary of luxury resort Halekulani.

Of all the materials used in the arts, perhaps none is as sumptuous, and carries as much significance as gold. Organized in honor of the 30th anniversary of the elegant Halekulani luxury resort, the exhibition Light From Shadow: Gold in Japanese Art, opening Feb. 6, includes several of the most important Japanese works of art in the Honolulu Museum of Art’s collection, ranging from early Buddhist art to later Japanese paintings—all rich with gold. The exhibition will be on view through June 1.

“Gold holds a special place in the arts of Japan, and this exhibition includes some of the finest, most historically important works of art in the museum’s collection, several of which are on the same level as designated National Treasures in Japan,” says Shawn Eichman, curator of Asian art at the Honolulu Museum of Art. “The exhibition will be a rare opportunity to see the exquisite, innovative ways in which Japanese artists have worked with gold to convey spiritual significance, social status, and opulence.”

In Japan, gold has had a close connection with the imperial court since antiquity. The introduction of Buddhism added new layers of meaning: sutras described the Buddha, who came from a noble background, as having skin of gold, which immediately found resonance with the royal associations of the precious metal already familiar to the Japanese elite. Gold was used generously in Buddhist art for depictions of the highest deities, first in sculpture and later in painting. A superb example of gold in Buddhist painting is the museum’s The Descent of Amida, done during the full flowering of Buddhist art during the Kamakura period (1185–1336), which makes extensive use of the intricate cut-gold (kirigane) technique for extremely fine details.

Over time, gold also came to be used for secular paintings, especially on screens. The use of gold on screens served a practical function; the rooms of traditional wood frame buildings often were quite dark, and gold backgrounds on screen paintings introduced a reflective surface that added light. Gold was used in many different traditions of painting, including the genre paintings that formed the foundations for later ukiyo-e, of which the museum’s 17th-century Merrymaking Under the Cherry Blossoms is an especially fine and early example.

The exhibition design will present the artwork in a dramatic manner, with the gallery left almost dark, each piece lit from below, allowing the gold to glow in the crepuscular light.

“The Halekulani has been an incredible partner of the museum for many years. Their support of the arts—from the visual arts to music—is one of the reasons cultural programs in Honolulu are world class,” says Stephan Jost, director of the Honolulu Museum of Art. “It is an honor to be able to recognize their longtime commitment with an exhibition as luxurious and sophisticated as the resort itself.”

“In celebration of Halekulani’s benchmark 30th anniversary, we are honored to partner with the Honolulu Museum of Art on this culturally significant special exhibition,” says Peter Shaindlin, chief operating officer, Halekulani Corporation. “Our sponsorship of Light from Shadow demonstrates not only our wonderful partnership with the iconic museum over these many years, but as importantly, it reflects Halekulani’s long-standing legacy of commitment and promotion of arts and culture in our community.”

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