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July 23, 2017

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House of bamboo

BAMBOO is getting attention these days as a versatile and sustainable material for housewares, so the timing is good for a Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibit that explores Japan’s ancient craft of basketry.

“Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection” is devoted to masterworks, including a half dozen works by two artists designated as Living National Treasures in Japan. To highlight the works’ virtuosity and context, they have been displayed alongside paintings, ceramics, bronzes, kimonos and other pieces from different genres.

The exhibit also explores other traditional Japanese arts that are entwined with bamboo basketry, such as ikebana flower arranging and tea ceremony. Bamboo is so central to Japanese culture that the Japanese and Chinese character for bamboo is part of over a thousand other characters, including those for many items made of bamboo, such as flutes, writing brushes, boxes and baskets.

The Met’s show, organized by Monika Bincsik, assistant curator in the department of Asian art, tells the story of bamboo through almost 100 works dating from the late 19th century to the present. It focuses on the refined beauty and technical complexity of Japanese basketry. The exhibit will run through to February 4, 2018.

Although the oldest Japanese baskets date to the AD 700s and were mainly used as offering trays and holders for lotus petals, there was little focus on Japanese bamboo art in the Western world until relatively recently, Bincsik said. Most of the works in this show are taken from the Diane and Arthur Abbey Collection, and most have never before been shown to the public. More than 70 of the works exhibited were promised as gifts to the Met.

The show opens with a dramatically curvaceous floor-to-ceiling sculpture by master craftsman Tanabe Chikuunsay IV. With its voluptuous shape, the site-specific piece is woven out of rare tiger bamboo, which is mottled with dark spots.

The exhibit will not travel beyond New York, but is accompanied by a slim but detailed publication, “Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection,” with text by Bincsik and photos.


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