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Modern Twist: Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Art

March 22 - May 25, 2014




Modern Twist: Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Art
is an exhibition exploring the innovative shape bamboo art has taken since the mid-twentieth century. With rare wall-hung installations and pieces never before seen in the United States, this exhibition both engages and educates audiences about a vibrant cultural art form.

Bamboo is a quintessential part of Japanese culture, shaping the country’s social, artistic, and spiritual landscape. Although bamboo is an abundant natural resource, it is a challenging artistic medium with less than 100 professional bamboo artists in Japan today. Mastering the art form requires decades of meticulous practice learning how to harvest, split, and plait the bamboo. Modern Twist brings 17 of these artists to North American audiences, and their 34 works display a mastery of the supreme technical skills inherent in their innovative and imaginatively crafted sculptures.

The emergence of bamboo as a sculptural art form has religious and cultural roots. In Japan, functional objects have been woven from bamboo for hundreds of years. By the 8th century, bamboo baskets were incorporated into Buddhist ceremonies, and held flower petals that were offered to deities in sacred rituals. During the 15th and 16th centuries, bamboo vases, tea scoops, ladles, and whisks became important features of Japanese traditions, such as flower arrangements (ikebana) and tea gatherings (chanoyu and senchadō).

Bamboo is characterized by strength, flexibility, and lightness—bending, not breaking, with strong winds, while enduring harsh winters. This extraordinarily useful grass has been repurposed by the Japanese for centuries. Architecture, construction, cuisine, music, literature, art, and poetry have all benefitted from bamboo.

Modern Twist examines the rising awareness of this medium as an innovative art form. In the last 100 years, the creativity and talent of bamboo basket makers has elevated their status from artisans to artists. These artists have redefined aesthetic conventions by experimenting with nonfunctional forms, and their creations have evolved from functional vessels to increasingly sculptural objects.

Since 1967, six bamboo artists have been named Living National Treasures. The Japanese government created this award after World War II in an effort to celebrate and preserve the nation’s traditions and culture. Individuals considered for the honor are from areas highly valued throughout Japanese history, such as art, drama, and music. Being chosen as a Living National Treasure is a recognition of excellence in one’s artistic field. In essence, the award establishes the recipient as a Cultural Ambassador, responsible for the dissemination, perpetuation, and future development of their designated art form. Only two living bamboo artists —Modern Twist’s Katsushiro Sōhō (2005) and Fujinuma Noboru (2012)—currently hold this title. Katsushiro is represented in the exhibition by his piece, Sunset Glow, which demonstrates his impeccable craftsmanship and renowned execution of diverse techniques. Fujinuma Noboru’s works, Spring Tide and Gentle Heart, exemplify the array of shapes and techniques that he has mastered, showcasing his level of perfection.

In addition, Modern Twist features works by other visionary artists: Matsumoto Hafū, Honma Hideaki, Ueno Masao, Uematsu Chikuyū, Nagakura Ken’ichi, Tanabe Chikuunsai III, Tanabe Yōta, Tanabe Shōchiku III, Tanioka Shigeo, Tanioka Aiko, Honda Shōryū, Mimura Chikuhō, Nakatomi Hajime, Sugiura Noriyoshi,and Yonezawa Jirō.

Modern Twist demonstrates that in the hands of master bamboo artists, a simple grass is transformed into a sculptural art. The exhibition celebrates these artists who have helped to redefine a traditional craft as a modern genre, inventing unexpected new forms and pushing the medium to groundbreaking levels of conceptual, technical, and artistic ingenuity.

Modern Twist was curated by Dr. Andreas Marks, Director and Chief Curator of the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture, in Hanford, California, and organized by International Arts & Artists (IA&A), Washington, DC.

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