Vlogs With Veljko: Growing the Morikami Collections

From art to armor and everything in between, our collections are full of amazing pieces of both historical and cultural significance. But – have you ever wondered how these pieces come to be part of our 9000-piece collection? In this episode of Vlogs with Veljko, you’ll find out how we keep our collections growing – giving you the opportunity to experience Japan’s amazing culture right here in South Florida.

Q&A with the Curator: Who’s Genji?

Our current exhibit Genji’s World Through Japanese Woodblock Prints is open and ready for your visit, but some of you may be wondering – Who is Genji? We sat down with Curator of Collections, Veljko Dujin, to answer just that, and some of those other burning questions you might want answers to before visiting us. Here’s what we learned:

Who is/was Genji?

 Prince Genji, also known as Hikaru Genji, or the Shining Prince Genji,  was the fictitious son of an Emperor and his favorite concubine. Ever since Murasaki Shikibu wrote the novel The Tale of Genji, he’s been a popular figure in Japanese literature, theater and art.

 Why is Genji, and the Tale of Genji, such an important part of Japanese culture?

 Over time the popularity of Genji broadened from the Imperial court to the broader public. Parts of the novel originally appeared around the year 1008, and by Murasaki Shikibu’s  death (around the year 1025) the work was made into its final form of about 54 chapters.  The novel’s influence has long out-lived its author who was cruicial in developing Japanese as a written language. In fact, The Tale of Genji became required reading for court poets as early as the 12th century, and she has been highly regarded as a classical writer ever since. Murasaki had a lasting impact on Japanese literature, culture and art that hinged on this novel.

 What can guests expect to see in our Genji exhibit?

Woodblock prints. There are many great prints in this exhibit from some of the best known 19th century artists. By the 19th century Genji monogatari (or Genji epics) were tremendously popular in Japan, and while in the centuries prior many fine pieces of art were produced with scenes from the tale, most were one-of-a-kind paintings, either in the form of hand-scrolls, screens, accordion albums or scrolls. With woodblock prints, they were made available to the masses.

In the 1820’s a parody, originally published as a serial (several of the booklets are on display) called A Rustic Genji by Fradulent Murasaki, generated so much interest in Genji monogatari, that well over 1000 different prints were produced in the following decades. These prints depict scenes from both the original Genji and Ryutai Tanehiko’s 1820’s parody.

 Is there anything our guests should look for specifically (i.e. certain symbolism, images, or deeper meanings) in these prints?

 There are layers of symbolism in the Genji prints, so one has to be very familiar with the novels to be able to understand some of the subtle implications in some of the prints. In a few prints, however, viewers can see Genji-mon or Genji crests, which are rectilinear groupings of 5 vertical lines and one or two horizontal lines at the top. These were developed to correspond to each of the 54 chapters in the original novel, and are often placed on prints. They were commonly used in shell matching games where players try to match the two halves of a shell. One half  of the shell would have a Genji mon (like the ones on the prints) and the other half would have either a verse or an image from the corresponding chapter in The Tale of Genji.

 Which is your favorite piece in this exhibit and why?

 That would be two prints depicting the winter pastimes of  some ladies in waiting at the court. They are making a snow-rabbit in one and snow-frog in the other. I really like this particular print because it alludes to fun tradition that goes along with making these snow-creatures in the winter. Generally bets were placed on how long before the snow sculpture defrosted, or if they made two, like in this print, which one would last longer. 

 Anything else?

 Please come and see the exhibit, it is a great collection, seldom seen! We’ll also be hosting a lecture as part of our Speaker Series with Sarah Thompson of MFA, Boston. She’ll be speaking specifically about how Genji was translated to art and the Kabuki stage on April 17th. Don’t forget to check out Keeping in Touch: Culture of letter-writing in Japan, the other exhibit we have on display now, for some interesting artifacts, letters and more. 

Kunisada Woodblock Print, Genji's World Through Japanese Woodblock Prints at Morikami


Introducing Vlogs With Veljko!

If you’ve ever wondered what it’s like to go behind the scenes at Morikami, our Curator of Collections, Veljko Dujin, is here to tell you. In our new series Vlogs With Veljko, you’ll get the inside scoop on all things collections (the 7,000+ pieces of artwork that belong to and are stored in the museum.) From our new acquisitions to Veljko’s favorite pieces, this new video series aims to give you insider intel on what it’s like to take a walk through the collections vault.

This month we’re kicking off with a look at some our new acquisitions – an intricate lacquer cosmetic box and a famous ikebana vase. Check out the video below, or on our YouTube channel, and don’t forget to leave any comments or questions you might have about these pieces or collections in general. Who knows – your question might be featured in the next installment of Vlogs With Veljko. Enjoy!

Collecting Japan: Q&A with Veljko Dujin, Curator of Collections at Morikami

Morikami’s Curator of Collections, Veljko Dujin, recently traveled to Japan in search of interesting artwork, little-known details of the life of Japan’s most famous nun, and the regionally favored cookie at every stop along the way. From May 1 through 19, Veljko hit Kyoto, Tokyo, Okayama, Kurashiki, Osaka, Nishinomiya, Nagoya, and Seto. Here’s what we learned about his whirlwind journey:

What was the primary purpose of your trip?

I set out to research Otagaki Rengetsu, a painter, calligrapher and ceramicist, and arguably the most famous nun in Japanese history. She lived from the late 1700s to the late 1800s. We’re hosting an exhibit of her work beginning in January 2015, so I wanted to find pieces of her work to add to our collection.

What were you able to find out about her?

I visited the temple where she spent much of her youth, Jinko-in, and Chion-in, where she spent her last years. After a mountainous half hour climb guided only by a hand-drawn map from the local monks, I was able to find her grave. One of her students planted a small cherry tree next to it close to 100 years ago. Today, its shade and blooms stretch over dozens of the surrounding gravestones. It was a very moving scene for me.

Describe a Japanese temple – how is it different than what probably comes to mind for most of our readers?

Unlike a church or synagogue, Japanese temples are more like campuses. There are halls to house the statues of the deities the temple is dedicated to, living quarters for the abbots, a tea house or two, often a library, and in the case of a Zen temple, a meditation hall. Lastly, every temple has a few beautiful gardens.

Besides Rengetsu’s work, what type of pieces were you looking for, and what did you find?

I traveled to Japan with Riva Lee Asbell, a prolific collector of Zen art who has promised her entire collection to Morikami. In Kyoto in particular we visited dozens of art dealers. The city’s famous Shinmonzen Street is home to over 60 antique galleries, each one specializing in objects from tea ceremony utensils to prints and paintings. A handful of dealers specialize in Zen art, and we visited all of them. Riva and I found some two dozen pieces that we feel enhance our collection including scrolls, ceramics, framed calligraphy, and hand painted books by renowned Buddhist priests, some whose work was displayed in our recent exhibit Zenmi: A Taste of Zen.

What do you consider when choosing a piece?

You can look at antiquing in Kyoto as a treasure hunt; a great object can appear anytime and often where you expect it the least. There are a few things we look at when considering a piece: its historical significance, the artist, whether it fits into our collection, and what the piece can add to the collection as a whole. Price is naturally an important factor as well. Most importantly, though, the collector and museum staff need to like the piece.

You obviously made time to visit some museums – as a curator, how might your museum experience differ from the average visitor?

I visited many museums, in Kyoto, Tokyo, Kurashiki, Okayama, Nagoya and Seto. As a curator, I approach a museum visit with more in mind than just looking at artwork. I am always looking for inspiration on how we can improve the Morikami exhibition layout and design, lighting, labels, and even security. However, the art on display is always the most important part of any museum visit. On this trip, my favorite exhibit was the “Grand Exhibition of Sacred Treasures from Shinto Shrines” at the Tokyo National Museum. Visiting this exhibit was a rare opportunity to see treasures – from religious art to great swords, armor and textiles – held in shrines throughout Japan. Many of these objects are designated National Treasures and thus seldom seen.

This trip was not all work and no play – what were some personal highlights?

I saw a handful of important temples for the first time, including Sengaku-ji in Tokyo, where the 47 ronin are buried. I met with abbots in temples in Kyoto and Okayama, including Harada Shodo Roshi, who spoke at Morikami during the Zenmi exhibit. I even joined monks in sitting zazen (meditation) style! As much as I enjoyed it my right leg was less than thrilled. I regained full control of it after a day or two. I also met with the family of one of my favorite potters, Suzuki Seisei, in Seto. It was truly a treat to visit the studio where he worked and see many of his pieces on display in his home.

What would our readers find most surprising?

I guess it would be the cleanliness and order in Japan. Everyone is patiently waiting in line, whether for a train or to buy something at a kiosk. Even the trains are pristine; a crew comes in to clean each time the train reaches its final stop on the line. These 10 minute cleanings are actually factored into the daily train schedule.

What do you make sure you bring home each time you visit?

Gifts! Or in Japanese, omiyage. It’s  my personal tradition to at least bring home cookies for friends and coworkers from wherever I visit, regardless of how long I’m away.

What’s your favorite thing to eat in Japan that you can’t find in the states?

That’s a difficult question, but I’d have to say Firefly Squid. They’re no more than two inches long and they actually glow under water. You eat them like you’d eat any squid, but I like them best either raw or fried tempura style.

For our readers who have never been, why visit Japan?

Japan is a truly magical place: a superb blend of ancient tradition and cutting-edge technological progress. The food is delicious, whether you dine in a fancy restaurant or hit up a street vendor; everywhere you look there is a temple, shrine, or a beautiful old house, usually next to an equally beautiful example of contemporary architecture. Everyone should experience the cleanliness, order, and the politeness of its people.

Want more Morikami? Check out our summer E-news for more from the staff and the Morikami family!