Guest Post: The Girl with a Cat and Other Paper Tales by Kyoko Hazama

Today, we’re pleased to present a guest post from our Curator of Japanese Art, Susanna Brooks. If you haven’t yet had a chance to see this awe-inspiring exhibit, we HIGHLY recommend it! It’s the perfect addition to any summer outing, especially when the South Florida weather turns a little sour.

Kyoko Hazama may just be Japan’s most imaginative doll paper sculptress. Using traditional Japanese paper (washi) made from the fibers of the bark of a Japanese tree (gampi), shrub (mitsumata), and various plants and grasses (hemp, rice, wheat, bamboo), a sturdier paper than those crafted from wood pulp, Kyoko crafts fanciful dioramas which feature female figures interacting with a hodgepodge of animals. These, she reveals, “are self-portraits.” Kyoko paints, folds, rolls, cuts, and sculpts her paper into whimsical, endearing, self-revelatory vignettes that unlock a unique door into an innocent, magical playground, where clever little ingénues pass the time with a menagerie of horned, winged, and hoofed playmates. Since these tender human figurines represent Kyoko Hazama herself, one easily imagines that the animals in her cosmos are allegorical characters, stand-ins for the real people and relationships that have informed her life.

Kyoko’s miniature paper people and animals reflect also her extraordinary technical abilities as a paper artist, doll-maker, and sculptor. Drawing from pictorial sources and the images that reveal themselves in her mind’s eye, Kyoko manipulates her materials to create the look and feel of real animal fur, antlers and horns, and the velvetiness of young human skin. Her superb artistic skills and imagination materialize tangibly into figures with heartrending facial features and body expressions that evoke a gentle, amiable sensibility and convey a remarkable sense of realism.

There are portraits of Kyoko as a young lady, navigating the boundaries between childhood and adolescence. Room presents a young girl lounging on a green chair, her thoughts seemingly floating far, far away, as three musk oxen stand neatly in a row before her grazing upon the living room floor. Making this scene even more surreal a la Alice in Wonderland is that it plays out inside a wooden drawer.

Room, 2007 6” x 6” x 12” Washi, wire, wool, found wooden drawer At Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Room, 2007
6” x 6” x 12”
Washi, wire, wool, found wooden drawer
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Similarly, The Walnuts tells the story of a pensive young woman reclining on a red Victorian settee with a pair of squirrels, a chihuahua at her side, and a heap of walnuts protruding from under her sheer, crinkly dress. The girl willfully leans away from the dog, painfully unaware of the squirrels stirring playfully around her, with a vacant stare and reticent posture that silently scream “loneliness.”

The Walnuts, 2013 Washi, wire 6.5” x 5” x 6”  at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

The Walnuts, 2013
Washi, wire
6.5” x 5” x 6”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Among the most poignant and heartfelt portraits is Rocking Horse, which portrays a young girl laying face down between a rocking horse and a newborn gazelle. The girl’s hand is positioned underneath her right knee and her face is raised slightly upright, mimicking the newborn foal’s stance. As the foal’s mother gingerly, and with a hint of trepidation, approaches the wide-eyed girl, it becomes clear that Kyoko is an outsider.

Rocking Horse, 2011 Washi, wire 4.5” x 8” x 2.5” at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Rocking Horse, 2011
Washi, wire
4.5” x 8” x 2.5”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Another example of animal mimicry is Time Capsule. Here, a young girl sits upon a thick mat of cut vines intent on protecting a large silverback gorilla and her offspring; her back toward the apes, facing the viewer. The girl is crouched low; her long arms extended at her sides and her hands tucked underneath, imitating the pose of the great ape she is shielding.

Time Capsule, 2013 Washi, wire 8.5” x 11” x 9” at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Time Capsule, 2013
Washi, wire
8.5” x 11” x 9”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

In Kyoko’s world, the most wild and ferocious creatures of the animal kingdom are approachable protectors and playmates. Warm Sleep presents an Emperor Penguin, the largest and heaviest species of the penguin family, protectively balancing a sleeping infant atop its feet. When an Emperor Penguin lays an egg, the female transfers the egg to the father, who then stores and protects the egg, and eventually the newborn offspring, in its pouch by balancing the egg and/or hatchling on its feet. Here, Kyoko reminds us of this remarkable and tender act of nature.

Warm Sleep, 2006 Washi, wire 4.25” x 3.5” x 2” at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Warm Sleep, 2006
Washi, wire
4.25” x 3.5” x 2”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

One of the most disquieting yet charming pairings is Floating Cat, which portrays a little girl sitting next to a giant house cat and staring keenly at the viewer. The young girl clutches a limp green goose in the crook of her left arm, suggesting the flaccid bird is a gift from her giant feline friend.

Floating Cat, 2011 Washi Paper and wire 5.5” x 8” x 6” at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

Floating Cat, 2011
Washi Paper and wire
5.5” x 8” x 6”
at Morikami Museum & Japanese Gardens

A skilled doll maker and paper artist, Kyoko Hazama defies artistic classification. She is self-taught and therefore does not belong to an artistic lineage of Japanese craftsmen. It is difficult, if not impossible, to situate her work within the trajectory of art making traditions as defined by conventional art historical taxonomies. Kyoko’s work cannot be positioned within the framework of folk art, craft, or outsider art. Scott Rothstein, artist, writer, critic, and founder of Art Found Out, explains that “her art has much in common with works in all three fields, but her sculptures do not fit into any of these categories exclusively. In Japan, folk artists and craftspeople usually inherit their traditions. The forms they produce are often completely defined with only the slightest room for individual expression.” Thankfully, the remarkable work of Kyoko Hazama overflows, albeit quietly, with self-expression and great technical skill, underscoring her place as an artist of our time, an era in which the lines of categorization are being continually challenged and blurred.

Kyoko Hazama Photo courtesy of Scott Rothstein

Kyoko Hazama
Photo courtesy of Scott Rothstein

– Susanna Brooks, Curator of Japanese Art

 

The work of Kyoko Hazama is currently on view at Morikami Museum and Japanese Gardens, Delray Beach, Florida, as part of the exhibition, From a Quiet Place: The Paper Sculptures of Kyoko Hazama, organized by Mobilia Gallery, Cambridge, Massachusetts. We hope you’ll stop in soon! This exhibit runs from now until August 31, 2014.

We Asked, You Answered: The Top Samurai Movies of All Time

Japan’s infamous ancient warriors are the inspiration for Morikami’s newest exhibit and countless classic flicks. We asked YOU for your favorite Samurai film, and came away with a list of decades-old stand-bys and ultra-modern interpretations.  In no particular order, here’s the final Samurai film round-up:

1. The Last Samurai (2003)

Why it topped your list: According to Jennifer, “The choice of actors/actresses was perfect and you could tell the amount of time and precision that went in to making the movie. Also, the sets and scenery are breathtaking and just made me want to visit Japan even more. I never get tired of watching it.” In Sean’s words, “Authentic filming in Kyoto and told the actual story of how the samurai’s services were deemed obsolete. A huge turning point in the history and economy in Japan.”

2. Seven Samurai (1954)

Why it topped your list: In Fyg’s words, “It showed the pathos of a samurai’s life and the class differences of feudal Japan.” Joe sums it up this way: “Everything else just tries to be as great as this classic.”

3. Zatoichi (The Blind Swordsman) (2003)

The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi (2003) Poster

Why it topped your list: “A great example of ‘the art of drawing the sword,'” says Kathleen.

4. 47 Ronin (2013)

Why it topped your list: Jessie raves, “It meshed tradition, culture, and the supernatural into one perfect fantastical adventure! Pure movie magic!”

5. Shogun Assassin (1980)

Why it topped your list: Greg says, “Very moody with great music and action. Tomisiburo Wakayama is the man. Oh, and over-the-top bloody sword fights. Tough to beat.”

We’re just a bucket of popcorn away from a marathon weekend of Samurai-movie viewing – thanks to you! Our recommendation? Get this list into your Netflix queue and queue up here this summer. While tales of the Samurai from the big screen to our galleries hold timeless appeal, our exhibit won’t be around forever – check us out before August 31!

 

 

We Never Get Tired of Toys!

The new exhibit at the Morikami, which runs through October 17, is a throwback to a simpler, gentler time, when monsters came in the form of giant lizards or creatures from outer space that tore up cities with their giant feet and laser rays.

What fun!

Kaijū! Monster Invasion! features more than 100 toy figurines from the 60s, 70s, and 80s, inspired by Japanese tokusatsu films and TV shows. Remember Godzilla terrorizing the people, as they ran from his fire-breathing wrath? Before the days of 3D animation, CGI and other digital effects, it was a stuntman, in what was probably a really hot rubber suit, moving about on a miniature set. Back then, the special effects were called tokusatsu eiga, typically using an fx technique called sutsumeishon, or suitmation.

While my teenage sons might not be impressed by it, it seemed real enough and scary enough to me. (I was born in 1968; you do the math.)

The popularity of the show, which opened June 1, is already evidenced by the 100-plus hits the Morikami’s video  garnered on YouTube in only three days. Visitors, bloggers and sci-fi lovers are appreciating the loveable charm of Kaijū! Monster Invasion!

I mean, seriously, who gets tired of toys? No matter the age or gender, everyone can relate to a good, plastic action figure ready to tear apart the city in your imagination. The show is actually part of one person’s extensive, private collection, so just consider it playtime with culture – over at the house of the friend who has the really good toy box.

To see Tom Gregersen, senior curator of the Morikami, explain the delightful allure of Kaijū! Monster Invasion!, click here.

Kaiju! Monsters!

Is it Worth the $12?

Last week, coming out of the Morikami Museum, I was stopped by a stranger.

“Is it worth the $12?” he asked me. Tall with a friendly face, he seemed safe enough, so I stopped to hear him out. “You looked like you just went through it. Is it worth the 12 bucks? I’m the tour guide for my sister here, and we don’t know if it’s worth it to go inside.”

He was quickly joined in front of me by a kind-looking, petite blonde woman. His sister was visiting from out of town and was obviously ready for some form of entertainment; but since her brother was footing the bill, she was following his lead.

“Well, what are you into?” I asked.

“She’s an interior designer,” he said, pointing to his sister. “I live here, but I’ve never been.”

I mused that two people would get all the way to the entrance of a Japanese museum and gardens, and then stop to consider their options based on the admission price. But ah well…

“You’re an interior designer,” I said, looking at the woman. She nodded. “OK, well, from that standpoint, you will definitely get inspiration for design and aesthetics from strolling the gardens. The design is not one of a traditional botanical garden, but of a more organic combination of plants and textures designed to make you slow down and contemplate their beauty. You’ll see what I mean when you walk under the canopy of the bamboo trees or sit at the raked pebble gardens or past the two waterfalls. Even the wooden benches complement the overall design.

“Inside, the exhibit is of the huge sculptures of a modern Japanese artist, Jun Kaneko. Some of the sculptures are as large as small cars, and whole rooms can be built around them. They are dramatic and colorful and really not what you’d expect from a Japanese artist.

“And if you just want to shop, the Museum Store has the best decorating items. Vases, plates, bowls, wall hangings, rain chains, kimono, even knick-knacks for a little Japanese inspiration.

“From an interior design standpoint, you should find it a lot of fun.”

She looked at me, then at her brother.

“Pay the $12.”

I hope they had a good time.

Morikami Falls is one of many reasons why the Morikami is worth $12!

A Bit of Perspective on the Next Exhibit, Please

Curious about the next exhibit in the Morikami’s galleries? Read on…

Fusing elements of abstract expressionist painting with the textural nature of fabrics and the ruggedness of raw clay, Jun Kaneko is a prolific artist who contributed to one, if not the, most innovative movement in the history of American ceramic art.

From December 22 through March 7, the exhibit, Jun Kaneko, Ceramic Sculptures, Paintings and Drawings, will feature 50 works by Kaneko, an energetic contemporary artist known for his seven-foot-tall, half-ton “Dangos,” monolithic ceramic sculptures endearingly named for Kaneko’s favorite childhood treat: warm, sweet dumplings skewered on stick. Yes, seven-foot-tall, half ton pieces of hollow ceramic! One of the smallest pieces is 1,800 pounds. The man dreamt big!

When Susanna Brooks Lavallee, Curator of Japanese Art at The Morikami, answers what she enjoys most about the museum’s next exhibit, she talks about the “perfect storm” of time, the serendipitous environment and artistic influences that gave the world Jun Kaneko. What she appreciates most about Kaneko’s work is that “it transcends mediums – it is at once a drawing, a painting that uses clay as its canvas, and a sculpture. His work is intelligent, thought-provoking, and most of all engaging.”

When Jun Kaneko arrived in the United States from Japan in 1963, at the tender age of 17, he brought with him a skillful, energetic painting style and an eagerness to develop his artistic impulses more freely. With the aid of divine intervention and the support of his painting teacher in Japan, Kaneko was welcomed with open arms into the supportive, nurturing home of Fred and Mary Marer, avid collectors of a fresh, new style of contemporary ceramics being made by a group of intellectual potters in southern California. In the 1960s, ceramics was the number one industry in the state of California, and the Marers were perhaps the most devoted and passionate supporters of this experimental group of avant-garde potters that produced some of the most innovative and important ceramics of the era.

Kaneko’s arrival in California,  which led to his fortuitous acquaintance with the Marers, who introduced the young painter to the great ceramic movers and shakers of the time – Peter Voulkos and Paul Sondern among others – exemplifies the notion of “being at the right place at the right time.”

Would of any of the circumstances played out differently, Kaneko’s magnificent and magical clay works might never have been realized? Brooks Lavallee adds that Kaneko’s contributions to ceramics is not limited to the United States, but extends also to Japan, where his work plays an important role in the study and development of new kilns and clay methods and in the shaping and formation of contemporary Japanese ceramics as a whole.

Take a peek at some preview images, then stop by The Morikami and see up close!

At Long Last, A Child’s View Becomes Reality

The ribbon is cut, and now the people arrive!

“Japan Through the Eyes of a Child,” the Morikami’s new permanent exhibit in its Yamato-kan, will welcome audiences this Saturday.  On Nov. 7, children under 17 are free.

When I walked the new exhibit at the official ribbon-cutting ceremony, it definitely made me want to visit Japan. I’ve never been to the country, but looking at the maps of its trains and walking through a miniature marketplace made me realize it’s now another stop on my “Bucket List,” so to speak.

Part of the appeal is that there is enough western culture and modernity incorporated into Japan to make a westerner feel familiar, but enough history and tradition to let you know this isn’t Kansas or Chicago or L.A.

One of the coolest parts is peering out the doors and windows of the Yamato-kan from the “living room” and “kitchen” and seeing the Japanese gardens of the Roji-en outside. Almost makes you feel like you’re really there!

Although I wonder if it’s this warm and humid in November in Toyko?

The Sun-Sentinel reviewed “Japan Through the Eyes of a Child” today; take a read by clicking here.

A Japanese home at The Morikami's Japan Through the Eyes of a Child exhibit.

Take off your slippers when you visit the home at "Japan Through the Eyes of a Child."

A Japanese marketplace reimaged in "Japan Through the Eyes of Child"

A Japanese marketplace re-imagined in "Japan Through the Eyes of Child."

A Japanese classroom as seen through the eyes of a child at The Morikami.

Japanese classroom at JTEC at the Morikami.

Looking Forward at “Japan Through the Eyes of a Child”

For years, the Yamato-kan was the little Japanese house where you put on paper slippers and learned about early Florida and how Japanese settlers ended up there.

But yesterday, the Yamato-kan officially became more about today than yesterday. The ribbon-cutting ceremony unveiled a new permanent exhibit called “Japan Through the Eyes of a Child,” which invites you to step into a 3-D world as seen by a younger generation.

It’s a classroom, a living room, a shopping area and a train platform, all in great detail and accuracy, so you feel like you’re there – a child in modern-day Japan. You don’t have to be in elementary school to appreciate a day of make-believe. Although a “test” class of chorus singers from Morikami Park Elementary gave it a thumbs-up yesterday, after performing as part of the festivities.

More about this new, interactive exhibit in the next blog… Grand opening for the public is Nov. 7! All kids 17 and under are free! Learn more at www.morikami.org.

Larry Rosensweig and Cheiko Mihori

Former museum director Larry Rosensweig with Morikami trustee Cheiko Mihori

Larry Rosensweig Bonnie LeMay Beverlee Kohnken

Larry Rosensweig, Bonnie LeMay and Beverlee Kohnken walk through the classroom

Morikami Park meistersingers

Morikami Park Elementary singers entertain the ribbon-cutting audience

Rebecca Feldman and Brianna Plasky

Rebecca Feldman and Brianna Plasky, singers from Morikami Park Elementary

Wendy Lo with kanji chart

Wendy Lo, education coordinator at Morikami, with kanji chart in Japanese classroom

Japanese kitchen

JTEC's Japanese kitchen is modern with cultural touches

Susanna Can Tell You What You’re Looking At

If you’re not sure what you’re admiring in the galleries of the Morikami Museum, ask for Susanna Brooks Lavallee.

She is the Curator of Japanese Art, and she gives one heck of a tour – even to someone who knows his or her way around a museum exhibit. She answers questions you didn’t even know you had, like ‘what does the moon mean in some of the woodblock prints?’ Well, glad you asked… The moon symbolizes aspects of change and transformation, also evidenced in the cutting-edge artistic techniques used in the prints that make the figures seem like they’re floating in a 3-D photograph rather than a 2-D illustration.

And the plum blossoms? They stand for hope, renewal or the beauty of the courtesan, who remains lovely even under the harshest conditions. What does an exposed toe or wrist mean on the prints of the women draped in plum blossom-embellished kimono?

She’s the equivalent of today’s Playboy centerfold, enticing men with a flash of flesh not traditionally exposed on a woman’s mysterious body. Deep stuff.

If you plan to check out “Moonlight Memories, Plum Blossom Dreams: Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Collection of James Stepp and Peter Zimmer,” ask for a walk-through with Susanna. She’ll really show you what you’re staring at.

Show is on display until Dec. 6, 2009.

The main spaces of The Morikami Museum's gallery.

The main spaces of The Morikami Museum's gallery.

When is a Tea Kettle a Paradox? When On Display at the Morikami

Tom Gregersen is the Senior Curator and Cultural Director at The Morikami Museum, and after 30+ years of selecting and displaying the Museum’s exhibitions, he’s the resident expert on all things Japanese art, antiquities and artifacts. So it says something that he felt a “sense of discovery” about the upcoming exhibit, “Elegance in Iron: The Art of the Japanese Tetsubin.” The show opens Tuesday and runs through Dec. 6, 2009.

It features more than 90 tetsubin, or Japanese cast-iron teakettles, from the 19th and early 20th centuries. Iron teakettles were a big deal back in the day because they symbolized a break with the Japanese traditional way of preparing tea, instead opting to prepare it the Chinese way by steeping tea leaves. Oh, the humanity!

Tom’s sense of discovery came as he drafted the text for the corresponding catalog (on sale in the Museum Store for $25). The teakettles’ paradoxes? 1) They aren’t as old as they appear. Their “aged” features of chips and nicks were done on purpose to give them a well-worn look by the craftsman. 2) Some of the kettles sport Chinese motifs, even though they aren’t … well… Chinese. Again, just for looks. 3) They were only used for 150 years – a short period of time in Japanese history.

Tom himself is a bit of a paradox. With a Danish last name and no visible vestige of Japanese heritage, I wondered what kept him immersed in and curious about Asian art and history. He was introduced to Japan by a high school girlfriend, who had traveled there, and he ended up studying it in college, falling in love and making a career of it.

And the girl? He married Sandy about 37 years ago.

Elegance in Iron catalog cover

Elegance in Iron catalog cover