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Thread: Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

  1. #1
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    Arms and Armor at the Metropolitan Museum of Art

    Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868 at the Met

    Well, never mind S.F.'s Asian Art museum's recent Lords of the Samurai exhibit. 60 naked blades? Wow.

    Wise Warriors, Artfully Attired
    By ROBERTA SMITH
    Published: October 22, 2009

    For the Japanese samurai, dying well was the best revenge. This elite warrior class began to play a central role in Japan’s history and culture around the eighth century and in time evolved into the country’s ruling caste. Highly cultivated in arts like poetry, monochrome ink painting and the tea ceremony, this class adhered to a strict code of honor built around loyalty, self-discipline, obligation and the shame of failure. Its most unbending principle was that a samurai’s death should bring honor to his family and descendants and to the emperor or clan he served.

    Fighting heroically to the end while looking good was what it was all about, even if the end turned out to be seppuku — ritual suicide — one way to avoid humiliation or assuage shame. Regardless, arms and armor of suitable grandeur and efficiency were required, and it was by meeting these requirements that generations of artisans helped shape the defining opposition of centuries of Japanese aesthetics: utter, even hermetic simplicity versus off-the-charts ostentation.

    This opposition lies at the heart of “Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868,” a sumptuous, revelatory and long-awaited exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that gives the term split personality a whole new meaning. The show’s armor and helmets are among the world’s most lavish works of multimedia art, and — in the opposite corner, as it were — its plain and simple sword blades, presented au naturel, offer subtleties of silhouette and tone that could challenge the most ardent admirer of Minimalism.

    “Art of the Samurai” represents a decade of work by Morihiro Ogawa, special consultant for Japanese arms and armor at the Met; he was assisted by Donald J. La Rocca, curator of the museum’s arms and armor department. All but about 10 of its 214 objects, including lacquer sword rests or luxurious surcoats worn over armor, are from Japanese museums, and nearly half are officially designated National Treasures or Important Cultural Properties by the Japanese. Many are exhibited only rarely in Japan, much less allowed to leave the country.

    Due to their fragility, not all objects will be on view at once: about 60 will be rotated out of the show during the first week of December, to be replaced by similar objects of equal caliber. And some displays will be gone long before then. For example the battle-scarred 12th-century cavalry armor that greets viewers in the show’s first gallery will be on view for only two weeks. Visit early and often.

    This exhibition is a once-in-a-lifetime event for children, war buffs and connoisseurs of all ages, even garden-variety art lovers and anyone still mystified about the source of Darth Vader’s black-on-black helmet and mask. But mainly it is a chance to grasp in irreducible visual terms the complex extremes of Japan’s traditional aesthetic values and, to some extent, its moral ones too.

    The centers of most of the show’s galleries are given over to the stunningly ornate suits of armor topped by even more extravagant helmets and by face masks whose open-mouthed expressions seem locked in an eternal battle cry. Most Japanese armor is made of small scales of iron finished in gleaming lacquer and laced together with bands of brightly colored leather or woven silk. These ensembles qualify as multimedia art not only because they involve an array of ultra-refined crafts but because they embody the spirit of several Japanese art forms. Their jutting planes of tiles are architecture in miniature, and the curled flaps of certain helmets even introduce pagodalike curves. The grimacing masks are pure kabuki: combat as performance. And aspects of painting and sculpture abound. The scales’ lacing alone — which provides color, texture, pattern and flexibility — dazzles.

    A samurai’s armor was, after his swords, his most prized possession, handed down through generations and depicted in paintings. One of the show’s most exceptional ensembles is an all-black suit that belonged to the 16th-century commander Honda Tadakatsu and is especially notable for the large, three-pronged deer-horn helmet. (The horns, a wonderful combination of artifice and naturalism, are shiny lacquer with tiny bumps.) It is flanked on one side by a 17th-century hanging scroll that shows Tadakatsu in full regalia, with the same giant rosary of wood beads covered in gold leaf slung across his chest. On the other side of the actual armor is a second version, complete with the horns, in black and orange, which the family had made for a child seven generations later.

    One of the show’s high points is a large vitrine devoted to seven helmets, including one whose crest is a large gold praying mantis and another, covered with silver leaf and shaped like Mount Fuji. Judging from the pictures in the catalog, the helmets in the second rotation may be even more spectacular.

    The unprecedented gathering of nearly 60 naked sword blades, which ring the walls of these galleries, almost forms a show in its own right, and combined with their labels the blades constitute a crash course in their connoisseurship. Dating primarily from the 11th to the 17th centuries, the blades would have been incorporated into a number of samurais swords, including the tachi (slung sword), katana (sword), uchigatana (mid-length sword) and tanto (dagger, which unusually figured in seppuku). Usually only samurai were officially permitted to wear two swords at once — for example, a katana and a tanto — both slipped through the warrior’s broad sash.

    The blades have always been appreciated as art objects as much as weapons. Several swords here were honored by being named. Swordsmiths began to sign their blades — on the tang, or the end of the blade left rough and covered by the hilt — as early as the 11th century, and contrasting aesthetics of swordsmithing, handed down in families through generations, resulted in different schools, just as in Japanese painting.

    Swords are appreciated for their elegant proportions, curved lines and the subtle surface textures, which have names like “tight wood grain,” “burl grain” and “pear skin.” (Magnifying glasses are recommended for the truly serious.) But the most interesting distinguishing characteristic is the hamon, or tempering line or pattern, an austere but purely decorative contrast in the tone of the metal extending along the blade. The hamon is created by applying clay slip of different densities to both sides of the blade just before it is quenched — dipped in water — at the end of the forging process. (One result is that blades have a front and a back.)

    With this process the swordsmith creates a narrow but distinctive dark-light silhouette of two or even three contrasting tones of silvers or grays that are usually visible from different angles. (Good knees help.) Basically, the blades are pictorial slivers, minimalist blends of painting and calligraphy in miniature that, as is usually the case with Japanese visual culture, are linked to nature. Their suggestiveness and variety astound, evoking irregular waves, mounds, mist, cloves, clouds and horizon lines. It is quite a revelation to go through this show concentrating on the blades.

    When you turn from the arms back to the armor, the gaudy noise can be shocking, as can the realization that you have been viewing as beautiful pictorial objects weapons designed to maim and kill with utmost precision.

    But the blades can’t be used until they are encased in their own kind of gaudy armor — beautifully worked bronze sword guards, lacquer sheaths and elaborate hilts — that protect them and render them functional, but that are themselves pushed outrageously beyond function, providing some of the show’s richest, most compressed moments of extravagance. The hilts are covered in sharkskin and beautifully bound with crisscrossing silk cord beneath which you can glimpse bits of gold: finely worked figures, creatures and plant forms called menuki. Thus embedded, they were barely visible, but they improved the samurai’s grip on his weapon. Several are displayed ex-hilt, as it were, since they have long been collected in their own right, even by some of the samurai themselves.

    “Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868” runs through Jan. 10 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, (212) 535-7710, metmuseum.org.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  2. #2
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    Sweet !
    Having worn japanese armour I can say it was very functional.
    I have a nice collection myself, I think I am only 48 blades shy !
    Psalms 144:1
    Praise be my Lord my Rock,
    He trains my hands for war, my fingers for battle !

  3. #3
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    A reason to go to NY next year...

    Arms and Armor
    Notable Acquisitions 2003–2014

    November 11, 2014–December 6, 2015

    The permanent collection of the Department of Arms and Armor is one of the most encyclopedic in the world. To highlight the ongoing development of the collection's multicultural and interdisciplinary nature, this exhibition focuses on approximately forty works from Europe, the United States, Japan, India, and Tibet acquired between 2003 and 2014. Beyond the well-established categories of finely decorated armor, edged weapons, and firearms, the selection features drawings and prints, textiles, and other materials that are vital, but often unrecognized, aspects of the understanding and appreciation of arms and armor as a universal art form.

    Works on paper, textiles, and other select pieces will be rotated two to three times during the course of the exhibition.


    Ceremonial Dagger (Bichwa), 17th century. South Indian, Thanjavur. Steel, gold. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, Purchase, Arthur Ochs Sulzberger Gift, 2014 (2014.190)
    I have never seen the Met's collection first hand. I was in NY several years ago for ABA, doing the museum mile, and the collection was closed for renovation. I stood at one of the windows that overlooked the gallery and wept.
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  4. #4
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    Slightly OT

    But there's Wushu involved. So it's OT for this thread and this subforum, but not the forum at large.

    Performance
    SILENT dialogue


    A Dance Intervention

    World premiere dance performance in select galleries

    Choreographer and dancer Dai Jian has created an immersive performative response to the exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass. Trained in contemporary dance, classical dance, and Wushu Art, Dai Jian has danced with the Trisha Brown Dance Company and Shen Wei Dance Arts, and has created improvisations, performance installations, and visual art. Moved by the specific energy and the emotional narrative of a selection of galleries, he has choreographed several new dance works for numerous dancers that will be staged in the spaces from which they drew inspiration.

    Galleries in which performances will take place include:

    Melanesia Gallery 354
    Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Arms and Armor Court
    The Blanche and A. L. Levine Court Gallery 915, and Galleries 921-925
    The Charles Engelhard Court
    Robert Lehman Wing Court, Gallery 963

    Dai Jian began Wushu training at the age of five and, alongside a professional dance career, he has been creating his own work since he was eighteen years old. In 1998 he was awarded at the National Dance Competition in China, and in 2000 he won the New Stars in Performing Arts from Guangzhou City with his first solo creation. He joined New York-based Shen Wei Dance Arts in 2005, followed by Trisha Brown Dance Company in 2008. Additionally he worked alongside choreographer Shen Wei for the opening ceremonies of the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

    This performance, inspired by the exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass, is made possible by Adrian Cheng.

    The exhibition China: Through the Looking Glass, on view May 7–August 16, 2015, is made possible by Yahoo. Additional support is provided by Condé Nast and several Chinese donors.

    #MetMuseumPresents
    #MetFridays

    Above: Photo by Michele Xiaoyun Fan

    Free with Museum admission
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

  5. #5
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    Samurai Splendor: Sword Fittings from Edo Japan at the Met


    Detail of a blade and Mounting for a Long Sword (Katana)
    EXHIBITION
    Samurai Splendor: Sword Fittings from Edo Japan

    March 21, 2022 – Ongoing
    Now on view at The Met Fifth Avenue , 380
    Exhibitions are free with Museum admission.

    Overview Exhibition Objects

    After almost a century and a half of near-constant civil war and political upheaval, Japan unified under a new ruling family, the Tokugawa, in the early 1600s. Their reign lasted for more than 250 years, in an era referred to as the Edo period, after the town of Edo (present-day Tokyo) that became the new capital of Japan. The Tokugawa regime brought economic growth, prolonged peace, and widespread enjoyment of the arts and culture. The administration also imposed strict class separation and rigid regulations for all. As a result, the ruling class—with the shogun as governing military official, the daimyo as local feudal lords, and the samurai as their retainers—had only a few ways to display personal taste in public. Fittings and accessories for their swords, which were an indispensable symbol of power and authority, became a critical means of self-expression and a focal point of artistic creation.

    This installation explores the luxurious aspects of Edo-period sword fashion, a fascinating form of arms and armor rarely featured in exhibitions outside Japan. It presents a selection of exquisite sword mountings, fittings, and related objects, including maker’s sketchbooks—all drawn from The Met collection and many rarely or never exhibited before.

    This exhibition is made possible by the Vilcek Foundation.
    Arms-amp-Armor-Museum-Exhibits
    Arms-and-Armor-at-the-Metropolitan-Museum-of-Art
    Gene Ching
    Publisher www.KungFuMagazine.com
    Author of Shaolin Trips
    Support our forum by getting your gear at MartialArtSmart

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