Summer 2007 Exhibition

Suzuki Kiitsu, Shō-Kannon
Suzuki Kiitsu (1796–1858)
Mid 19th. c.
Hanging scroll

The Exploration of Unseen Worlds:
Imagination as Reality in Japanese Art

May 29 – July 31, 2007

Among the world's various regional arts, the art of Japan is notable both for its close attention to small, natural details, and, seemingly to the contrary, its ability to envision realities beyond the world of nature, taking wild flights of imagination into the realm of the unseen. For every type of tree, flower and insect that can be enumerated in Japanese art, an equally long list of monsters, immortals and ghosts can be made, while Japanese artists have for centuries delighted in making these "unnatural" beings appear as though they were as much a part of experienced reality as animal and plant life. Indeed, given the degree of supernatural and divine intervention in medieval Japanese histories, the distinction between "real" and "imaginary" may not always have been so clear as it seems to the modern "enlightened" rational mind.

Is the split between "real" and "imaginary" in fact so obvious, however? Ultimately, behind every fantastic place or being is a pressing worldly reality that gives it form, meaning and necessity. In this exhibition, we explore between the two poles of the Japanese "otherworldly" imagination: the hopeful, positive vision of an ideal alternative to this world (the divine or heavenly) and its opposite, the projection of our ultimate fears and doubts in visions of pain and suffering (the demonic or hellish). While the former uplifts and inspires, guiding us to aspire for higher things, the latter, strangely, does not necessarily depress, but can have a fascinating and even cleansing effect, as though we were touching the darker, hidden sides of our world and ourselves, horrifying but true. Between these two extremes are a range of combinations and possibilities, from fierce and mysterious deities who enlighten with force, to outrageous parodies of those things that frighten us the most, as well as the disturbing overlap of "other worlds" with our own.

Kanō Dōhaku, Hell Awaiting Bad Buddhists (detail)
Kanō Dōhaku (d. 1851)
Hell Awaiting Bad Buddhists (detail)
Hanging scroll

The exploration of unseen worlds, this is to say, is a journey through different mental states and approaches to reality, expressed through the imagination. Projecting the realities of the mind into physical form, art has the power to give material body to the abstract, and to imagine the unreal into being.

Gallery hours: Tuesday through Saturday 1 – 5 pm. Closed on national holidays and during the month of August.
Admission: $5 for adults, $3 for students with valid ID. Children 12 and under free.
Weekly docent tours are held Saturdays at 1 pm and guided group tours can be arranged by calling the Center in advance at (559) 582-4915.