2014 / LACMA / The Color of Life: Japanese Paintings from the Price Collection (Yoshida)

Ito Jakuchu Birds

Ito Jakuchu (1716 – 1800) Birds, Animals and Flowering Plants (left part), 18th century. Pair of six panel screen. Color on paper. Each screen 65 3/4 x 148 in. Etsuko and Joe Price Collection. (Courtesy of LACMA)

Cultural News 2014 February Issue

Los Angeles County Museum of Art

The Color of Life: Japanese Paintings from the Price Collection

Part I: February 1 – March 9

Part II: March 15 – April 20

By Ayako Yoshida, Independent curator

On March 11, 2011, Japanese art collectors Etsuko and Joe Price of Orange County gasped in horror as the earthquake and tsunami aired on TV Japan. A few weeks later, they watched another scene that inspired them to organize a great gift. Brilliant plum blossoms and the victims’ appreciative bows as they each received a rice ball amidst the devastation compelled the Prices to initiate a special exhibition.

They wished to invigorate the people of the Tohoku region with beautiful Japanese paintings of 18th century which had brought immense joy to Mr. and Mrs. Price.

Translating the original Japanese titles into English, “Jakuchu’s here! : The joy and beauty of Edo Period painting from the Price Collection, here to support and energize Tohoku recovery” was a brainchild of Etsuko and Joe Price with the generosity of many people and institutions in Japan and the U.S.

The revenue would benefit Tohoku’s people. A fine selection of the Etsuko and Joe Price Collection from the 2013 blockbuster exhibition at Fukushima Prefectural Museum of Art, Iwate Museum of Art, and Sendai City Museum will now be on view at the newly renovated Pavilion for Japanese Art at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art from Feb. 1.

“The Color of Life: Japanese Paintings from the Price Collection” is an apt exhibition to start the year celebrating the 25th anniversary of the Bruce Goff designed Pavilion for Japanese Art, which itself came to being thanks to Etsuko and Joe Price.

Having had the pleasure of seeing the Price Collection, I can vouch for the humor and beauty captured in the exceptional Edo Period (1603-1868) paintings.

In Part I of the exhibition, which lasts until March 9, Nagasawa Rosetsu’s White Elephant and Black Bull (18th century) is my favorite. An adorable white puppy snuggles against a large recumbent black bull drawn in sumi-ink, which fills the entire six-panel screen.

It is tender and awesome at the same time. On the other pair of screens, a white elephant is so big that it does not fit into the six-panels. On a single sumi-ink stroke that depicts the elephant’s back, a pair of mischievous black crows command the top of the otherwise seemingly empty panels.

The brushstrokes and the composition are simply masterful. In comparison to a great modern Kyoto painter Takeuchi Seiho’s magnificent Elephants screens (c. 1904) in a private collection, Rosetsu’s White Elephant and Black Bull demonstrates this artist’s impact and influence on future generations.

Part I also features a brilliant scene of nature by multitalented Edo (modern Tokyo) artist Suzuki Kiitsu (1796-1858), who is among Joe Price’s favorite artists. Art students will marvel at Kiitsu’s fine wash handling.

By contrast, the bold command of sumi-ink by Osaka artist Katsu Jagyoku (1735-1780) is striking in a powerful black-and-white pair of six-panel screens Rabbits and Pine Trees in Snow and Crows and a Plum Tree (1774).

Furthermore, the rabbits and the birds in this snowy nightscape by Jagyoku were referred to as Candraprabha Bodhisattva and Suryaprabha Bodhisattva, respectively, according to Dr. Riko Imahashi, based on uncanny similarities that she found in Kuwanomidera Engi Emaki (1193). She points out that based on the iconographies of a rabbit as the moon and a bird as the sun, the birds representing the sun should be at the right, and the rabbits representing the moon should be at the left. The possible depths of the artwork is fascinating to explore, when the visitor will have the opportunity to stand in front of this masterpiece.

Yet most of all, as the exhibition’s original Japanese title “Jakuchu’s here!” implies, audiences to LACMA’s “The Color of Life” will be treated to a number of very individualistic and exceptional works of Itō Jakuchū (1716-1800), whose bizarre style was once underappreciated by modern’s Japanese people when it captured the fascination of American, Joe Price.

Consequently, and luckily for Angelenos, visitors to the Pavilion can feast their eyes on remarkable works such as Birds, Animals and Flowering Plants (18th century), a pair of six-panel screens, each 168.7 x 374.4 cm, colorfully painted using rows of approximately one centimeter squares.

Reminiscent of Noah’s Ark, the panels are flanked by fruit trees between which roam wild animals and fantastical creatures among many kinds of birds on land, in water, and in air.

Jakuchū’s imagination and creativity, combined with his mastery of brush and pigments, are unparalleled. If you are impressed by Chuck Close’s grid-style portraits, you will be mesmerized by Jakuchū’s Birds, Animals and Flowering Plants.

If you are saying to yourself that you have no idea what Edo Period painting is, Joe Price felt that way too. Seeing it turned him into a collector. Whether you are a novice or an expert, “The Color of Life” promises an extraordinary experience.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art is located at 5905 Wilshire Blvd, Los Angeles, CA 90036. (323) 857-6000. www.lacma.org

Hours are Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, 11 am – 5 pm; Friday, 11 am – 8 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 10 am – 7 pm; closed Wednesday.

General Admission: adults $15, students 18 and over with ID and senior citizens $10.

Ayako Yoshida is an independent curator seeking to increase public awareness and access to Japanese and Japanese-American art. During her nine years at LACMA, she worked on “Made in California” and 10 exhibitions with the European Painting and Sculpture Department.

At LACMA in 2008, she curated a permanent collection installation “Kanemitsu in California during the 1960s and 1970s.” She initiated “June Wayne’s Narrative Tapestries: Tidal Waves, DNA, and the Cosmos” at The Art Institute of Chicago in 2010.

Yoshida continues to research and to actively seek opportunities to show 20th-century Japanese-American artists’ works, which have been influential in the history of modern and contemporary American art.