Edo Style: Art of Japan (1615–1868), currently showing at the David Roche Foundation for the OzAsia Festival, is the first loan exhibition held by the foundation.
Edo Style includes more than 150 works of art, predominantly from the renowned Japanese art collection at the Art Gallery of South Australia (AGSA), with additional items from the David Roche Collection and private collections. Guest curator Russell Kelty (associate curator of Asian Art at the AGSA) has curated the exhibition through the paradigm of style, presenting a range of elegant lacquerware, screens depicting seasonal landscapes, woodblock prints capturing the dynamic kabuki actors, courtesans, hanging scrolls, netsuke and robes created during the Edo period.
The Edo period was one of unprecedented peace and prosperity, prompting an increase in artistic, cultural and social development. Style became important because the only way people could display power and prestige was through what they wore and the accoutrements they bought. In urban centres, artistic creativity was defined by the style-conscious merchant classes, in contrast to the more conservative aesthetics of the ruling military elite.
“The Edo period allowed the arts to flourish in a way that will never be seen again with the advent of mechanical production,” Kelty says. “Many of the things we consider so profoundly Japanese were created or fostered during this period.”
The exhibition is set in four different sections, depicting four different ideas. The first is The Floating Worlds (Ukiyoe), which includes images of kabuki actresses and courtesans, the stunning six-panel screen Scenes in and Around Kyoto and a display of netsuke and tea accoutrements.
The second room is titled The Light of the Shogun. It focuses on the pursuits and the stylish accoutrements of the military elite. During the largely peaceful Edo period, the shogun, daimyo and samurai were required by law to cultivate moral virtue and aesthetic sensibilities. Armour and swords became symbols of an illustrious past and also helped to reinforce the wearer’s status and refinement.
This room includes an impressive suit of armour from AGSA’s collection with a breastplate depicting Fudomyoo created in 1699 by the master metalsmith and sword connoisseur Myochin Munesuke (1688–1735).
The third room, Journeys Real and Imagined, explores how landscapes and journeys were represented. During the Edo period, travel outside the archipelago was strictly prohibited and this created a fascination with exotic things from the west and a growing interest in western science and arts.
In this room audiences can view a selection of prints by iconic landscape artists Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797-1858), whose works have defined our vision of the ‘famous places’ and great vistas of Edo, which at the time was the largest city in the world.
The final section of the exhibition, Ezochi: The Land of the Indigenous Ainu, focuses on the fact that the Ezochi had a style that differentiated them from mainland Japanese.
Edo Style: Art of Japan (1615–1868) is a stunning display of the impressive Japanese collection from AGSA. Through the selected pieces Kelty has managed to highlight the style and look of this illustrious period.
“Basically people had a newfound freedom, a bit of wealth and the ability to spend it and this is what they spent it on, all these things you see in the exhibition,” he says.
Edo Style: Art of Japan
The David Roche Foundation,
Galleries 1 to 3
Until Saturday, December 1
Header image: Hiroshige Utagawa I, Japan, 1797 – 1858, Mitsuke: Tenryû River View (Mitsuke, Tenryûgawa zu), no. 29. from the series The Fifty-three Stations of the Tokaido Road (Tokaido gojusan tsugi no uchi), 1833-04, Edo (Tokyo), woodblock print, ink and colour on paper, 22.3 x 35.3 cm (image, oban); Gift of Brian and Barbara Crisp in memory of their son Andrew 2003, Art Gallery of South Australia, Adelaide.