Exhibition

The Genius of Japanese Lacquer: Masterworks by Shibata Zeshin


Set of stacked food boxes with harvest motifs, about 1860–90. Lacquered wood, 15 5/8 x 9 x 9 5/8 in. (39.6 x 22.8 x 24.4 cm). The Khalili Collection of Japanese Art.

Shibata Zeshin (1807–1891) is history’s greatest lacquer artist, recognized worldwide for his exquisitely detailed lacquered boxes, panels, sword mounts, and other objects, as well as scrolls painted in both ink and lacquer. In addition to his mastery of traditional techniques, Zeshin developed a range of daring new lacquer textures and finishes imitating rusty iron, rough seas, patinated bronze, and even the delicate grain of Chinese rosewood.  Japan Society presents the finest collection of the artist’s works ever assembled outside of Japan in The Genius of Japanese Lacquer: Masterworks by Shibata Zeshin.

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Related Programming


In conjunction with The Genius of Japanese Lacquer, Japan Society presents a full slate of education and lecture programs, tours, and special events, all of which take place at Japan Society unless otherwise noted.

Docent Corps Program
March 21 - June 15, 2008

The Docent Corps provides daily interactive exhibition tours for the general public, complimentary with admission. Japan Society's docents participate in a multi-part training course for every exhibition. Visitor questions are welcome and encouraged, and context building information is introduced appropriately to the interests and abilities of all visitors. Docent-led walk-in tours are conducted Tuesday through Sunday at 12:30 pm with additional tours on Saturdays & Sundays at 2 pm; Japanese language tours are conducted Friday nights at 6 pm by appointment. Tours are free with admission and approximately 1 hour in duration. No reservation required.

Student Gallery Lessons
March 21 - June 13, 2008

Pre-K through 12th grade students experience lessons including object-centered, guided discussions of objects in the exhibition The Genius of Japanese Lacquer. They observe and discuss selected works of art, and respond through drawing, writing and movement assignments. For more information call 212- 715-1224.  Click to view previous Gallery-Related Student Programs.

Konnichiwa Friends - Family Tours of The Genius of Japanese Lacquer
Saturdays, April 12, May 10 and June 14, 2008, 2-3 pm

Slated for the second Saturday of every month between April and June, this series of tours engages young children with The Genius of Japanese Lacquer while guiding adults in age appropriate, interactive activities. Using games, puzzles, storytelling, and other techniques for discussing art, these tours explore exhibition themes including the value of close examination and the ability of artwork to surprise the viewer. For more information call 212 715 1224. Tours are free with admission and approximately 1 hour in duration. No reservation required.

Art Cart - Amazing Japanese Lacquer: Design Fun!

April 20, 2008, 2-4pm

Led by a Japan Society educator, children and their families receive an introduction to The Genius of Japanese Lacquer by exploring the galleries through sketching, movement and discussion. Working with a professional designer and educator, children learn about approaches to designing functional objects and make their own inrō boxes. $15 per family (up to 5 people)/$10 per family, including at least one Japan Society member. To order tickets, call the Japan Society Box Office at (212) 715-1258 or view the Event Page for more information.


Set of dining vessels in Kasuga Shrine style, about 1883. Lacquered wood, the tray 13 x 17 1/2 x 2 3/4 in. (33 x 44.5 x 7 cm). Catherine and Thomas Edson Collection; courtesy of San Antonio Museum of Art.

Exhibition Talk
The Genius of Japanese Lacquer: Masterworks by Shibata Zeshin Exhibition Walk Through
Saturday, March 22 at 11:30 am
Joe Earle
, Vice President and Gallery Director at Japan Society will discuss Shibata Zeshin as an obliquely political artist, a design radical and a sometimes reluctant champion of globalism, whose career offers intriguing parallels with the trajectory of some Asian artists today.  This event coincides with Asian Contemporary Art Week, March 15 - 24, 2008.  View our Event Page and learn more about Asian Contemporary Art Week at www.acaw.net.

Exhibition Talk
From Edo to Meiji: The Case of Shibata Zeshin
Wednesday, April 9 at 6:30 pm

In recent years, institutional, social and art historians have increasingly stressed the continuities that exist between the closing decades of the Edo period and the beginning of the Meiji era. This analysis, which contrasts strongly with earlier, "sudden break," readings of 19th-century Japan, is confirmed by the career of Shibata Zeshin, who developed most of his technical innovations some 20 years before the Meiji Restoration. This panel discussion brings together James L. McClain, Professor and Chair of History at Brown University and David L. Howell, Department Chair and Professor of East Asian Studies and History at Princeton University, for an in-depth look at a key moment in Japanese history. Joe Earle, Director, Japan Society Gallery will moderate. Followed by a reception.  Tickets: $10/$8 Japan Society members, $5 seniors & students.  Visit the Event Page to buy tickets online or call the Japan Society Box Office, Mon-Fri, 11 am to 6 pm, Weekends, 11 am to 5 pm, at (212) 715-1258.

Exhibiton Talk
Hidden Beauty: in Edo Design
Tuesday, May 13 at 6:30 pm

Late-Edo-period design in both textiles and lacquerware is distinguished by a penchant for near-invisible tiny details and minutely worked techniques that situate value in time and skill rather than precious materials. This program will discuss the philosophical and practical background to iki - an understated aesthetic that characterizes much of Shibata Zeshin’s work - and examine the beauty of hidden design in Japanese and Western culture. Panelists Sharon S. Takeda, Senior Curator and Department Head, Costumes and Textiles at Los Angeles County Museum and distinguished independent scholar Terry Satsuki Milhaupt join curator Joe Earle in dialogue on topics including the impact of western design on Japan and reciprocally Japan’s influence on the west, the effect of sumptuary laws. Followed by a reception.  Tickets: $10/$8 Japan Society members, $5 seniors & students.  Visit the Event Page to buy tickets online or call the Japan Society Box Office, Mon-Fri, 11 am to 6 pm, Weekends, 11 am to 5 pm, at (212) 715-1258.

Exhibition Talk
Exploring Japanese Lacquer
Saturday, May 17 at 2 pm

Suzanna Shaw, Visiting Senior Fellow in the Objects Conservation Department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, will introduce and demonstrate basic Japanese lacquering techniques and, in discussion with curator Joe Earle, examine Shibata Zeshin's many technical innovations.  Tickets: $20/$18 Japan Society members, $10 seniors & students.  Visit the Event Page to buy tickets online or call the Japan Society Box Office, Mon-Fri, 11 am to 6 pm, Weekends, 11 am to 5 pm, at (212) 715-1258.

This exhibition is organized by the San Antonio Museum of Art and Japan Society, and is based on the collection of Catherine and Thomas Edson.

Support for this exhibition is provided by the E. Rhodes & Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Vanessa and Henry Cornell, Chris A. Wachenheim, The Blakemore Foundation, Bonhams, Christie’s Inc., Mr. and Mrs. Edward A. Studzinski, Kajima Foundation, Malcolm Fairley Japanese Works of Art, and the Leadership Committee for The Genius of Japanese Lacquer: Masterworks by Shibata Zeshin.

Transportation assistance is provided by

Media sponsorship is provided by          

As part of the Millennium on View program, Millennium UN Plaza is the preferred hotel partner of Japan Society’s Centennial.


Topics:  Art

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