Japan Society Presents the First Exhibition Devoted to a New Phenomenon in Japanese Art: Bamboo as a Medium for Sculpture

For Immediate Release

New Bamboo: Contemporary Japanese Masters

October 4, 2008 – January 11, 2009 at Japan Society Gallery

New Bamboo ~竹の新世界~

New York, NY, June 16, 2008 – This fall Japan Society Gallery explores the emergence of a new genre in contemporary art, one uniquely rooted in Japanese culture: the use of centuries-old methods of basketry to create startlingly original sculptural forms. New Bamboo: Contemporary Japanese Masters is the first comprehensive overview of the phenomenon, which has emerged only in the last few decades. New Bamboo opens October 4, 2008 and remains on view through January 11, 2009 at Japan Society, 333 East 47th Street between First and Second Avenues.

Ranging from ethereal, computer-plotted filigrees to angry, dirt-encrusted tangles and anthropomorphic forms, the more than 90 works on display are revelatory. “Rather paradoxically, by abandoning functionality, these 'post-basket' artists often seem to have achieved even more technically accomplished works than have previous generations of bamboo masters,” said Joe Earle, Director, Japan Society Gallery. The exhibition is the first that Earle has fully curated for the Gallery since assuming the post of Director in September 2007.

Several works will be installed beyond gallery walls in the organization’s landmark modernist entrance lobby: one, a large-scale, split-bamboo kakoi (enclosure) by noted bamboo master Kawana Tetsunori (b. 1945) commissioned for the exhibition by Japan Society; the other, a series of intricate bamboo constructions illuminating Western architectural and engineering principles by the New York-based sculptor Stephen Talasnik (b. 1954).

New Bamboo represents 23 innovators ranging in age from 32 to 78 years. The vast majority completed rigorous apprenticeships to master basketmakers before reaching beyond the craft’s boundaries. (Among the exceptions is Talasnik, the only artist in the exhibition who is not Japanese.)

About the Exhibition

Fashioned from ten-foot lengths of pale timber bamboo, a flower basket by Matsumoto Hafū (b. 1952) will greet the visitor to New Bamboo. Although created only recently, the basket echoes a form developed in the 1950s by Matsumoto’s master’s master, Iizuka Rōkansai, the most influential of all 20th-century bamboo artists and one of the first to realize the sculptural potential of bamboo. During the opening days of the exhibition, the Matsumoto basket will be displayed with a large flower arrangement; thereafter, the arrangement will be removed to present the piece purely as sculpture.

This foreshadowing leads the viewer to the first section of New Bamboo, which features works that embody the transformation from container to sculpture, including the seminal Breath (1968) by the senior Honma Kazuaki (b. 1930), with its darkened, upswept plumage, and seven gravity-defying pieces by his adopted son Honma Hideaki (b. 1959).

New Bamboo continues to explore the role of tradition in the second section by assembling the works of influential artists who have spent years producing baskets for a living, including a number who belong to long-established craft dynasties. Here, a taunt, delicately plaited melon-shaped orb, one of four extraordinary pieces by Yako Hōdō (b. 1940), testifies to how skills honed in basketry also can produce a wondrous, strange object, expressive of an inner world uninfluenced by international trends. Two intricately coiled sculptures fashioned from strands of finely split, unstained bamboo by Yamaguchi Ryūun, show how this former pupil of Living National Treasure Shōno Shōunsai (1904–1974) can evoke the ferocity of ocean waves in techniques developed for functional ends. Shōunsai’s own son, Shōno Tokuzō (b. 1942) contributes one of the most extreme forms, “Illusion” (2007), which leaves upright vertical strands unbound and free to unfold like an undulating sea of bamboo. This section also features sculptures by Tanabe Shōchiku III (b. 1973), a scion of the Tanabe dynasty of Sakai, Osaka, and his mother Tanabe Mitsuko (b. 1944), among others.

Two artists who are pushing at the limits of bamboo constructions are the focus in the next section. The first is Ikeda Iwao (b. 1940), from Musashino, near greater Tokyo, who once crafted exquisitely decorated lacquer boxes for the tea ceremony. Recently he has developed a process whereby he painstakingly applies many layers of polished lacquer to whole bamboo stems, then smashes the resulting structures to generate expressive, random forms. Four examples from this series are on view. Uematsu Chikuyū (b. 1947), a meticulous artist who produces about one large piece a year, is represented by seven wall-hung sculptures, ranging from an outsize piece made from a dark species of bamboo and finished with lacquer and clay powder to the lighter-hued tour-de-force “Circle of Perfection” (1997).

The last and largest section of New Bamboo brings together works by mostly younger practitioners who have spent the greater part of their careers making bamboo sculpture. Highlights abound: an erotically poised vessel form created by former architect Ueno Masao (b. 1949), who grows, harvests, seasons, treats, and splits his own bamboo; brash, assured, and sometimes purposefully awkward sculptures by Nagakura Ken’ichi (b. 1952); a warm-toned, lacquered “exploded basket” by Honda Shōryū (2006), minimalism at the service of precise expression; a virtuosic sculpture of thinly-cut bamboo plaited in an open hexagonal weave, which achieves the monumentality of a Henry Moore nude, by Morigami Jin (b. 1955); and a skeletal arrangement of dancing triangles by Nakatomi Hajime (b. 1974), ascending vertically like a Saul Steinberg line drawing endowed with three dimensions.

Exhibition Catalogue
A 128-page, fully illustrated catalogue by Joe Earle provides an historical and cultural context for bamboo sculpture and comprehensively documents 88 works in the exhibition. Published by Japan Society and distributed by Yale University Press, New Bamboo: Contemporary Japanese Masters (October 2008, $25.00 retail) will be available at the Japan Society Shop,, and retailers nationwide.

About the Curator
Joe Earle joined Japan Society in September 2007 as Vice President and Gallery Director. He is a graduate of Oxford University, where he studied Chinese Language and Literature before joining the Far Eastern Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum in 1974, specializing in Japanese art and design. In 1983, he was appointed Keeper of the Far Eastern Department, the youngest person ever to hold such a post in a UK national museum. He led a project to establish a major permanent Japanese gallery at the V&A, and in early 1987 he transferred to the new post of Head of Public Affairs. In 1990, Earle began working as a consultant to the UK’s Japan Festival 1991 and especially its flagship exhibition Visions of Japan, whose commissioning architect was Arata Isozaki. Throughout the 1990s he organized a wide range of exhibitions in the United Kingdom, Japan, United States, and Europe, and catalogued numerous private collections of Japanese art, serving as consultant to major museums, auction houses, galleries, collectors, and dealers. In February 2003 he was named the first Chair of the Department of Art of Asia, Oceania, and Africa at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, where he made several important acquisitions of Japanese bamboo art and curated an exhibition, Beyond Basketry, that featured both traditional baskets and works by some of the artists included in this exhibition.

Selected Public Programs
A full slate of related programs, tours, and special events are described at Among them are:

Gagaku Revolution: New Sounds of Ancient Bamboo
Friday, October 10 at 7:30 pm
This rare concert includes traditional works from the classical gagaku (medieval Japanese bamboo instruments) repertory, contemporary Japanese compositions, and World Premiere commissions from three trailblazing American composers. Performed by musicians from Reigaku-sha, Japan's most celebrated gagaku ensemble. $35/$30 Japan Society members.

Robert Coffland on Collecting Bamboo Art in America

October 28, 2008 at 6:30 pm
Robert Coffland, this country's leading dealer in Japanese bamboo art, is on close terms with many of today's most celebrated practitioners of the form. In conversation with Joe Earle, Coffland offers a unique perspective on contemporary working environments, the domestic politics of craft associations and exhibitions, and the international world of art fairs and collectors. $10/$8 Japan Society members, $5 seniors & students.

Contemporary Art, Ancient Materials: A Conversation with Tanabe Shōchiku

November 6, 2008 at 6:30 pm
Artist Tanabe Shōchiku III, the son of Tanabe Chikuunsai, third-generation master of a dynasty of basket-makers based in Sakai, offers perspectives on the artistic choices facing present-day specialists in traditional craft industries. $10/$8 Japan Society members/$5 seniors & students.

Docent Corps Program
October 4, 2008–January 11, 2009
The Docent Corps provides daily interactive exhibition tours for the general public. Docent-led walk-in tours are conducted Tuesday–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. Private and group tours can be scheduled by calling 212-715-1224.

For information on the full calendar of events and to purchase tickets, the public may call the box office at 212-715-1258 or visit

Organizers & Sponsors
This exhibition is supported by the Mary Livingston Griggs and Mary Griggs Burke Foundation, Diane and Arthur Abbey, the Arete Foundation, the Cotsen Foundation for Academic Research, Edward and Anne Studzinski, Chris A. Wachenheim, The Japan Foundation, TAI Gallery, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Inc., and the Leadership Committee for New Bamboo: Contemporary Japanese Masters. Additional support is provided by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs and the New York State Council on the Arts, a State agency. Media sponsorship is provided by WNYC and Louise Blouin Media. Transportation assistance is provided by Japan Airlines. Exhibitions at Japan Society are also made possible in part by the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Endowment Fund and the Friends of the Gallery. Installations at Japan Society Gallery are supported by a generous gift from Henry Cornell. Japan Society also wishes to thank The W.L.S. Spencer Foundation for its catalogue support.

About Japan Society Gallery
Japan Society Gallery is among the premier institutions in the U.S. for the exhibition of Japanese art. Extending in scope from prehistory to the present, the Gallery’s exhibitions since 1971 have covered topics as diverse as classical Buddhist sculpture and calligraphy, contemporary photography and ceramics, samurai swords, export porcelain, and masterpieces of painting from the thirteenth to the twentieth century. Each exhibition, with its related catalog and public programs, is a unique cultural event that illuminates familiar and unfamiliar fields of art. From 2008 the Gallery has expanded its annual schedule, adding a shorter, small-scale exhibition each summer to the existing program of major three-month exhibitions each spring and fall.

About Japan Society
Founded in 1907 by prominent New York City businesspeople and philanthropists, Japan Society has evolved over 100 years into an internationally recognized nonprofit organization presenting a full range of programs in arts and culture, business, education, and public policy. Through over 100 events annually, Japan Society creates rich encounters and exchanges that offer opportunities to experience Japanese culture; foster sustained and open dialogue on issues important to the United States, Japan, and East Asia; and improve access to information on Japan.

Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second Avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and V subway at Lexington Avenue). Call 212-832-1155 or visit for more information.

Japan Society Gallery hours: Tuesday through Thursday, 11:00 am–6:00 pm; Friday, 11:00 am–9:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 am–5:00 pm; the Gallery is closed on Mondays and major holidays (Nov. 27, Dec. 25 & 26, Jan. 1). Admission: $12/$10 students and seniors/free Japan Society members and children under 16. Admission is free to all on Friday nights, 6:00–9:00 pm.

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For further information, images and interview requests, please refer to:

Anne Edgar
Anne Edgar Associates
T: 646-336-7230
F: 646-336-7217

Shannon Jowett
Japan Society
T: (212) 715-1205
F: (212) 715-1262

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