In Memoriam: Rand Castile

It is with great sorrow that we announce the passing of Rand Castile, the founding Director of Japan Society Gallery, on May 16, 2017.

Born in North Carolina in 1938, he graduated from Drew University in 1960 and joined Japan Society as Director of Education in 1967. He was appointed the first Director of the Japan Society Gallery in 1971, and held this position concomitantly with the directorship of the Performing Arts program between 1981 and 1986.

As Director, Castile worked closely with Japan Society President John D. Rockefeller 3rd and architect Junzō Yoshimura on the design of the institution’s headquarters at 333 East 47th Street. During his leadership, the Society established its International Art Advisory Committee, a consulting body of scholars and museum professionals. Castile also created the Friends of the Gallery patron group, and facilitated the establishment of the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Endowment Fund, one of the principal funding sources for Gallery and Performing Arts programming at Japan Society. In 1975, he hosted their Majesties the Emperor Hirohito and Empress Kōjun at Japan Society during their single visit to the United States.

During his decade and a half tenure as Gallery Director, Castile spearheaded an unprecedented forty-five exhibitions. As a group, these shows are remarkable for the range of themes, mediums, and periods of production that they addressed in their broad view of Japanese arts and culture. These features are evident within the very first exhibitions staged during his tenure: Rimpa Masters of the Japanese Decorative School (1971), Rosanjin: 20th Century Master Potter of Japan and Contemporary Japanese Posters (both 1972), and The Magnificent Three: Lacquer, Netsuke, Tsuba. Selections from the Charles A. Greenfield Collection (1973).

Castile organized numerous exhibitions in collaboration with the Bunka-chō, the Agency for Cultural Affairs, which serves as Japan’s primary custodial body of National Treasures and Important Cultural Properties. These included several displays of masterpieces from some of Japan’s most significant and revered collections, such as the Japanese Imperial and Tokugawa collections in 1975 and 1977, and the Hōryū-ji Temple in 1981. For the landmark 1976 exhibition Shinto Arts: Nature, Gods, and Man in Japan, co-sponsored by the Bunka-chō, Castile facilitated the loans of over fifty masterpieces (including some twenty that are officially registered as National Treasures, Important Cultural Properties, or Important Art Objects) from forty-three temples, shrines, and museums.

Illustrating a commitment to exploring Japanese culture from multiple diverse angles, Castile also organized groundbreaking exhibitions of folk art (1978-79), early Japanese photography (1979-80), the arts of the kite and shop signs (1980, 1983). Among his final exhibitions as director, Spectacular Helmets of Japan: 16th-19th Century (1985) proved to be one of his most widely lauded.

According to former Gallery Director Alexandra Munroe, Castile was also “a visionary for contemporary art,” and can be credited with giving some of Japan’s most important contemporary artists (including Shigeko Kubota, Ushio Shinohara, Hiroshi Sugimoto), architects (Arata Isozaki, Fumihiko Maki, Tadao Ando), and designers (Eiko Ishioka, Issey Miyake) their first exposure in the U.S.

“In short,” notes Munroe, “Rand Castile not only founded the Japan Society Gallery, but the museological field of Japanese art as we know it.”

In theater and in performing arts he helped bring the avant-garde director and playwright Jūrō Kara and butoh dancer Min Tanaka, actors Ken Takakura and Tetsuya Nakadai, and film director Akira Kurosawa to the United States. He organized a Sumo tournament at Madison Square Garden in 1981 and arranged sponsorship for bringing the Grand Kabuki to the Metropolitan Opera in 1982.

In 1986, Castile assumed the directorship of the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, a position that he held until 1994.

Castile’s vision as Gallery Director undoubtedly established Japan Society as the premier institution in the United States for the display and interpretation of Japanese art and culture, from classical to contemporary times. His legacy continues to be felt in almost every aspect of the Gallery today.

Rand Castile is survived by his wife Sondra and two daughters, Leath Fowkes and Heather Castile, a granddaughter, a sister Anita Sherwood and a brother Paul Castile.

Images: Rand Castile with David Rockefeller © William Irwin; Rand Castile with Ushio Shinohara © Osamu Honda.

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