Parrot on a Branch by Kusumoto Rin, circa mid-19th century. Eagle by Kishi Ganku, circa 1802.
Several commemorative celebrations have put the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and the Freer Gallery of Art at the center of art-world action. Following the Sackler’s 25th anniversary and the centennial of Tokyo’s cherry trees gifted to Washington, the Freer Gallery marks its 90th year of presenting the arts of Asia. The Freer’s goal of encouraging appreciation and understanding of Asian art and culture remains as focused today as it did when Charles Lang Freer bestowed his vast collection to the nation in 1906, and since the museum opened its doors in 1923.
Today a new installation in the rotating Japanese galleries further confirms the Freer’s keen ability to curate, present, and analyze dynamic displays of world-class works. Continuing its emphasis on the Edo period (which took place in Japan from 1615 to 1868) that began last spring, the Freer unveiled its latest installation, “Arts of Japan: Edo Aviary,” earlier this month, along with “Arts of Japan: Poetic License.” Drawing from the permanent collection, the works examine the ways in which depictions of birds, a long-standing motif in Japanese visual arts, were influenced by natural-history painting during the Edo period, a time marked by government-imposed isolation.
“Feathered creatures have long been used symbolically in Chinese and Japanese painting—representing virtues, power, and the seasons. In the Edo period, we notice a shift to infusing these creatures with certain anthropomorphic and individualistic qualities,” says senior curator of Japanese Art James Ulak. “For a time of punitive sequestration, the variety of visual production during this period was absolutely explosive.”
The gallery’s series on Edo art will also feature the first public showing of the Gerhard Pulverer collection of Japanese illustrated books on March 30. “Arts of Japan: Edo Aviary” and “Arts of Japan: Poetic License” are on view at the Smithsonian’s Freer Gallery of Art through August 4. 1050 Independence Ave. SW, 202-633-1000