The fine art of making lacquer objects in Japan is one of the culture's most
cherished and refined art forms. "Symbol and Substance: The Elaine Ehrenkranz Collection of Japanese Lacquer Boxes" opens at Vassar College's Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center (FLLAC) on Sunday, September 15, and runs through Sunday, January 5, 2003.
The skill of artisans working in lacquer have evolved in Japan over the course of five thousand years. Derived from the non-resinous sap of the urushi or lacquer tree, lacquer hardens through a process of polymerization that creates an extremely durable surface on wood. The elaborate luxury items in the Ehrenkranz collection represent the highest achievement of the lacquer artist's skill. The fifty-five lacquer boxes in the exhibition date from the late 15th through the early 19th century.
The majority of the objects in the collection stem from the late Momoyama (1568-1615) and early Edo (1615-1868) periods and include boxes made for inkstones, incense, scrolls, and elements of the tea ceremony. The opulent appearance of golden
lacquer used on many of the objects is as visually stunning today as in the eighteenth century thanks to the exquisite condition of the boxes.
"Symbol and Substance' is organized by the Harvard University Art Museums and is supported at the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center by the generosity of the Smart Family Foundation, Inc. It is accompanied by a gallery guide written by Anne Rose Kitagawa, assistant curator for Japanese Art at the Arthur M. Sackler Museum at Harvard. A full-length scholarly monograph by Barbra Teri Okada is also available.
Also at the FLLAC, in the Prints and Drawings Galleries, from Saturday, October 5, through Sunday, December 15, is "Fifty-Three Views of the Floating World: Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Collection of Mount Holyoke College."
In the late seventeenth century the term "ukiyo," referring to the Buddhist concept of the sad or wretched world here on earth, began to be written with a different character that expressed the notion of a floating world, the world of transient earthly existence. Early ukiyo-e masters specialized in images of the fleeting pleasures of this earth, courtesans and beautiful women, as well as actors and, quite often, erotic scenes. In the nineteenth century, images of historical figures and incidents from legend as well as landscape views of popular tourist attractions were added to the basic repertoire of the "floating world."
The 53 prints in "Fifty-Three Views of the Floating World," organized by the Mount Holyoke College Art Museum, complement the accompanying exhibition, "Symbol and Substance."
Admission to the Frances Lehman Loeb Art Center is free. It is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday, from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., and Sunday from 1 to 5 p.m. The Lehman Loeb Art Center is wheelchair accessible. For more information, call (845) 437-5632 or visit http://fllac.vassar.edu.
Vassar College is a highly selective, coeducational, independent, residential liberal arts college founded in 1861.