The Art of Transformation
1 December 2011 - 30 January 2012
Kabuki: The Art of Transformation brings together a selection of Japanese prints from the F C W Staub collection. Paying particular attention to a series of technically complex triptych works, this exhibition focuses on imagery relating to the art of theatre and war. There is a simple motivation here - to reveal the passionate determination of a single collector who has amassed a striking body of artwork over a sustained period. By having access to such a rich resource the Gallery's exhibitions team are able to produce tightly structured exhibitions, which give a snapshot of a sophisticated and bountiful art scene.
The art of ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world), materialized in the metropolitan culture of Edo (Tokyo) during a period of Japanese history, when the political and military power was in the hands of the shoguns, and the country operated in virtual isolation from international influences. This seclusion saw the development of a deeply structured and complex civilization, in which a vast array of highly refined social, artistic and cultural activities developed. Ukiyo-e prints in many respects responded to and fueled this cultural renaissance - they were a simple promotional device for theatre, geisha and tea houses, and a dynamic means for recounting famous myths and legends. The universal appeal of these works saw their designers, like Utagawa Kunisada and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi, being able to achieve name-brand status in a society where Kabuki actors, courtesans and samurai were already held in high regard.
This exhibition is a celebration of ideas of transformation as enacted through the elaborate and stylized craft of Kabuki theatre and the martial arts. The art of war was not simply a popular subject for artists and audiences during the Edo period - the way of the samurai was a value system that permeated all facets of political, cultural and social life. This was clearly laid out in the influential treatise on strategy and martial arts by the famous scholar Miyamoto Musashi, whose programme for the individual warrior had a universal appeal:
Think of what is right and true.
Put the science into practice.
Become acquainted with the arts.
Become acquainted with the crafts.
Understand the negative and positive qualities in everything.
Learn to see everything accurately.
Become aware of what is not obvious.
Be careful even in small matters.
Don't do anything useless.