Shōkadō Shōjō, calligraphy; Tawaraya Sōtatsu, painting; Waka Poem by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, One of the Thirty-Six Poetic Immortals, early 17th century
Shōkadō Shōjō (Japanese, 1584–1639), calligraphy; Tawaraya Sōtatsu (Japanese, died 1643), painting, Waka Poem by Kakinomoto no Hitomaro, One of the Thirty-Six Poetic Immortals, early 17th century, shikishi mounted as a hanging scroll, ink on gold- and silver-decorated paper. Courtesy of Mary and Cheney Cowles, L2017.67.4

Exhibition Checklist

Yosa Buson, Thatched Retreat on Cold Mountain (detail), early to mid-1770s
Yosa Buson (Japanese, 1716–1783), Thatched Retreat on Cold Mountain (detail), early to mid-1770s, hanging scroll, ink and color on silk. Courtesy of Mary and Cheney Cowles, L2017.67.39

Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art

Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles

OCT 13, 2018 – JAN 13, 2019

Formed over the past two decades, the collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles is exceptional in its quality and breadth, and unique in that it is deeply informed by classical Japanese taste as well as welcoming of idiosyncratic departures from the canon. Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art focuses on one of the great strengths of the Cowleses’ holdings: visual art closely tied to poetic traditions. Poetry, painting, and calligraphy have always been deeply intertwined in East Asia, but in Japan the nature and meaning of those relationships have evolved over time, responding to larger cultural changes. The artworks in this exhibition, spanning the eighth to 20th centuries, illuminate the central role of poetry in the visual arts across time and in diverse social contexts.

Waka and the Courtly Tradition: The native tradition of courtly arts, rooted in Japanese waka poetry and the classical culture of the ninth through 12th centuries, is expressed visually through elegant calligraphies and imaginary portraits of poets. Often created by aspiring poets, these works are imbued with the artist’s respect for great poets of the past and the desire to emulate their accomplishments.

Ink Painting and the Zen Milieu: Zen, a sect of Buddhism that originated in China, flourished in medieval Japan under the patronage of the warrior class. In the monasteries of Kyoto, monks and their patrons alike studied not only religious texts but also a broad curriculum of Chinese history and literature. Monochrome ink painting, frequently based on Chinese poetic themes and uniquely suited to the Zen worldview, was initially taken up by monks and later adopted by professional painters.

Literati Culture: During the 18th and 19th centuries, a new wave of Chinese culture impacted Japan as many intellectuals turned to Neo-Confucian philosophy. Painting and poetry by scholar-amateurs of the Ming period (1368–1644) became, ironically, a powerful form of self-expression and group identity for low-ranking samurai scholars and other intellectuals. In their romantic landscapes, we are invited to join the painter-poets in their mountain retreats and compose verses together.

Modern Innovations: For many 20th-century artists in Japan, the great challenge was the question of how to create a modern idiom that was not overwhelmed by Western influence. Was tradition a hindrance, or a reservoir to be mined? The calligraphers and painters in the exhibition found ways to transform traditional techniques and media to create intensely personal styles. Their emotional investment imparts a lyrical quality to their work.

“While those deeply familiar with Japanese culture will appreciate the literary allusions in these works, all visitors will be able to savor their evocative beauty,” says curator Maribeth Graybill, The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art. “This is an exhibition that invites contemplative looking and emotional response. We hope that viewers will be inspired to compose their own verses about what they see and feel.”

On three weekends during the exhibition, visitors of all ages are invited to find poetic inspiration by delving into some of the themes and creative processes represented in the exhibition. Other public programs include an Evening for Educators, exhibition tours, an opening lecture by curator Maribeth Graybill, and a symposium and scholars’ day in early December 2018.

A fully illustrated catalogue presenting new research by an international group of leading scholars will be published in 2019. This distinguished team includes: Paul Berry, Ph.D., formerly of Kansai Gaidai University and the University of Washington; Maribeth Graybill, Ph.D., The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art, Portland Art Museum; Michiyo Morioka, Ph.D., Independent Scholar; Joshua Mostow, Ph.D., Professor, Department of Asian Studies, University of British Columbia, and Fellow, Royal Society of Canada; Sadako Ohki, Ph.D., Japan Foundation Curator of Japanese Art, Yale University Art Gallery; and Arata Shimao, Ph.D., Professor of Japanese Art History, Gakushūin University, Tokyo.

Please note that the light levels will be low throughout this exhibition in order to protect the artwork.

Organized by the Portland Art Museum. Curated by Maribeth Graybill, Ph.D., The Arlene and Harold Schnitzer Curator of Asian Art, with Jeannie Kenmotsu, Ph.D., Japan Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art, and Sangah Kim, Cowles Curatorial Fellow in Asian Art.

Dec
30
Sun
Public Tour: Poetic Imagination
Dec 30 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Public Tour: Poetic Imagination

Explore the Museum with a docent skilled in bringing art to life.

Public tours depart from the Park Avenue entrance.

Tours are free for members or with Museum admission, and free for children age 17 and younger.

Presented in conjunction with the special exhibition Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles.

Jan
3
Thu
Public Tour: Poetic Imagination
Jan 3 @ 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Public Tour: Poetic Imagination

Explore the Museum with a docent skilled in bringing art to life.

Public tours depart from the Park Avenue entrance.

Tours are free for members or with Museum admission, and free for children age 17 and younger.

Presented in conjunction with the special exhibition Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles.

Jan
8
Tue
Public Tour: Poetic Imagination
Jan 8 @ 1:00 pm – 2:00 pm
Public Tour: Poetic Imagination

Explore the Museum with a docent skilled in bringing art to life.

Public tours depart from the Park Avenue entrance.

Tours are free for members or with Museum admission, and free for children age 17 and younger.

Presented in conjunction with the special exhibition Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles.

Jan
11
Fri
Japanese Poetry, Art & Culture Weekend
Jan 11 @ 5:00 pm – 8:00 pm
Japanese Poetry, Art & Culture Weekend

Spark your own poetic imagination by going deeper into some of the themes, materials, and creative processes represented in the exhibition. This occasional weekend series will feature a variety of calligraphy and ikebana demonstrations, music performances, poetry reading and writing opportunities, artmaking, and even the chance to sample Japanese small bites and sweets from local makers.

October 19, 5–8 p.m.
October 20, 11 a.m.–3 p.m.

November 16, 5–8 p.m.
November 17, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

January 11, 5–8 p.m.
January 12, 11 a.m.–3 p.m.

Presented in conjunction with the special exhibition Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles.

Jan
12
Sat
Japanese Poetry, Art & Culture Weekend
Jan 12 @ 11:00 am – 3:00 pm
Japanese Poetry, Art & Culture Weekend

Spark your own poetic imagination by going deeper into some of the themes, materials, and creative processes represented in the exhibition. This occasional weekend series will feature a variety of calligraphy and ikebana demonstrations, music performances, poetry reading and writing opportunities, artmaking, and even the chance to sample Japanese small bites and sweets from local makers.

October 19, 5–8 p.m.
October 20, 11 a.m.–3 p.m.

November 16, 5–8 p.m.
November 17, 10 a.m.–5 p.m.

January 11, 5–8 p.m.
January 12, 11 a.m.–3 p.m.

Presented in conjunction with the special exhibition Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles.

Public Tour: Poetic Imagination
Jan 12 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Public Tour: Poetic Imagination

Explore the Museum with a docent skilled in bringing art to life.

Public tours depart from the Park Avenue entrance.

Tours are free for members or with Museum admission, and free for children age 17 and younger.

Presented in conjunction with the special exhibition Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles.

Jan
13
Sun
Public Tour: Poetic Imagination
Jan 13 @ 3:00 pm – 4:00 pm
Public Tour: Poetic Imagination

Explore the Museum with a docent skilled in bringing art to life.

Public tours depart from the Park Avenue entrance.

Tours are free for members or with Museum admission, and free for children age 17 and younger.

Presented in conjunction with the special exhibition Poetic Imagination in Japanese Art: Selections from the Collection of Mary and Cheney Cowles.

Opening Lecture: Maribeth Graybill, Ph.D.


Symposiums (playlist)


Shodo (playlist)
These videos highlight the calligraphy styles in the exhibition.

Presenting Sponsor

  • Mary and Cheney Cowles

Lead Sponsors

  • Asian Art Council of the Portland Art Museum
  • The Japan Foundation

Major Sponsors

  • W.L.S. Spencer Foundation
  • Ameriprise Financial / Columbia Threadneedle
  • The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation
  • Donald Jenkins Fund for Visiting Scholars
  • Mildred Schnitzer Memorial Fund
  • Exhibition Series Sponsors

Sponsors

  • Bonhams
  • Christie’s
  • Jon and Mia Hervin Moore
  • The Jackson Foundation
  • The Mary D. and Thomas W. Holman Endowment for Asian Art
  • Anonymous

Supporters

  • Dori Schnitzer and Mark Brown
  • Kitty Bunn
  • Salena Johnson in memory of Thomas R. Johnson
  • Michael and Judy McCuddy
  • The Metropolitan Center for Far Eastern Art Studies
  • Robert Trotman and William Hetzelson
  • Rose E. Tucker Charitable Trust
  • Roudi Akhavein
  • Thomas and Patricia Ebrey
  • Marilyn and Max Podemski in honor of Evelyn Ross
  • Anonymous

Friends of Poetic Imagination

Ray and Jean Auel, Chita Becker, Mikiko Flyn, Carol Frankel, Thomas and Dee Corbin Moore, Nancy and Kevin Morrice, Barbara Prighozy, Jan Quivey in honor of Mary and Cheney Cowles, Peter Shinbach

In-kind

  • Japan-America Society of Oregon
  • Portland Ikebana International Chapter 47

Japan Foundation logo Christie's Portland Ikebana International Chapter 47