Asian Screens, Pottery, Porcelain in Special Exhibition at Metropolitan's Sackler Galleries
NEW YORK — FEW places exude so profound a sense of peace and serenity as the Japanese rooms in the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Sackler Galleries for Asian Art. No outside sounds penetrate to this deeply interior area. The rooms are hushed and still, and the art, hung sparsely and judiciously in the Japanese manner, is subtle, muted and highly conducive to contemplation. Every item on view is choice, whether it be a fragile piece of porcelain, an ancient, weather-beaten sculpture, or a folding screen depicting dramatic landscape vistas. Time seems to stand still. One becomes aware that the spaces between objects are almost as important as the things themselves.
A highlight at present is a special exhibition of 130 very fine examples of Japanese art from the collection of Peggy and Roger Gerry. It includes a wide variety of items ranging in time from prehistoric days to the 19th century. All were acquired by the Gerrys over the past four decades and have been promised to the Metropolitan.
Dominating the collection, at least in size, are a pair of six-section screens from the studio of Kano Motonobu (1479-1559) depicting ``Four Gentlemanly Accomplishments.'' One of the finest examples of its kind, this work celebrates the cultivated enjoyment of music, games of strategy, calligraphy, and painting. These accomplishments, rooted in Taoist ideals of retirement and harmony with nature, and tempered by the Confucian tradition of worldly responsibility, are represented within a sweeping landscape symbolizing the eternal cycle of the seasons.
Cherished in private Japanese collections until 1927, these screens were painted to function not only as decorative items but as edifying images that placed their owners within a long and lofty tradition of learning and refinement.
On a humbler level is a group of outstanding ceramic utensils made for everyday use by Japanese craftsmen living as far back as 2500 B.C. and as recently as the 19th century. The finest have the aura and presence of major sculpture, although they were fashioned to serve as ordinary storage jars, flasks, or vases. Most are deceptively simple, with a minimum of decoration, and exceedingly subtle glazes. One of the most distinctive, a Sue ware, early Nara period (646-710) gray pottery flask, was acquired by the Gerrys in fragments. One can only imagine their surprise when the pieces were assembled to make an almost intact pilgrim's flask.
The major portion of the show consists of over 90 examples of export porcelain of the sort sent abroad by the Japanese in the 17th and 18th centuries. Among the more attractive later pieces is a tankard fashioned in the shape of a pear and decorated with floral designs (late 17th century); a ewer (c. 1680) with a strap handle decorated with birds and peonies; and a teapot in the shape of a melon (late 17th century).
And last but far from least are the outstanding individual items scattered throughout the show. One of the most charming is a small (12-and-a-half-inches high), 10th-century cypress ``Flying Angel,'' while one of the most exotic is a gold and silver illustrated frontispiece of a religious text, one of nearly 5,000 scrolls dedicated in 1176 to a clan temple.
At the Metropolitcan through July 29, 1990.