Styles of Play: The History of Merrymaking in Art at The Suntory Museum of Art, Tokyo Midtown Galleria, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo

26th June - 18th August, 2019 | Suntory Museum of Art, Tokyo Midtown Galleria, Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo
Play is a universal part of human life. In paintings, it is a theme, ancient and modern, linked to lifestyles. As though resonating with a verse from the Ryojin hisho (Songs to Make the Dust Dance), a song collection from the late Heian period (12th century), the Customs, Month by Month folding screen paintings painted in the middle ages and early modern period, share amusements with us. Seeing them makes us almost hear the innocent joyful shouts of children enjoying themselves throughout the year, playing at shuttlecock and battledore or having fun in the snow, and the music accompanying the group absorbed in furyu dancing.
The Chinese scholar-gentleman’s the Four Arts—playing the kin (a stringed instrument), Go, calligraphy, and painting— were absorbed into Japanese culture from the middle ages on and became a favorite subject for fusuma (sliding door) and folding screen paintings. Over time, that set of accomplishments evolved. The shamisen replaced the kin and the backgammon-like game sugoroku replaced Go in the many “house of pleasure” paintings produced in the Edo period. The Four Arts also lived on as a stylish framework for parodic allusions when depicting people enjoying themselves.
The many paintings of outdoor amusements and indoor merrymaking produced in the Momoyama period (16th - 17th century). One subject that appears repeatedly is people setting out for a banquet during, for example, cherry-blossom-viewing season. Another is women dancing, wearing gorgeous kosode garments and holding fans in their hands. Imported games such as sugoroku and card games took root in Japan and evolved in many ways over the years. Viewing those developments from the perspective of the cultural history of people and play is endlessly fascinating.
This exhibition focuses on the forms merrymaking takes in the history of Japanese art, bringing together in one setting a veritable map of play, a valuable depiction of the amusements enjoyed in each period that also traces their lineages. We hope you will also take pleasure in experiencing the historical changes in individual types of amusement that, while evolving over time, pique truly playful hearts.   official website ››

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