The beginning of November sees the opening of the refurbished Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art. When its was opened in 1986, the Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art was the first major gallery of Japanese art in the UK. It was designed to showcase highlights of the V&A’s internationally important collection of Japanese art and design. The refurbished gallery will exhibit around 550 works in a series of displays that will include 30 or more recent acquisitions. The gallery will illustrate the extraordinary craftsmanship and artistic creativity of Japan from the sixth century to the present day through displays of swords and armour, lacquer, ceramics, cloisonné enamels, textiles and dress, inro and netsuke, paintings, prints and illustrated books.
The new gallery illustrates the history and traditions of Japan and how they play an important part in contemporary Japanese society, various themes are explored such as religion and ritual, arts of the samurai, tea drinking, theatre and performance, fashionable dress, dress accessories, lacquer and elegant pursuits, ukiyo-e and the graphic arts, engagement with the West, Imperial Japan, folk craft and the modern and contemporary.
Treasures of the gallery include the lavishly decorated Mazarin Chest, made in Kyoto around 1640, which is one of the finest pieces of Japanese export lacquer to have survived from this time; a wonderfully preserved late 17th-century six-fold screen depicting the Nakamura-za Kabuki theatre in Edo (Tokyo); a set of twelve inro for the twelve months of the year by the renowned 19th – century lacquer artist Shibata Zeshin; utensils for the tea ceremony including several rare and important examples of ceramics; and a major group of high quality cloisonné enamels from the period 1880 to 1910.
The gallery not only pays tribute to ‘old Japan’ but considers modern and contemporary objects in areas where the Japanese have dominated globally, in the display there is the first ever portable stereo Walkman designed and manufactured by Sony in 1979 is shown. Other highlights of this section are Shiro Kuramata’s 1989 ‘Cabinet of Curiosities’ made of coloured Perspex acrylic, an outfit from Issey Miyake’s 132 5. range which employs the concept of origami to create a piece of women’s wear out of a single piece of fabric and a pair of gravity-defying shoes by the Noritaka Tatehana.
The new gallery is a wonderful snapshot of Japanese history, traditions and culture from the arts of the samurai up to Hello Kitty. In the well designed spaces within the gallery, different themes are explored in enough detail to give some insights into their significance in Japanese society. A series of multi media terminals give further information about certain aspects of the display such as inro, putting on a kimono and obi, how to make a sword fitting and how to get dressed in a suit of armour.
Since Japan opened to the west in the 19th century, there has been a fascination with Japanese culture which is still as strong as ever, the refurbished Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art offers plenty of opportunities to discover more about Japan through the wonderful and varied objects on display.
The Toshiba Gallery of Japanese Art has Free admission
The V&A is open daily 10.00 – 17.45 and until 22.00 every Friday
Visiting London Guide Rating – Highly Recommended
If you would like further information visit the V&A website here
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