Art Review: Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art Haifa

I am particularly drawn to such items – the skill of swordsmanship, the early gear and costumes of Japan and the beautiful writing system with large, broad, skilled brushwork in vertical columns.

November 5, 2018 21:24
2 minute read.
Haifa Art

‘SUDDEN SHOWER over Shin-Ohashi Bridge and Atake’ by Ohashi Atake. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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With excitement, I arrived at the Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art in Haifa. It was a little smaller than anticipated, and to be honest I expected more martial arts, warfare regalia and samurai swords, not to mention long calligraphic poems or the like on huge sheets of carefully prepared paper.

I am particularly drawn to such items – the skill of swordsmanship, the early gear and costumes of Japan and the beautiful writing system with large, broad, skilled brushwork in vertical columns.

Unfortunately, to my disappointment, none of this was on offer. However, what was present still is fascinating and certainly has great artistic merit.

The main room (although one was under construction at the time) contains porcelain from mainly the Edo period spanning the 16th to the 19th centuries. Most of the items were for the shogun and royal families of Europe and incorporate both Zen Buddhist influence as well as scenes painted and drawn from the natural landscape and incorporating motifs drawn from China.

The predominant colors are blue and white, and added to the expertly made jars, plates, incense boxes and vases are beautifully rendered paintings (designs) exhibiting pinpoint accuracy, an acute observation of flora, fauna and animals (the tiger and dragon are particularly frequent), and the line is soft, delicate and almost caricature-like, yet serious and concentrated simultaneously. Some are clearly ephemeral in approach, with only a few lines indicating some sort of pattern, while others are finished in detail.

There is also a section on modern Japanese prints that reveal the influence of Western art on Japan with the introduction of lithography, silkscreen, etching and engraving to add to the long Japanese tradition of woodblock printing and stencils.

These works are stimulating, often other-worldly (consider Yokoyami’s triptych titled “End of the battle,” 1987, which seems to be drawn from a kind of fantastical world). In general, one might observe a Japanese style – a sensitivity to gray scale, a kind of hieratic perspective, an understanding of space (whereas one might say Western art is heavy with artists always trying to fill up space) and a penchant for the abstract, both in terms of content and that which is beyond the sensory. This is not simply the pattern-making that one may observe in the porcelain works, but a “natural” proclivity to geometries and color as symbolic.

The influence of Japanese art in early 20th-century Western art is well documented, having infiltrated the Postimpressionist movement and been instructive to the likes of Matisse, Gauguin, Picasso and Van Gogh. The heaviness of much Western art can be contrasted with the soft lyricism of much Japanese art, while the latter is also precise and clinical in line. The reduced palette and meditation that appears to accompany much of the mark-making may also have been instructive to the abstract expressionists, Franz Klein in particular.

While the porcelain may be brushed aside as craft, where plates and vases, no matter how expertly painted over they are, are usually consigned to not being a fine art, such a rigid definition has changed over the years. And while the tea ceremony and the like may not be taking place and the boundary between a history museum and gallery remains fluid, it is conceivable to define such objects as highly artistic, not merely functional design.

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