Who is Koetsu?
Media Device for the Handscroll
Media Device for the Teabowl
From July 29-October 20, 2000, the Philadelphia Museum of Art will hold the exhibition entitled "The Arts of Hon'ami Koetsu, Japanese Renaissance Master." What could a Renaissance Master be in the Japanese context? Hon'ami Koetsu(1558-1637) was a celebrated artist whose life was lived, like da Vinci's, during a period of ferment and change. The classical period that Koetsu looked to was the Heian period, its poetry and arts, which he re-created into the idiom of the early 17th century. The works he created through his questioning and reinterpretation of traditional art speak across the centuries to our contemporary world.
Koetsu sought to revitalize Japanese tradition on two levels. First as a craftsman and artist, he worked to breathe new life into traditional arts such as handscrolls and lacquer ware. He was a major influence on his contemporaries, both through his energy and charismatic personality, as well as through the sureness and variety of his talents. As a leading figure in Kyoto, he was in position to influence a similar revitalization in other cultural fields such as literature. In this sense too, he was a Renaissance master.
The exhibition will include nearly 100 objects, ranging from calligraphy and printed books to ceramics and lacquer work, drawn from collections in Japan, Europe and the United States. The computer multi-media stations will allow Museum visitors to experience traditional Japanese art in its original manner. For example, the "virtual" handscroll based on the Crane Scroll will be seen on a monitor, using real paper that is the same size and weight as the original scroll. As the viewer turns the paper scroll, the images from the Crane Scroll will appear on the paper. The viewer can control the pace of the rolling scroll himself, and be able to hear the poetry chanted, as well as see an English translation of the text. Similarly, the virtual teabowl based on "Shichiri" can be held in the hand, allowing the viewer to feel its weight and texture, and to look at the inside and underside of the teabowl, just as he would at a tea ceremony.
It might seem paradoxical that one of the great virtues of the new digital media is its ability to re-acquaint us with older artistic traditions. Koetsu's works reflect some of the most basic and cherished values of Japanese culture. By utilizing computer technology to present his arts, we hope to make of Japanese culture something that is accessible and understandable to the American audience.
Luther W. Brady Curator of Japanese Art/ East Asian Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art and Member of the Hon'ami Koetsu Multi-media Installation Project.
[Outline of the exhibition]