The Asian Art Section displays a multitude of artwork and cultural objects gathered from throughout the world’s largest continent, featuring pieces that reflect the universal aspects of Asian culture while simultaneously representing the unique characteristics of each country.
As an island nation, Japan is particularly susceptible to changes wrought by outside influences, such that Japanese art has faced a major shift every time a new culture has been introduced. The first ancient Japanese culture, which succeeded from the Jomon (10,000 BCE – 5th century BCE), Yayoi (5th century BCE – 3rd century CE), and Kofun (3rd-7th century CE) periods, was completely transformed by the introduction of Buddhism in the mid-6th century. Japanese Buddhist art, though affected by China and Korea, thrived throughout the Asuka (593-662), Hakuho (662-710) and Nara (710-794) periods, while the Heian (794-1192) period saw the development of more flamboyant arts influenced by both Esoteric and Pure Land Buddhism. In the 13th century, the incursion of Song Dynasty cultures led to a turning point in Japan. Zen Buddhism was introduced, which contributed greatly to the creation of entirely unique aesthetics, exemplified by tea ceremonies and Noh (能) drama.
Beginning in the 16th century, many free-spirited Edo merchants began engaging in limited contact with the West, encouraging new popular cultures such as Ukiyo-e (woodblock print) and Kabuki (歌舞伎). Then, in the late 19th century, the ports were opened and modern western civilization poured into Japan, starting the nation on the path towards modernization. This process inspired the Japanese to re-recognize their culture from the perspective of western cultures and formulate the concept of “Japanization” to combat “Westernization.”
While Japanese painters of the time remained faithful to traditional materials, techniques, and themes, they also began to actively involve some western elements in their work. A similar move happened in the field of crafts, such that many traditional masters created works which applied new elements and techniques.
In order to illuminate the evolution of Japanese art, the Japan gallery is divided into two periods: from ancient times until the opening of the ports in 1854, and modern times.