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Japan Society Opens New Exhibition


Yamaoka Tesshu (1836–1888), Talismanic Dragon, Edo Period (1615-1867 A.D.), anging scroll(s), ink on paper, 44.5 x 60.3 cm

None Whatsoever: Zen Paintings from the Gitter-Yelen Collection
March 8 – June 16, 2024
Roundtable Discussion: Friday, March 8 at 1pm

Japanese Art Society of America Lecture : Wednesday, March 20 at 5pm 

Japan Society is pleased to present their Spring exhibit, None Whatsoever: Zen Paintings from the Gitter-Yelen Collection. Often playful, sometimes comical, and always profound, Zen paintings represent one of the world’s most fascinating religious and artistic traditions. This exhibition explores the origins of Zen Buddhism through over four centuries of ink paintings and calligraphies by painter-monks, who expressed Zen Buddhist teachings through their art, including the celebrated Buddhist master Hakuin Ekaku (1685–1768). The exhibition advances Japan Society Gallery’s history of presenting important Buddhist artworks and concepts, including from the 2007 exhibition, Awakenings: Zen Figure Painting in Medieval Japan, and the 2010 exhibition, The Sound of One Hand: Paintings and Calligraphy by Zen Master Hakuin. Visitors will also be invited to engage with Zen Buddhist practices through wide-ranging public programming, from in-gallery meditation sessions to calligraphy workshops and tea ceremony demonstrations.

The exhibition takes its title from a legendary encounter between a Buddhist monk and a Chinese emperor. According to 8th-century Chinese sources, itinerant monk Bodhidharma, patriarch of Zen Buddhism, visited the court of Emperor Wu Liang. When the emperor asked how much goodwill his generous deeds had earned in the eyes of the Buddha, the monk’s curt reply, “None Whatsoever,” shocked the ruler. This exchange—seemingly casual and dismissive, yet also uncompromising, profound, and revolutionary—has come to embody the relationship in Zen Buddhism between student and teacher.

There will also be several related events, the first a roundtable discussion on the day of the opening, March 8th at 1pm titled Zenga: A New History that explores the origins, evolution, and importance of the Gitter-Yelen Collection of Japanese art. Alice Yelen Gitter and Kurt Gitter will their share experiences and aspirations during the decades-long formation of their collection. A circle of expert curators and scholars will discuss the significance of Japanese art in the Gitter-Yelen Collection for museums, universities, and the public. Join their conversation about the stories, memories, and ideas behind the elusive and alluring Zen paintings on view — and other works of Japanese art in the Gitter-Yelen Collection.

To reserve tickets, click here.

The second event is presented by the Japanese Art Society of America during their JASA Member Annual Meeting, a lecture presented by Frank Feltens, Curator of Japanese Art at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art titled When Zen Becomes Political: Zen and Soft/Hard Power on Wednesday, March 20th at 5pm. Zen has been used to foster political agendas, as inspiration for activism, and as a way to go against common norms. This talk highlights distinctive moments and individuals that made Zen and its arts a part of the political discourse of their times. They showcase how Zen has been part of Japan’s hard and soft power for centuries and continued to be in the twentieth century.

To reserve tickets, click here.

None Whatsoever originated at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and was co-organized by Bradley Bailey, The Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Curator of Asian Art, and Yukio Lippit, The Jeffrey T. Chambers and Andrea Okamura Professor of History of Art and Architecture at Harvard University. The Japan Society presentation is organized by Tiffany Lambert, Curator and Interim Director, Japan Society.

To learn more, click here.


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