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National Museum of Asian Art

CURRENT EXHIBITIONS

NMAA_Public-Figures_DoHoSuh1200 Public Figures (detail), Do Ho Suh (b. 1962, South Korea), 1998–2023, Jesmonite, aluminum, polyester resin, © Do Ho Suh, 2024. Courtesy the artist and Lehmann Maupin, New York, Seoul, and London

Do Ho Suh: Public Figures

April 27, 2024 – April 29, 2029

To usher in the next century of the National Museum of Asian Art, artist Do Ho Suh (b. 1962, South Korea) was commissioned to create a special edition of his work Public Figures to be installed in front of the museum and facing the National Mall in Washington, DC.  Internationally recognized for his large-scale installations, Suh was among the earliest contemporary artists featured in the museum’s groundbreaking Pavilion exhibition series and his work will be the first new sculpture to be installed outside the historic Freer Gallery of Art in over three decades.

SmithsonianImagined-Neighbors1200
Landscape (detail), Hosokawa Rinkoku (1782–1842), Japan, Edo period, 1835, handscroll, ink and color on paper, Freer Gallery of Art Collection, National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution, The Mary and Cheney Cowles Collection, Gift of Mary and Cheney Cowles, F2021.4.11a–c

Imagined Neighbors: Japanese Visions of China, 1680–1980

March 16 – September 3, 2024

During the Edo period (1603–1868), feudal Japan was largely closed off from the outside world. For three hundred years, a loose movement of Japanese artists, often referred to as literati, turned to neighboring China—variably a source for emulation and a source of rivalry—for inspiration. Through painting and calligraphy, they created immersive environments in which artists and viewers alike could mentally withdraw from worldly affairs. As disparate and diverse as the literati movement was, its members were united by a common language that embraced diverse notions of “China”—a place both familiar and foreign, as much imagined as it was known. Throughout a period of modernization during the Meiji era (1868–1912) and after, when all facets of life in Japan were radically changing, China’s historic role in helping shape the fabric of Japanese history and culture remained a touchstone for Japanese artists, even in the context of imperialism and war.

Imagined Neighbors presents Japanese artworks from the Mary and Cheney Cowles Collection, given to the National Museum of Asian Art between 2018 and 2022. The Cowles Collection is arguably the largest and most comprehensive group of Japanese literati works outside of Japan. The paintings and calligraphy in this exhibition fuse reality with imagination and remain important to understanding the continuing, complex engagement of Japanese artists with China, to them both a real and an imagined place.

Staging the Supernatural: Ghosts and the Theater in Japanese Prints

March 23 – October 6, 2024

Throughout Japanese cultural history, the boundary between the real world and the world of supernatural beings has been remarkably porous. Certain sites, states of mind, or periods in the lunar cycle made humans particularly vulnerable to ghostly intervention. The Edo period (1603–1868) was a crucial stage in the development and solidification of ideas about the supernatural. Many of the beliefs that gained currency at this time are still held as conventional wisdom in Japan today.

Supernatural entities came to life especially during noh and kabuki theater performances. Explore—if you dare—the roles that ghosts and spirits play in the retelling of Japanese legends and real events. Staging the Supernatural brings together a collection of vibrant, colorful woodblock prints and illustrated books depicting the specters that haunt these two theatrical traditions.

Park Chan-kyong: Gathering

October 7, 2023 – October 13, 2024

Park Chan-kyong: Gathering showcases the work of Seoul-based artist Park Chan-kyong, who has gained international recognition for his use of photography and film to examine the complex history of modern Korea. Featuring a range of works that highlights his masterful use of the photographic medium, the multichannel video,  Citizen’s Forest, anchors this exhibition of five recent works. This is the first solo presentation of his work in a major US museum and the inaugural exhibition in the National Museum of Asian Art’s new modern and contemporary galleries, opening as the museum celebrates its centennial year and embarks on its next century. The galleries will become a space dedicated to engaging visitors in the myriad formats and media employed by artists to examine Asian society from the late twentieth century to today.

Knotted Clay: Raku Ceramics and Tea

December 9, 2023 – 2026

Japan’s rich history of ceramic artistry developed in large part alongside the culture of drinking tea. Japanese tea practitioners initially used Chinese and Korean antique ceramics as tea bowls but began using newly made Japanese tea bowls, such as Raku ware, in the sixteenth century. Unlike most tea bowls, Raku ceramics are built by hand—a process described as “knotting clay”—as opposed to using a wheel. Knotted Clay: Raku Ceramics and Tea explores these distinctive, hand-molded ceramics and their close relationship to Japanese tea culture. This exhibition features tea bowls, water containers, and other vessels in the museum’s permanent collection that demonstrate the glazes and forms unique to Raku ware.

Striking Objects: Contemporary Japanese Metalwork

March 2, 2024 – Early 2026

Contemporary Japanese metalworking breathes life into traditional methods that have been passed down and practiced over generations. The artists featured in Striking Objects create masterpieces that combine tradition with creativity and innovation. The exhibition highlights works from the collection of Shirley Z. Johnson (1940–2021), distinguished lawyer, philanthropist, and former board member of the National Museum of Asian Art. Her passion for contemporary Japanese metalwork and her visionary gift have made the National Museum of Asian Art home to the largest collection of such works in the United States.

Body Image: Arts of the Indian Subcontinent 

Ongoing

The human body, particularly the beautiful body, is central to artistic expression on the Indian subcontinent. Through the body, artists express fundamental beliefs about the nature of being, social ideals, gender roles, and hierarchies of power, both earthly and divine. The subcontinent, which extends from Pakistan eastward to Bangladesh and from Nepal southward to Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka, has long been culturally and religiously diverse. By grouping and juxtaposing masterpieces from the museum’s collection, this exhibition explores concepts and aesthetics of the body.

SmithsonianTour1200Detail, Book cover, probably for the Dharani Samgraha (Collection of Dharani-Mantras), Nepal, 1650–1700, opaque watercolor on wood, National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution, Gift of Joyce and Kenneth Robbins, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, S2000.88.1–2

The Art of Knowing in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and the Himalayas

Ongoing

The Art of Knowing brings together highlights from our collections, some of which have never been on view, to explore religious and practical knowledge across time, space, and cultures. Featuring stone sculptures, gilt bronzes, and painted manuscripts from India, Nepal, Tibet, Bangladesh, Myanmar (Burma), Thailand, Cambodia, and Indonesia, this exhibition illuminates the critical role of visual culture in conveying Buddhist and Hindu teachings from the ninth to the twentieth centuries.

From Ganesha, the god of beginnings, to goddesses who personify wisdom, the artworks on view tell individual stories and reveal ways of knowing the world. “The Art of Knowing” asks how artists and objects shape wisdom traditions. How do shared images and designs reveal the movement of people and ideas across geographical regions? What do goddesses teach? And how does attaining knowledge end suffering?

Art and Industry: China’s Ancient Houma Foundry

Ongoing

The largest bronze foundry complex from antiquity was excavated at Houma in northern China in the mid-twentieth century. At the two-acre site, archaeologists discovered evidence of extremely sophisticated manufacturing techniques.The facility was established around 585 BCE by the rulers of the State of Jin, who remained its chief patrons for about 150 years. Houma produced ornamented objects with complex, abstract designs, inlay, and what is now considered to be the earliest pictorial narratives in China. More than half of the objects featured in this exhibition were made at Houma. Other pieces illustrate the factory’s long-lasting influence and legacy that extended into the Western Han period (206 BCE–9 CE).

Rediscovering Korea’s Past

Ongoing

Today we admire the translucent gray-green celadon glaze on Korean ceramics of the Goryeo period as one of the great achievements of world potters. In the late 19th century, long-respected tombs of royal figures and nobility from the Goryeo period (935–1392) became vulnerable to looting and were sold in the antiquities market. American doctor and diplomat Horace Newton Allen witnessed this rediscovery while he lived in Seoul from 1884 to 1905, and he formed his own sizeable collection of celadon, it seems, from objects on the open market. Charles Lang Freer purchased Allen’s collection in 1907 and sparked his

deep interest in this distinguished Korean ware. In turn, Allen, Freer, and other early collectors inspired generations of scholars to clarify the styles and dating of Goryeo celadon. Archaeologists have now identified and excavated the kiln complexes at Gangjin and Buan, which produced the finest celadon wares during the Goryeo dynasty.

Afterlife: Ancient Chinese Jades

Ongoing

A construction boom in China more than a century ago resulted in new railways and factories—and the accidental discovery of scores of rich ancient cemeteries. Buried in these tombs for thousands of years were jewelry and ritual objects, all laboriously crafted from jade. When Charles Lang Freer acquired many of them, their precise age was unknown. The modern science of archaeology was not practiced in China until 1928, when the Smithsonian sponsored its introduction. With the advent of archaeology came a better appreciation of the evolution of ancient Chinese mortuary culture and China’s art history.

Today we know these jades represent the earliest epochs of Chinese civilization, the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age. Many came from the prehistoric burials of the Liangzhu culture (circa 3300–2250 BCE). These Stone Age people flourished in a large, fertile region between the modern cities of Shanghai, Hangzhou, and Nanjing. The graves they left behind now function like time capsules, providing insight into the dynamic character of ancient Chinese civilization during life and after death.

Freer’s Global Network: Artists, Collectors, and Dealers

Ongoing

This exhibition looks closely at the interconnected web of artists, dealers, and collectors who helped shape the Freer Gallery of Art’s collection amid the shifting political and economic environment of the early twentieth century. Learn about some of the fascinating characters who played instrumental roles in museum founder Charles Lang Freer’s global network, including art dealers Bunkio Matsuki and Dikran Kelekian, collector Agnes Meyer, and artist Mary Chase Perry Stratton. The captivating display of objects in this gallery, which includes American paintings and stoneware, Japanese ceramics, ancient Chinese bronzes, and Near Eastern pottery, illustrates that network in operation.

Read more about Freer’s Global Network, click here

Prehistoric Spirals: Earthenware from Thailand

Ongoing

Red painted spirals swirl across the surfaces of these vessels, testifying to the sophisticated material and aesthetic cultures of northeastern Thailand more than two thousand years ago. Their makers belonged to a loose network of settlements specializing in bronze and ceramic production. Recent research into their materials, techniques, and designs opens new lines of inquiry into the region’s heritage and its profound cultural and material legacy.

Peacock Room Shutters Open Every Third Thursday of the Month

Ongoing

See the Peacock Room in a whole new light! Please join us for a beloved NMAA tradition: our third Thursday opening of the Peacock Room shutters. Experience this unique masterwork of art and design in a whole new way as natural light reveals details of James McNeill Whistler’s painted interior and accents the gleaming surfaces of Charles Lang Freer’s collection of Asian ceramics.

The shutters are open from noon to 5:30 p.m. every third Thursday of each month.
Free, no registration required.

The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room

Ongoing through 2025

The Tibetan Buddhist Shrine Room includes more than two hundred bronzes, paintings, silk hangings, and carpets that were created in Tibet, China, and Mongolia between the thirteenth and early twentieth centuries. Arranged to reflect Tibetan Buddhist concepts and customs rather than museum conventions, the glittering room evokes the Himalayan portals that bridge the mundane and the sacred worlds.

The objects, assembled by collector Alice S. Kandell over many years, are placed on painted furniture, arranged among paintings and textiles, and presented without labels. With an aural dimension of chanting monks, this dynamic and densely layered display restores the relationships between Buddhist figures and viewers that are typically dissolved within museums.

To view all exhibitions, click here.