Japanese art exhibited at the Kruizenga

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19TH CENTURY ART — Two examples of art from the Meiji period are shown; on top a woodblock print, on the bottom a glazed earthenware titled “Phoenix Vase.”

Each semester, the Kruizenga Art Museum is home to a visiting exhibition for students at Hope College and the Holland community to observe and become creatively inspired. Currently, the Kruizenga, in collaboration with WorldBridge Art, Inc., is hosting “From Beyond the Stars: Innovation and Inspiration in the Meiji Japanese Art” until Dec. 16. The exhibit showcases 66 works, ranging from paintings, prints and photographs to ceramics, enamels, metalworks and textiles. The art is from both the museum itself and from private collections based in California.

The Meiji period in Japan was from the years 1868-1912; the term “meiji” is translated to mean “enlightened government.” In this period, Japan was making changes to their government as the country moved forth in modernization and as Western powers colonized Asia all around them. Art during this time was used as a way to spread ideas through Japan, and to project positivity outwards towards other nations. It was also a great source of revenue for Japan, and created trade opportunities for tools and products with other countries.

The beginning of the Meiji period’s modernization was because Japan channeled Western-styled government, fashion and military, among other cultural aspects. Towards the end of the period, though, Japan began to revert back to their own roots and incorporated their culture with what they had found and used from other nations. This is shown in the art through both the materials and tools used in creating the works of art, and in drawings that depict a more modern Japan, like trains and Western clothing.

The works of art in the Meiji exhibit all have this meshing of two cultures. The introduction of oil paint and photography, for example, gave Japan more genres of art to work with. New glazes and colors from European trades improved variety in ceramic styles, and metalsmiths also transitioned from solely making weapons to creating art pieces. Each of these new additions to Japanese art equated in modern approaches to timeless themes and techniques that are unique to Japan.

The Meiji government was instrumental in the success of the booming arts culture. By giving its citizens employment through creating works of art, Japan began generating larger economic activity. The Kruizenga’s main goal for the Meiji exhibit is to use it as an example for the desired relationship between art and government in America. It shows that government support for art can have positive effects, not only for the arts themselves but also in its expansion into other parts of culture for the benefit of the economy.

Kate Kooiker, a Hope ‘17 graduate and the Visitor Services Coordinator at the Kruizenga Art Museum, says “the overall story of the exhibit is to show the development of Japan and how it used art as a primary tool for that progression. It shows the transformation of the country from the old feudal system to the world power it is today.”

“What’s really cool about having the Meiji Japanese exhibit this semester,” Kooiker adds, “is that it relates really well to the Big Read program this fall.” The Big Read, a month-long, community-wide reading program in Holland, has chosen for its 2017 year “When the Emperor Was Divine” by Julie Otsuka. The book follows a Japanese family living in Berkeley, California who are forcibly relocated to an internment camp during World War II. Both the Kruizenga and the Holland Area Big Read are giving light this fall to a culture that America knows little of, but has so greatly affected in more ways than one.

Admission to the Kruizenga Art Museum is free. It is open to the public Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m., and is located at 271 Columbia Ave. between 10th and 13th streets.

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