James T. Ulak, deputy director and senior curator of Japanese art at the Smithsonian's Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Galleries
, has been selected to receive the "Order of the Rising Sun," an award conferred by the Japanese government for exceptional civil or military merit. The Order is presented in recognition of Ulak's significant career contributions in the service of strengthening bilateral relations and building collaboration between public and private fine arts institutions in Japan and the United States, resulting in the sophisticated presentation of Japanese visual culture in both countries.
The announcement of the foreign recipients of the 2010 Spring Imperial Decorations was released by the Office of the Foreign Ministry of Japan April 29. The "Order of the Rising Sun: Gold Rays with Rosette" was conferred by Ambassador Ichiro Fujisaki July 6, 2010, in a private ceremony at the Ambassador's Residence in Washington, D.C. Ulak is one of 62 individuals selected worldwide in 2010 to receive the Order, founded in 1875 by Emperor Meiji of Japan.
"For some three decades, in his multiple capacities as scholar, curator, teacher, administrator and cultural ambassador, James Ulak has played a highly meaningful role in deepening the understanding of Japanese artistic traditions in the English-language sphere and beyond," said Yukio Lippit, Harvard University professor and distinguished scholar in the field of Japanese painting. "His exhibitions have explored cultural narratives of many kinds, revolving around everything from Japanese Buddhist art to modern visual culture. Permeating all of Dr. Ulak's activities is a deeply held conviction that the highest achievements of Japanese art embody a unique way of experiencing the world, one with enormous potential to enrich the present. Indeed, it is no surprise that he inspires remarkable trust and respect throughout the Japanese art world."
Ulak joined the staff of the galleries as curator of Japanese art in 1995, after serving as associate curator of Japanese art at the Art Institute of Chicago (1989-1994) and associate curator of Asian art at the Yale University Art Gallery (1987-1989). He holds a doctorate in Japanese art history from Case Western Reserve University in Ohio.
A specialist in the history of Japanese narrative painting production in 14th and 15th centuries, Ulak has published on a wide range of topics in Japanese art. In addition to publications on medieval Japanese narrative painting, he has written on 18th-century "eccentric" painters and Japan's artistic encounters with modernity in the late 19th and early 20th century. For more than 30 years as an art historian, curator and administrator, he has helped to organize significant exhibitions of Japanese art, often in conjunction with Japan's Agency for Cultural Affairs, established programs of specialized personnel exchange in the areas of art history scholarship and fine arts conservation and contributed to the expansion of U.S. collections of Japanese art.
Ulak has been instrumental in the Freer and Sackler galleries' role in the development and funding of programs for research in East Asian painting conservation.