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Exhibition of prints and masks of Japanese Noh Theatre on display at Phoenix Art Museum
Tsukioka Gyokusei Seiōbo (Queen Mother of the West), 1897-1975 woodblock. Print on paper Gift of Sherri Beadles and Gene Koeneman in honor of the Museum’s 50th Anniversary 2009.262

PHOENIX, AZ.- The Quiet Rage, Gentle Wail: Prints and Masks of Japanese Noh Theatre exhibition is on view at Phoenix Art Museum until November 16 and explores Noh, the traditional Japanese theatre form that incorporates music, dance and drama. Noh theatre was established in the 14th century and its dramas explore profound human emotions through subtle and symbolic performances that tell stories adopted from well-known myths, historical events and classical literatures. On display are 22 Noh masks, a pair of two-panel screens and 38 prints that depict Noh actors on stage.

The exhibition spans a variety of media related to Noh theatre to lend a multi-dimensional approach to appreciating its aesthetics: simplicity, nuance and the distaste for realism. The pre-modern and early modern era masks vary in depiction from a quiet woman to a wrathful demon, but the artistry lies in understanding ways the actor can play with light and the mask’s tilt to portray a variety of emotions. In addition to human figures some of the masks were used for divine, demonic and animal roles of Noh theatre. Displaying many masks together illustrates the broad range of Noh characters and how each mask with its emblematic expression comes alive during a masterful performance.

Phoenix Art Museum’s Curator of Asian Art Janet Baker, Ph.D. said, “Noh is an elegant and restrained form of theatre that moves very slowly. There are moments in the drama where the actors actually stand still, allowing the audience to appreciate the beauty of their pose, as well as their costume and mask.” Baker added, “These are the moments captured in the prints by K?gyo and his followers, who studied Noh theatre in depth in order to portray it so beautifully in these images.”

In addition to the masks are wonderful prints produced by the publishing house of Daikokuya Heikichi who, aiming to revive the tradition of fine Japanese woodblock prints, commissioned painter Tsukioka K?gyo (1869-1927) to capture the quintessential moments of Noh drama in his work. Done on high-quality paper with silver and gold accents, the prints show that the woodblock carvers and printers masterfully recreated the delicate touch of brushwork by K?gyo. The exhibition also includes prints by K?gyo’s daughter Tsukioka Gyokusei (1908-2009) who carried on this tradition.

James K. Ballinger, The Sybil Harrington Director at Phoenix Art Museum, said, “This exhibition draws upon two wonderful recent gifts to Phoenix Art Museum from members of our community. It demonstrates how our museum’s growth comes from local collectors who are dedicated to this institution and its future.” Ballinger added, “In 2009 Sherri Beadles and Gene Koeneman generously donated some Noh prints and a year later Roger Dunn gave us additional prints, a pair of two-panel screens and the masks to further strengthen our Asian art collection.”

Quiet Rage, Gentle Wail: Prints and Masks of Japanese Noh Theatre was organized by Phoenix Art Museum. The exhibition is part of the three-year grant project, Japan in Global Context, organized by Arizona State University and funded by the Japan Foundation. The exhibition will be at Phoenix Art Museum until November 16, 2014.

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