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University of Richmond Museums opens two new Japanese exhibitions
Nakajima Yoshiume (Japanese, 1819-1879), Clumsy Waiter, circa 1850-1870s, ink and color on paper, 9 x 12 inches, Private collection.

RICHMOND, VA.- Unexpected Smiles: Seven Types of Humor in Japanese Paintings is on view October 18, 2017, through January 28, 2018, in the Harnett Museum of Art, University of Richmond Museums. Featuring forty-eight paintings on hanging scrolls, the works in this exhibition illustrate how humor developed in Japan from the 1700s to the early 1900s. The seven categories of humor are: parody, satire, personification, word-play, fantasy, exaggeration, and playfulness. The paintings have been chosen from private and public collections in the United States. Some of the artists included are famous, such as Sȏtatsu, Hakuin, Shȏhaku, Jakuchȏ, Rengetsu, Nantenbȏ, and Kodȏjin, while others are little-known. Together they display a great variety of styles and subjects with the single common point of humor.

“This is the first exhibition outside Japan to feature different types of humor in Japanese paintings dating from the mid-17th to the mid-20th centuries,” states curator Stephen Addiss. “I am very pleased to present this facet of Japanese visual culture that is little known but quite delightful.”

In 1600 the Tokugawa clan succeeded in reuniting Japan after almost a century of violent power struggles. Establishing its Shogunate in Edo (now Tokyo), the Tokugawa ruled for 268 years until Japan was forced to open to the West in 1868. While the regime brought peace and relative prosperity to the populace, it attempted to control almost every aspect of life and shut Japan off from the rest of the world.

One of the ways to alleviate the repressions of the Shogunate was through humor, both verbal and visual; it was officially tolerated as long as it was not directed at the government. The need for “letting off steam” was one of the causes of a great outpouring of comic poems, pointed jokes, witty puns, and amusing paintings. Within their profoundly humanistic framework, the drollery, wit, waggishness, irony, and whimsy of the paintings in this exhibition will surely lead viewers to their own, often unexpected, smiles.

Organized by the University of Richmond Museums and curated by Stephen Addiss, Professor of Art History, Emeritus, University of Richmond.

WAR-DROBE: Fantasy & Exaggeration in Contemporary Japanese Fashion is on view in the Harnett Museum of Art, October 18, 2017, through January 28, 2018. The exhibition features clothing by four leading contemporary Japanese fashion designers, and the clothes will be changed out during the middle of the exhibition. Ranging in date from 1990 to the present, the works focus on fantastical exaggeration and whimsical fantasy. Through ingenious shapes, varied textures, and innovative construction, these designers demonstrate that while still wearable, although perhaps not on an everyday basis, their clothing provokes the imagination, the spirit, and the individuality of the wearer.

Often noted for its dour silhouettes and prominent use of black by some designers, contemporary Japanese fashion is much more. The work of Issey Miyake is colorful, sculptural, ethereal, and fun, inspiring pure joy. Rei Kawakubo’s designs, under the label Comme des Garçons, while often intellectually challenging, are also aesthetically fearless, and surprisingly whimsical. In contrast, Yohji Yamamoto’s clothes are haunting, mysterious, classical and timeless, often referencing great Western designers of the past. And Junya Watanabe’s work, while outwardly youthful and edgy, conceals an innovative technical mastery of his craft.

“The influence of Japanese designers on modern fashion cannot be overlooked,” states the curator Audrey Yoshiko Seo. “Through their technical innovations and aesthetic fearlessness they have been able to exert a profound and revolutionary effect on the definition of international fashion in the later twentieth century. In doing so, they provided new impetus to Western fashion, partly by reiterating cultural and aesthetic East-West conflicts from the past, and more significantly by resolving them on their own terms.”

By redefining and transforming the methods of making clothing and the meaning of fashion, these four Japanese designers have significantly impacted Western fashion, giving rise to a widespread avant-garde movement lasting from the late twentieth-century through today.

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