JUSFC Meet Our Grantees Series: Japan Society

January 16, 2018 

Nearly 600 people attended the premiere of the Hiroshi Sugimoto: Gates of Paradise exhibition in October at Japan Society in midtown Manhattan – one of its most successful openings in its recent history. The exhibit’s striking design and Sugimoto’s monumental photographs drew critical raves from both the general public and the art world.

A Portuguese Trading Ship Arrives in Japan. Unidentified Artist. Momoyama to Edo period, early seventeenth century. Pair of six-panel folding screens: ink, color, and gold leaf on paper. 63 x 144 5/8 inches (160 x 367.4 cm) each. From the Feinberg Collection.

“One always aspires to present an exhibit in a way that its relevance is immediately understood,” explained Dr. Michael Chagnon, Japan Society’s Curator of Exhibition Interpretation. “New York City is an overly saturated art market, and we’re thrilled to have successfully reached both those familiar with Sugimoto’s work and those being introduced to Japanese art for the first time.”

Hiroshi Sugimoto (b. 1948). Staircase at Villa Farnese II, Caprarola (detail), 2016. Gelatin Silver Print. 58 ¾ x 47 inches (149.2 x 119.4 cm)

The exhibition tracks the journey of one of the earliest cultural exchanges between Japan and the West by tracing the footsteps of four Japanese boys as they explored 16th-century Europe as the first official emissaries from Japan. Various educational components and related performing arts programs held in conjunction with the exhibit amplified its impact.

“We really couldn’t think of a more important project to celebrate our 110th anniversary as an organization and our mission of cultivating a broader understanding between Japan and the U.S.,” Dr. Chagnon shared.

One of the premier institutions bringing contemporary Japanese art to the United States, Japan Society hosts two major exhibitions each year, covering topics as diverse as classical Buddhist sculpture and calligraphy, contemporary photography and ceramics, samurai swords, export porcelain, and masterpieces of painting from the 13th to 21st centuries.

Japan Society has a longstanding relationship with the Japan-U.S. Friendship Commission, a partnership it describes as instrumental in their overlapping missions to connect cultures and bridge societies.

“Sugimoto’s work often looks at our continued connection to our earliest humanity, but also synchronically looks at our connection to one another in present-day society,” Dr. Chagnon explained. “Projects like this — and the important work of small culturally specific art organizations like the Japan Society – simply couldn’t thrive without JUSFC’s support. We are truly grateful.”

Japan Society President Motoatsu Sakurai added, “In 2017, as we celebrate Japan Society’s 110th anniversary, there could be no more appropriate reflection on the institution’s mission to deepen mutual understanding between the United States and Japan than with Gates of Paradise. Sugimoto returns us to a germinal encounter between the East and the West, and we are ever grateful to have his singular eye and mind as our guide.”

The Gates of Paradise exhibition held particular distinction for its inclusion of four Important Cultural Properties of Japan, an official designation by the Agency of Cultural Affairs that ranks just below a national treasure. “To have one in an exhibit in the U.S. is an event; to have four was beyond expectations,” Dr. Chagnon noted.

A special nostalgia also marked the exhibition. During the exhibition opening, Sugimoto was reunited with renowned artist Naoto Nagasawa. Both debuted as emerging artists in an exhibit at Japan Society 30 years ago, in 1987.

To learn more about Japan Society, visit www.japansociety.org and follow them on Facebook and Twitter for updates. Click here for more information about JUSFC’s Institutional Grants Program.