Step into the past at the Lisanby Museum, tucked away in a corner on the first floor of Festival, and enter a world composed by Japanese Buddhist artists from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Curated by the Director of the Madison Art Collection, Dr. Kathryn E. Stevens, the Bridge of Dreams: Buddhism, History, and Society in the Ukiyo-e Prints of Edo Japan Exhibit is on display from now until October 16th.
The Ukiyo-e prints on display are the result of a rising merchant class in 17th to 19th century Japan, where Buddhist artists saw the opportunity to create works that would pique the interest of the middle class. The people were beginning to attend Kabuki Theater, pay to be entertained by the elegant geishas, and becoming more interested in the way of the Samurai. In response the artists began to create prints, which could be easily mass produced, that depicted these interests as well as popular folk tales and stories. Many of the artists used the prints as teaching tools to convey the values of Confucianism, which promotes living in harmony and with respect towards your family and society, and complements Buddhism. Buddhists seek to free themselves from desire for the beauties and pleasures of the physical world. The Ukiyo-e prints served to bridge the gap between the Buddhist ideals and the self-indulgent, material world by examining virtue and vice, and the right and wrong ways to act in society.
Dr. Stevens decided to exhibit these prints because she loved the interchange between the artist’s spirituality and the motivation behind production. She was also interested to discover that these prints heavily influenced some famous Western impressionist painters, who loved the optical interplay of color.
As Director of the Madison Art Collection, she is aided by interns who help run the museum while exhibits are on display. One such intern, senior Kelly Teboe, was very interested in Dr. Stevens’ choice to exhibit Japanese Buddhist art. An anthropology major, Teboe is intensely curious about Asian culture, as well as Buddhism, and was excited that the exhibit would “give people a chance to view art from cultures not as intently scrutinized in Western education.” With an archeology concentration, Teboe seeks to “pull an understanding of a people out of the objects they leave behind,” this being one of the reasons she decided to apply to intern at the Lisanby.
Interns greet viewers as they enter, answer any questions they may have, and maintain the inviting and reflective atmosphere with the help of a radio station and some natural light from the windows that look out over East Campus. The experience is made complete by the iPads that sit beneath the pieces on stands. For those who wish to view without interpretation, the option is there, but for those who seek an understanding of the work and more information on the time frame or methods used in creation, the iPads exist to sate the curious.
Dr. Stevens prefers to cultivate diverse experiences at the Lisanby Museum, and tends to vary the art on display. The exhibits that follow will be about Christianity, Ancient Egypt, and James Madison himself! To find out more about the upcoming exhibits or the museum’s hours, visit the Lisanby’s website.