Media only: James Gordon, 202.633.0520; Ellie Reynolds, 202.633.0521
Public only: 202.633.1000
Exhibition dates: February 24–May 13, 2007
Media Preview: Thursday, February 22, 2007, 10 a.m.
January 19, 2007
For centuries, gardens in Asia have held a universal appeal as manifestations of the human relationship to nature. From intimate courtyards, planted with flowers and trees to monumental temple, tomb and pleasure gardens, each culture has developed its own distinct tradition to express various artistic, social, religious and economic concerns.
“East of Eden: Gardens in Asian Art,” on view Feb. 24 through May 13, at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, highlights the rich visual culture of garden imagery in Asia. Drawn primarily from the permanent collections of the Freer and Sackler galleries, some 65 works are incorporated in this exhibition, including hand scrolls, hanging scrolls, folding screens, manuscript paintings, lacquer objects, ceramics and textiles created in South, West and East Asia from the 12th century through the present.
“East of Eden,” the third exhibit in a series of popular pan-Asian exhibitions at the Sackler Gallery, coincides with the National Cherry Blossom Festival, which takes place March 31–April 15. An abundance of the celebrated cherry trees is located within walking distance of the Sackler Gallery.
Asia has been linked with the earliest known cultivated landscapes. The Garden of Eden and the Hanging Garden of Babylon, for example, were both believed to have been located in Mesopotamia (present-day Iraq). The word “paradise,” often a synonym for the Garden of Eden, is probably derived from the walled orchard gardens and hunting parks of ancient Iran, referred to as “pardis.” Throughout Asia, garden imagery served as an important source of inspiration for artists. Most representations, however, do not necessarily depict what the artist actually would have experienced, but rather the perception and expectation of a perfect garden.
The exhibition, which considers the development of garden imagery east of the legendary Eden, is divided into two sections—West and South Asia, and East Asia—and is supplemented with a contemporary video installation by Japanese artist Mami Kosemura. The West and South Asia section displays works from Iraq, Iran and Turkey to the Indian Subcontinent; the East Asia section comprises works from China and Japan.
Each regional grouping begins with a selection of works exploring the different types, designs and physical characteristics of gardens, as represented in paintings and other media. A highlight from the East Asia section is “Court Ladies Viewing Cherry Blossoms,” a pair of six-panel folding screens from 17th-century Japan that shows ladies enjoying cherry blossoms in an abstract garden setting. The West and South Asia section features “Bird’s Eye View of the Taj Mahal at Agra” (India, probably Agra, Mughal dynasty, 1790–1810), a large topographical painting that depicts the most celebrated garden in India and is inspired by the Koranic description of paradise.
The Life in the Garden section examines the myriad activities associated with gardens. It focuses on how artists have transformed gardens into sites for lavish feasts, romantic escapes, scholarly contemplation, poetic ballads and human companionship. The West and South Asia section concludes with Bringing the Garden Inside, which explores the adaptation of garden imagery primarily used for interior spaces. Objects in this section range from a quatrefoil box (India, Mughal dynasty, ca. 1650), used to hold cardamom pods or stuffed betel-leaves to a delicately carved stone window screen from India.
“Flowering Plants of the Four Seasons,” a contemporary video work by Mami Kosemura, supplements the exhibition. Born in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan, in 1975, Kosemura is formally trained as a painter and draws much of her inspiration from traditional Japanese screen paintings. In this large-scale installation, she artistically arranges plants and flowers in a formal composition and records their growth and decay, creating a moving image that captures both a passage in time and seasonal changes, rotating through three seasons. This will be the first exhibition of Kosemura’s work in Washington, D.C.
A variety of public programs will accompany the exhibition. In February, the Sackler will highlight the creativity and innovation of Japanese-style flower arranging during tours by museum docents and demonstrations by the students from ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) schools. The Freer and Sackler Galleries and Dumbarton Oaks will host a colloquium April 27 and 28, entitled “The Middle East Garden Traditions: Question, Methods, and Resources in a Multicultural Perspective.” For more information, visit asia.si.edu.
“East of Eden: Gardens in Asian Art” is organized and coordinated by Massumeh Farhad, chief curator and curator of Islamic art at the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery. Joining Farhad in organizing this exhibition are Debra Diamond, curator of contemporary and South Asian art; Ann Yonemura, senior associate curator of Japanese art; Louise Cort, curator of ceramics; Keith Wilson, associate director and curator of ancient Chinese art; Joseph Chang, associate curator of Chinese art; Stephen Allee, research specialist; and Carol Huh, researcher for contemporary art.
The exhibition has received generous support from the Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group and Mr. And Mrs. Farhad F. Ebrahimi.
The Freer Gallery of Art, located at 12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W., and the adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, located at 1050 Independence Ave. S.W., are on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. The Freer houses a major collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day, except Dec. 25, and admission is free. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the exhibitions section of the galleries’ website: asia.si.edu.