view Feb. 24 through May 13, 2007
Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
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
“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 Asian section is “Court
Ladies Viewing Cherry Blossoms,” a pair of six-panel folding screens from
17th-century Japan, showing ladies enjoying cherry
blossoms in an abstract garden setting. In the West and South Asia section, “Bird’s Eye View of the
Taj Mahal at Agra” (India, probably Agra, Mughal
dynasty, 1790-1810), a large topographical painting, depicts the most
celebrated garden in India, 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
“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 Court, 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 (12th Street and Independence Avenue S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler
Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major
collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from to every day, except Dec. 25, and
admission is free. For more information call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202)
357-1729, or visit the galleries' Website at www.asia.si.edu.