Monday, June 7, 2010

In Praise of Shadows and Art: Tokyo National Museum

On Friday, our second to last full day we traveled to Ueno to visit the Tokyo National Museum. Tokyo National Museum is located in Ueno park where there are what seems to be a handful of different museums and dozens of different areas, parks and exhibits. Tokyo National Museum actually had about 6 different museums in side of the area but the main one for focus on this trip was the Japanese Art exhibit in one of the museums that highlighted everything from Edo period lacquer ware to swords and Noh costumes.

The Honokan gallery is located on the second floor and features art from many different areas. What probably caught my eye the most weren’t the statues and figures in the first room of the gallery but rather the darkness of the area and the silhouettes that precede the statues on the walls. The darkness of the rooms and the light glaring at the “art” reminded me of our reading on the In Praise of Shadows. This goes back to the older Japanese appreciation for dark instead of light. We are sometimes surrounded by this idea that we are in museums everything must be bright and sterile. In many art galleries or museums I go to the brightness defines how we see the art. IT must be clear, easy to dissect and contain an uncomfortable cleanliness to the area.

However when one enters Honokan each room is different and the nature of each area is to understand the art behind the walls through information defined on the walls and themes to understand the way in which those once lived. As naively American as this sounds I want to be able to understand fully what I am looking at when I see it. Very few places have given me this opportunity on the trip to really understand what I’m looking at and the way of the art due to the lack of English translation.

When it comes to art and message if we do not know what the artist or creator is thinking can we really appreciate the work to it’s fullest?

For more information on the Tokyo National Museum please visit

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