Faculty of ArtsAustralian Institute of Art History

Private Passions: Japanese Art and Gardens in Australia

Wedensday, 18 September 2013 | 2:00pm – 6:00pm

Yasuko Hiraoka Myer Room, Sidney Myer Asia Centre
University of Melbourne

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Professor Toshio Watanabe, The University of the Arts London
Modernists’ Passion for a Zen garden: The Ryôanji garden as a case for a transnational canon formation

Associate Professor Peter Ecksersall, University of Melbourne
Performance and the long view of nuclear space

Professor Emeritus John Clark, The Power Institute, Sydney
Photographic practice and different trajectories of Japanese Modernism: the case of Hamaya Hiroshi (1915-1999)


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In association with the visit of Professor Toshio Watanabe from the Research Centre for Transnational Art, Identity and Nation (TrAIN), University of the Arts London, the Australian Institute of Art History hosted a symposium on the collecting and understanding of Japanese art in Australia.

This rich and ever growing subject was discussed by local scholars based in important collections and institutions throughout Australia, presenting across several fields including photography, decorative arts and Japanese modernism. The collection of Japanese art was explored through both public and private examples, including the National Gallery of Victoria’s Japanese Lacquer collection and the collection of Ken and Yasuko Hiraoka Myer.

The symposium concluded with the keynote lecture from visiting AIAH fellow Professor Watanabe, Modernists’ Passion for a Zen garden: The Ryôanji garden as a case for a transnational canon formation.


Other speakers included:

Jackie Menzies, Emeritus Curator of Asian Art, Art Gallery of New South Wales

Kenneth Myer  (1921-1992): Philanthropist and advocate
With the establishment of an Asian department at the Art Gallery of New South Wales in 1979, the Gallery resolved that an emphasis be given to collecting the art of Japan, a country with which Australia had increasing multitudinous ties. The Gallery’s ambitions were realised through the enthusiastic and committed support of Kenneth and Yasuko Myer, beginning with Ken’s 1980 donation of funds to acquire an important pair of Japanese screens that he and Yasuko had seen in an exhibition at the Kyoto National Museum. The screens are a lively representation of life in Kyoto in the 1660s and belong to the popular genre ‘Views in and around Kyoto” (Rakuchu Rakugai zu).  Ken’s own taste was very much for the secular art of the Edo period (1615-1868), with his favourite painting being a hanging scroll of sumptuously robed beauty by Kaigetsudo Anchi (active 1700-16) which the Gallery obtained through his bequest.

From 1980 through until their tragic death in an aeroplane crash in 1992, Ken and Yasuko regularly visited the Gallery and enthusiastically participated in the development of the Japanese collections. Ken regularly donated funds for purchases, while he and Yasuko gave contemporary Japanese prints which they acquired on their frequent trips to Japan. This paper will present a selection of the art that entered the Gallery’s collection through Ken’s generosity, and personalise the Myer acquisitions as an enduring legacy of love and commitment, and an uplifting tribute to a committed philanthropist who was prescient in his advocacy for Australia’s closer involvement with Asia. Encountering Australia:  ‘European Vision and the South Pacific’

Wayne Crothers, Curator of Asian Art, National Gallery of Victoria

Baillieu Myer: Connoisseurship and philanthropy in the refined aesthetics of Japanese culture
The NGV’s Japanese collection is as old as the Gallery itself with its first major acquisitions made during the 1880’s including Samurai armour and Buddhist paintings. Then in 1906 and 1909 artworks by Tawaraya Sōtatsu, Katsushika Hokusai, Utagawa Hiroshige and Kitagawa Utamaro acquired through the Felton Bequest established a legacy of artistic quality and philanthropy in Japanese art that has remained to this day. In 2012 the NGV opened its new gallery of Japanese art that is solely dedicated to the diverse aspects of Japanese culture and provides an invaluable forum for the education and understanding of Japan’s unique visual aesthetics, philosophies and history.

One of the features of the new Japanese gallery is its outstanding collection of historical Negoro lacquer that could be regarded as the best of its kind outside of Japan. Initiated by Baillieu and Sarah Myer and Sir Roderick and Lady Carnegie with donations made during the early 1980’s this unique collection has been gradually built over the last thirty years through the dedicated personal interest and connoisseurship of Baillieu Myer. In contrast to highly decorative Japanese Maki-e lacquer, Negoro lacquer comprises simple and elegantly shaped objects produced for daily and ceremonial purposes. Their constant use over long periods of time contributes to a random and worn appearance where the black lacquer undercoat becomes visible where the red outer coat has thinned. This naturally attained beauty brought about by age is highly appreciated as it exemplifies the spirit of wabi and sabi, an appreciation of beauty found in imperfection and a love for old and faded things. Gaining an understanding of this unique aesthetic is fundamental to understanding the philosophies of the tea ceremony, Zen Buddhism and Shinto nature worship and can be seen as a fundamental aspect of Japanese history and culture.




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