Drawing from recent gifts to the Museum, Quiet Rage, Gentle Wail will explore Noh, the traditional Japanese theater form that incorporates music, dance and drama. Noh Theater was established during the fourteenth century when a few talented writer-actors transformed the popular entertainment into a sophisticated, intellectual art backed by the ruling class. Through the stories adopted from well-known myths, historical events, and classical literatures, Noh dramas explore profound human emotions with subtle and symbolic performances. For contemporary Japanese as much as foreigners, Noh Theater is a thought-provoking, yet complex art that is often hard to comprehend.
Bringing together different media that relate to Noh Theater, this exhibition will have a multi-dimensional approach to appreciate Noh and its aesthetics: simplicity, nuance, and the distaste for realism. Included in the exhibition are 22 Noh masks, a pair of two-panel screens and approximately 24 prints that depict Noh actors on stage.
Prints in the exhibition were published by Matsuki Heikichi, who aimed to revive the tradition of fine Japanese woodblock prints, production of which reached its peak in the 18th century but the quality declined in the 19th century due to the increased volume of production. Matsuki commissioned a painter Tsukioka Kōgyo, an avid fan of Noh Theater himself, who successfully captured the quintessential moments in Noh dramas in these prints. Done on high-quality paper with some silver and gold accents, the prints show that the woodblock carvers and printers masterfully recreated the delicate touch of brushwork by Kōgyo. The exhibition will also include prints by Kōgyo’s daughter who carried on this tradition.
The masks are from the pre-modern and early modern eras, and encompass a wide variety of specimens, from a quiet male figure to an angry female demon. Together they reveal how such a mask with its emblematic expression contributes to a subtle performance of Noh. In some roles, an actor wearing a mask can express different emotion by varying the tilt of the wearer’s head. Museum visitors can witness this effect by viewing the images of one of the masks photographed from three different angles.
The exhibition is part of the three-year project, Japan in Global Context, organized by ASU and funded by the Japan Foundation. Phoenix Art Museum is one of the participants in this grant project.
The exhibition is organized by Phoenix Art Museum.Additional Support provided by: