Japanese Bamboo Art

Sharon Lorenzo reports on a Japanese basket collection.

Japanese Smoked Bamboo

Honma Kazuaki, Breath, 1968, Smoked Dwarf Bamboo

This installation at the Met Museum in its Asian art wing is a masterful curatorial feat performed by Monika Bincsik who has combined 65 works from the basket collection of Diane and Arthur Abbey with related artistic materials from the Met archives. It highlights how the refined art of basket weaving has become a skilled art form worthy of international recognition and praise. As the Met expands its definition of art to include fashion and other elements of material culture, we can see in this show how the use of bamboo has evolved since 2500 BC when it was used primarily as a source for tools. Today with its resistance to cold along with the plum and pine tree, bamboo has evolved into 600 varieties in the subclass of the grass family, with one even producing a stalk that is 6 inches in diameter. It is rendered soft enough for weaving and artistic manipulation by boiling and drying the specimens so that they can be shaped and molded into many forms.

Japanese Bamboo and Rattan
Fujitsuka Shosei, Tide, 1978, Bamboo and Rattan

Many of the works in this show were made by artists who are still living, and some came to help with the installation itself. As a craft which evolved in the early 17th century for tea ceremonies, today’s apprentices often work for 5 to 10 years to master this art form. Some pieces are woven with rattan and dyed to adjust the colors. Monika noted that some families request the use of a bamboo knife to cut the umbilical cord of their newborn child as a family ceremonial ritual in Japan .[i]

Japanese Bamboo Art Tiger

Tanabe Chikuunsai IV, The Gate, 2017, Tiger Bamboo

Another unusual work in rattan and bamboo is the piece entitled Flowing Pattern, made by Honma Hideaki who works with sight in only one eye, having lost the other while in the Japanese air force. He softened the material which was then shaped and dried into the horizontal fold. Reminiscent of a massive ocean wave, we can see his attention to detail in the diagonally shaped interior spaces.

Japanese Bamboo Flowing Basket

Honma Hideaki, Flowing Pattern, 2014, Rattan and Bamboo, 2014

One of my personal favorites is this work by Honda Shoryu named Dance which is made from bamboo that has been dried, dyed and lacquered in warm colors. It is made of two sections which are twisted with twining which is 1 millimeter wide and 10 feet long to form a flowing imaginative piece that dances in space in an undulating pas de deux of form.

Japanese Bamboo Basket                                                               Honda Shoryu, Dance, 2000, Bamboo and Rattan

Diane and Arthur Abbey are avid collectors of baskets in addition to their activities in many other arenas of philanthropy in New York. As a law graduate of NYU, Arthur has put the success from his legal career to work in providing enjoyment such as these promised gifts which will bring delight to many more generations of visitors to the Asian collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art – June 13, 2017- February 4, 2018

[i] Bincsik, Monica. Japanese Bamboo Art: The Abbey Collection, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, 2017, pp. 5.

Sharon Lorenzo is A Sharp Eye’s frequent contributor of art and culture. She recently wrote about the Guggenheim Museum. Find this article and more of her works in our archives.

The Guggenheim Museum: A Work of Art in the Round