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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Sunday, June 17, 2001

Art Review
Japanese exquisitely transform bamboo

By Virginia Wageman
Advertiser Art Critic

Flower basket by Hayakawa Shokosai V, an artist who belongs to a distinguished family of basket makers.

Pat Pollard • Special to The Advertiser

Bamboo Masterworks Honolulu Academy of Arts Through July 1 532-8700

The Honolulu Academy of Arts is certainly showing itself to be a world-class institution these days — something it has always been, but sometimes we need a reminder of what lies in our own back yard.

Hard on the heels of the opening in May of the Luce Pavilion, with two major exhibitions opening at that time, the academy has mounted another important exhibition, beautifully presented, as if its staff has had nothing else to do but sit around and plan for this one.

The new exhibition, "Bamboo Masterworks," presents Japanese baskets, most of them designed as containers for flowers and related to the tea ceremony.

Known for raising craft to the level of fine art, the Japanese do this no better than in their exquisite baskets, which demonstrate knowledgeable and masterful handling of material, brilliant sophistication of design and an acute sense of volume in space.

Artfully arranged flowers in a bamboo basket or ceramic vase are integral to the ceremony associated with tea. The baskets are roughly of two types: the more formal, symmetrical baskets related to sencha, the Chinese-style tea ceremony that was brought to Japan with Buddhism; and more irregular pieces with rougher textures that relate to chanoyu, the Japanese-style ceremony. The latter often incorporate such elements as handles made from bamboo roots.

One section of the display focuses on family lineage in basket making, demonstrating how traditions are passed from one generation to another, and also how traditions evolve.

Maeda Chikubosai II (b. 1917), who has been named a Japanese National Living Treasure, works in the style of his father, Maeda Chikubosai I (1872-1950), who was the first to use roots for handles.

Hayakawa Shokosai I (1815-1897) was the first Japanese basket maker to sign his name to his pieces, emulating the practice of studio potters. He also broke with tradition by not limiting himself to the Chinese aesthetic that was prevalent at the time he practiced. Today Hayakawa Shokosai V (b. 1932) carries on the traditions of his great-grandfather.

There are 100 baskets on display, ranging from the late 19th century to the present. The exhibition takes up the entirety of the second-floor galleries. It is elegantly designed, with the baskets displayed not formally in Plexiglass cabinets but on wooden boxes constructed, to resemble the kind of crates used to ship artworks, a perfect rustic note to complement the design of the baskets.

The pieces were selected from nearly 1,000 Japanese baskets in the collection of Lloyd Cotsen. The exhibition was organized by the Asia Society, New York, assisted by Mary Hunt Kahlenberg, who is curator of the Cotsen collection.

Virginia Wageman can be reached at VWageman@aol.com