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art museum visit

The Art Museum on campus has been staging an exhibit of Japanese art last month and early this month. It ends this coming Sunday, so I caught it during my lunch break.

I could not find the exhibit at first because there were no signs leading to it. So I viewed some of the permanent exhibits until I found the three rooms where the Japanese art were. Most of what I saw was Renaissance portraits and paintings of the Madonna, or of saints painted like clergy. There was a very primitive wooden figure of Christ crucified from thirteenth century Spain.

I also saw Greek and Roman coins. Most were out of round, as expected from people who practiced theft by coin shaving. But a few of the coins were amazingly round; those were late Roman coins, so I guess the relative lack of silver was not worth trying to steal from them.

There were also early American portraits and a desk (secretary) made out of many kinds of wood. And there were later European paintings, including one that reminded me of a visit to the Cleveland Art Museum as a kid, where I saw this huge painting of a nude young man and (well-appointed) woman who supposedly represented Cupid and Psyche.

I looked into the modern art exhibit and saw something incredible for a museum: An Aeron Chair. I read about this chair a long time ago; saw it as a prop in an episode of Earth: The Final Conflict; and still hear it advertised on NPR every so often. This is a chair whose seat and back are made of a semi-transparent, flexible mesh that is said to be very comfortable. It is certainly firm to the touch. I could not test its comfortability because to do that I would have to sit in it and there were monitors walking the museum halls.

I finally found the Japanese exhibit. This included cups for the tea ceremony — uncracked, as they often are to connote the imperfection of this world. I looked at the ukiyo-é woodprints of women and actors and Mount Fuji and even a Japanese's impression of Niagara Falls.

I saw a set of samurai armor. I must have watched too much animé because the armor seemed smaller than I imagined, but the details were impressive. I thought the missing lacquer on the breastplate was normal wear and tear; but the card explaining the armor informed me that the armor never saw battle and the missing lacquer was from the bullets that were shot at the armor to test its toughness.

Finally, sitting in perfect serenity in a room all by itself, was an two-meter-tall green-metal idol of Amita Butsu. It is said to be an exact replica of the Big Butsu at Kamakura, except that this one is not weather-beaten and sits on its original lotus stand in quiet contemplation. On its back is engraved the dedication of the statue by an official to his late lord with the wish for the lord's swift enlightenment. The inscription dates the statue at 1680, early in the Tokugawa Era.

Posted on the Dysmey Blog on 9 March 2008.