Splendour in detail. 20th century Japanese Lacquerware

17 September – 5 December 2021

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In this exhibition of design works, luxury utensils, and art objects of the 20th century. The ancient art of Japanese lacquerware (urushi) has a lengthy and labour-intensive production process. Japanese lacquerware was exported to Europe as early as the 16th century and was extremely popular thanks to its superior quality and durability. 70 lacquerware objects will be on display varying from tableware and serving trays to tea ceremony and writing utensils, incense burners and vases.

is a natural resin tapped from the lacquer tree by carving into the bark. The resin then undergoes extensive applications which ultimately make it one of the strongest polymers in the world. High quality lacquerware can last for centuries: the earliest known lacquerware dates to 7000 BC. The arrival of Buddhism in Japan in the 6th century ushered in a new period of artistic growth. Lacquerware became an explicit art form. To this day lacquer techniques that developed over centuries, continue to define the reputation and high quality of modern-day lacquerware. The precious material is applied layer for layer then polished to obtain a perfectly smooth surface. Decorative techniques are then applied, often with use of gold and silver powder. Creating one lacquerware object can sometime take years and calls for extreme precision and persistence.

Gedichtenpapierdoos Yamashita Yosai detail 1
Gedichtenpapierdoos Yamashita Yosai detail 2
Doos voor gedichtenpapier Kamisaka Yukichi 2
Doos voor gedichtenpapier Kamisaka Yukichi 1

In 20th century works we see combinations of traditional designs, techniques and materials and modern images like the blossoming bush in gold and silver on Takai Hakuyō’s imperial gift box. The carved blue incense burner by Uesugi Gakusui is made up of 160 layers of lacquer! The red design vase from the Zenni studio was carved from the wood of the Japanese sugar birch, the curved vertical line reveals a refined black lacquered sub-layer.

Discover the skill and versatility of urushi, its 2th century designs and the outstanding craftmanship. Discover ‘Splendour in detail’.

Catalogue and activities
A richly illustrated English language catalogue will accompany the exhibition ‘Splendour in detail, 20th century Japanese Lacquer from the ‘Ben Janssens Collection’. The catalogue was written by Jan Dees and includes an article by Dave van Gompel. A wide variety of activities will also be offered giving insight into the Japanese lacquerware technique.

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