skip to Main Content

Elegant Solutions

Enter Exhibition

This issue of the Kaikodo Journal, our thirty-first since 1996, corresponds to a sales exhibition held in our gallery in New York between March 13 and April 30, 2015. The catalogue introduces and discusses 31 objects from China and Japan dating from the 3rd millennium B.C. to modern times, 29 Chinese paintings and 18 Japanese paintings ranging in date from the 12th to the 21st century, Mary Ann Rogers wrote the entries for works of art numbered 1 to 31 as well as painting catalogue numbers 59 to 61, her facility with words concerning contemporary painting greatly exceeding mine. She was ably assisted by Carol Conover, director of our gallery in New York, who also contributed a detailed description of painting catalogue 51. I am responsible for all of the painting entries, save for numbers 59-61, but am most grateful for the assistance throughout from Hiroshi Kawasaki of Kyoto, who contributed greatly to my understanding of daring, iconography, transcriptions of seals and inscriptions, and translations of a good number of these. Kazuko Kameda-Madar of Honolulu, a specialist in Japanese painting, was extremely helpful with all of the Japanese entries, providing dates and opinions on everything while correcting the worst of my errors. A good example of their joint contribution is catalogue number 66, a pair of screens illustrating “Pictures of People of Various Occupations in Their Workshops, Kawasaki-san, sharp-eyed as always, discovered an exact date, 1735, on a ledger in one of the scenes, while Kameda- Madarsan wrote an essay on the screens placing them in their proper historical and art-historical context.

We are also grateful to various specialists who exercised their skills on our behalf and thus made this exhibition and catalogue possible. Our conservators included Paul Chao and Pekky Wan in Hong Kong and Meguro Masakazu in Tokyo. Photography was accomplished mainly by the incomparable John Taylor and Dianne Dubler, who are also our favorite dining companions. Yolanda “Yollie” Rosales, a mainstay of our gallery, is charged with many things, including inventory control, and now she is also able to provide acceptable photographic images of small items.

Robert Lyman, who works with us in Hawaii, is in charge of our website and internet communications and continues to provide the technical assistance which other members of Kaikodo and especially me stand in frequent need. Louisa Chu and her associates at Creative Design in Hong Kong are, as always, to be thanked for their commitment to the quality of the Journal as exemplified by their attention to every detail of production and especially for their patience as we miss one deadline after another.

The theme of this exhibition is “Elegant Solutions,” a term most often occurring in discussions relating to such disciplines as mathematics and engineering, where it refers to a solution in which the maximum desired effect is achieved with the smallest, or simplest effort. An elegant solution solves a given problem. with the least possible waste of material and effort, and is likely to be accomplished with appropriate methods and materials. We are here extending those concepts to art, to the objects and paintings we are offering. All early Chinese and Japanese ceramics are functional, and it is well nigh impossible to find one in which the decoration overwhelms the form, thus solving the problem of construction with the least waste of time and effort. What could be more of an elegant solution than the hanging scroll and handscroll, which allow for display and then convenient storage, while the folding screen format perfected by the Japanese allows them to stand as both room dividers and beautiful decoration, and of course the folding fan format is an elegant solution par excellence, achieving maximum effect with minimal space and effort, all accomplished with great ease by some of the greatest painters of the later dynasties in both China and Japan.
The term “Elegant Solutions” makes use of the basic meaning of “elegant,” an adjective meaning “of fine quality,” and we trust that each of the objects and paintings included here measures up to that standard. The term also suggests a certain refinement, a polished and tasteful beauty, and we are even more hopeful that our offerings meet that standard. The style of these works also conforms to that definition of “elegant solutions.” Consider the painting of “Five Cranes” by Gyokusen (cat. 70), could another crane be added to the composition, or one subtracted, without destroying the perfect balance already achieved? If the answer is “no,” then we surely are faced with an elegant solution. Another example among many might be the egg-shell earthenware goblet in catalogue 1, dating to around 2500-1700 B.C. Can one imagine today a more refined ceramic, one that emphasizes simplicity and elegance over fussiness or ostentation?

This issue of the Journal is enhanced by four essays (organized according to the chronological sequence of their subjects, another elegant solution!). The first, by John Vollmer, relates the fascinating tale of the discovery, excavation, and display of the fabulous Chinese cargo of an 9th century Arab ship, allowing visitors to Singapore or the current exhibition in Toronto, to broaden their ideas of what was possible in Tang dynasty art at that time. The second essay, by Richard Barnhart, also presents a new discovery, one painted by a 17th century artist named Zhang Gu. This painting had in fact been known for some time, being held in the Chandler Williamson Gallery, Scripps College, Claremont, California, but attributed to the 9th century master Liu Yung, with whom it has nothing in common. Rather than argue for or against the original attribution, Dick, in typical Barnhart fashion, cuts to the chase and shows, visually, exactly where the painting should be placed in time and space. The third essay, by Ellen Liang, takes as its theme the well-known 17th century tale of the heroine “Mulan. Testing her Bow and traces in fascinating detail how that image changed in wood-block reproductions illustrating that compelling story down to modern times. The last essay, by Kazuko Kameda-Madar, discusses one of the paintings in the exhibition, the pair of screens with “Pictures of People of Various Occupations in Their Workshops,” and explicates the origins. of the theme as well as the social and art-historical context of the work. We thank all of these scholars for their contributions, for sharing with us their ideas, their expertise, and their elegant solutions to the problems they posed for themselves.
In our previous Journals we have included mention of our mentors, exemplars, colleagues, and friends who had left us since the last issue went to press, or came to our knowledge only recently, and have joined the ranks of the immortals in our field. Those numbers have increased notably this past year, and this Journal will conclude with tributes to several individuals as well as a briefer mention of others in a section called “For Whom the Bell Tolls” after the poem by John Dunne

“No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It rolls for thee.”

We are all truly diminished by these great losses, and trust that we all will feel impelled to make an effort to fill the lacunae left by their departure, impossible as that may be in the end. We stand today on the shoulders of giants, which should give us extraordinary vision into the ideal future of our field, how we should proceed today to fulfill the demands, the expectations, and the promise of their accomplishments.

Howard Rogers, Onomea Bay
January, 2015

Back To Top