“Games, Contests, and Artful Play in Japan” Showcases Freer Gallery’s Japanese Paintings and Ceramics 
Media only: Brenda Kean Tabor, 202.633.0523
Public only: 202.633.1000

January 13, 2005
This spring, the Freer Gallery of Art will extend and enhance the neighboring Sackler Gallery’s three-month-long exhibition focusing on Asian Games with an exhibition of 14th–20th century paintings and objects illustrating the wide variety of games and contests played in Japan. A few ceramic and lacquer objects also continue the theme of artful play in their decoration or materials. A concurrent installation of screens from the Freer collection in a neighboring gallery also reflect that theme. “Games, Contests and Artful Play in Japan” opens on March 19 and closes on October 23.

Many popular Japanese games and contests, such as “go,” a Chinese board game that was first played in Japan in the seventh century, “sugoroku,” a board game popularized in pictorial versions during the Edo period (1615–1868), and “shogi” or Japanese chess, were originally played in the elite and circumscribed world of the Japanese imperial court of the Heian period (794–1185). Men and women of the Heian court also engaged in painting and poetry competitions, as well as contests involving the identification of rare incense woods from their scents and seashell-matching games, all of which measured the artistry and connoisseurship of the competitors.

Outdoors, Heian courtiers played a form of kickball and conducted ceremonial horse races and archery contests at Shinto shrines. Horseracing became a sport during the Meiji era (1868–1912).

Included among the paintings are illustrations of a picture matching competition and other court games from “The Tale of Genji” as well as other paintings of court stories, and a hand scroll that illustrates a poetry competition among artisans. A painting of an imaginary gathering of the “Thirty-Six Poetic Immortals” and one in which courtesans enact the Chinese scholars’ Four Accomplishments represent artful play in visual themes. Scenes from several Edo period hand scrolls illustrate an annual horse race at a Shinto shrine in Kyoto, children playing various games, and holiday games played at the New Year, such as shuttlecock and battledore. A large ceramic dish, which doubles as a pictorial sugoroku gaming board, is decorated with the 53 stations of the Tokaido, a popular Japanese print theme.

Also included are ceramic and lacquer incense containers, lacquer boxes for writing equipment decorated with images from poems or embedded calligraphy, and a whimsical lacquer box with a mercury-filled lid that operates a turning waterwheel when lifted.

The Freer Gallery of Art (12th Street and Independence Avenue, S.W.) and the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery (1050 Independence Ave. S.W.) together form the national museum of Asian art for the United States. The Freer also houses a major collection of late 19th- and early 20th-century American art. Hours are from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. every day except Dec. 25, and admission is free. Public tours are offered daily, except Wednesdays and public holidays and are subject to docent availability. The galleries are located near the Smithsonian Metrorail station on the Blue and Orange lines. For more information, the public may call (202) 633-1000 or TTY (202) 357-1729, or visit the exhibitions section of the galleries’ website.

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