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Finding Enlightenment in the Japanese Wing

Spring Trees and Grasses by a Stream, second half of the 17th century. Edo period (Japan, 1615–1868). Six-panel folding screen; ink, color, gold, and silver on paper; 48 in. x 10 ft. 3 in. (121.9 x 312.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, H. O. Havemeyer Collection, Gift of Horace Havemeyer, 1949 (49.35.2)

According to Joseph Loh, a Museum educator specializing in Japanese art, the ideal time to see cherry blossoms is not when they are most bountiful, nor when the flowers have peaked at full bloom, but rather as the flowers begin to fall and inevitably die. It is the melancholy nature, he says, that makes this event so spectacular because it can only be witnessed once each year.

On the surface, Japanese art can seem soft and saccharine, but there is more to be found once you allow yourself to delve into the meaning behind this fragile facade. Something as simple as a hanging scroll can house an entire narrative and convey a poignant message, although the story's ending may not be a joyous one. This is a valuable lesson indeed because people must learn to embrace both the light and dark aspects of life if they hope to have a full and fruitful existence.

If we were to sum up the Sackler Wing Galleries for the Arts of Japan in a word, that word would be "balance." The balance between visual and narrative aspects in the art—as well as the idea of finding balance within ourselves—is what makes the exhibition Designing Nature: The Rinpa Aesthetic in Japanese Art so meaningful. Although at first glance the art in this wing may seem purely decorative, it holds a wealth of deep-seated nuance that denotes the beauty in all things.

Anna. Bleeding Irises, 2012. Assorted watercolor markers and black pen on paper

As nothing lasts forever, so too the exhibition will be closing on January 13, 2013. Fortunately, the Museum's Sackler Wing Galleries will continue to display rotating exhibitions of Japanese art, so all are welcome to find balance and beauty there at any time.

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