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The word “tradition” denotes something that is handed down from the past; it generally implies changelessness and venerability. Nonetheless, the artistic traditions of Japan that are highlighted in this exhibition show another side of things that have been transmitted from the past—that is, their inherent instability. The series of displays in this installation demonstrate how Japanese artists appropriated iconographical motifs common to Chinese objects to invent traditions that acquired an authenticity that is uniquely theirs. In other cases, we see how Japanese textile artists manipulated one particular dyeing technique to imitate the effect of another more labor-intensive technique.
Japanese crafts that have migrated outside the country also evidence the mutability of tradition. This may be seen in the work of modern artists in the United States who fashioned images of old Japan; retaining elements of unfamiliar art forms, they invented things that are now seen as “Japanese.” The question, What is authentic?, lingers throughout this installation of indigo-dyed textiles and ceramics, which complements the exhibition Fields of Indigo: Installation by Rowland Ricketts with Sound by Norbert Herber, on view in the Contemporary Gallery.