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Three Ikebana Schools to Create Arrangements Set Next to Contemporary Art

The Japanese American National Museum will premiere its latest exhibition, Living Flowers: Ikebana and Contemporary Art, an innovative presentation that brings together representations of three traditional schools of ikebana (Japanese flower arranging) with the works of international contemporary artists such as Isamu Noguchi, Robert Mapplethorpe, Sherrie Levine and Judy Fiskin, beginning on Sunday, June 15, and continuing through September 7.

The Southern California-based masters of the Ikenobo Ikebana Society of Los Angeles, Ohara School of Ikebana, and Sogetsu Los Angeles Branch will develop new flower arrangements on a weekly basis over the course of the exhibition. With over 20 contemporary artists’ works on display next to the arrangements, the exhibition intends to examine how two different forms of artistic expression from two different cultures can illuminate their respective materials, formal strategies, conceptual approaches and contexts of display. It will also explore the persistence and transformation of Japanese traditions while highlighting their relevance to contemporary artistic expressions.

The work of Isamu Noguchi has been previously highlighted at the National Museum, first with Isamu Noguchi and Modern Japanese Ceramics (Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution) in 2004 and then Isamu Noguchi-Sculptural Design (Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany) in 2006. The works of Mapplethorpe and many other contemporary artists visually positioned next to the ikebana of three different schools provides the opportunity to explore the relationships, conscious and unconscious, of these contrasting artistic expressions.

"Ikebana as an art form can trace its origins to fifteenth century Japan," explained Karin Higa, Senior Adjunct Curator of Art for the National Museum. "It was developed along with Noh Theater, tea ceremony and poetry and forms what some historians call, 'the soul of Japan.' Ikebana has continued to evolve with new interpretations of the traditional philosophies. Presenting the arrangements of the Ikenobo, Ohara and Sogetsu masters alongside of the work of innovative contemporary art will shed light on the complex ways in which these various forms of cultural production inform and influence one another."

The Ikenobo school is the oldest ikebana tradition, evolving out of the Buddhist custom of placing flowers on altars. Ikenobo refers to the name of the buildings associated with the Shiunzan Chohoji or Rokkakudo Temple in Kyoto, as well as the name of the family that has served in succeeding generations as head priests of the temple. Ikenobo masters developed the rikka style, which included seven essential elements, in the late 16th Century. The Ohara School was founded by Unshin Ohara (1861-1916) during the Meiji Era (1867-1912) in Japan, when Western influences were introduced into the country. The inclusion of Western flowers and the introduction of tray-like containers (Unshin Ohara was also a sculptor) led to a style that expressed the beauty of natural scenery. The Sogetsu School was founded by Sofu Teshigahara (1900-1979) in 1927. The Sogetsu style stresses individual creativity and experimentation over the set traditional forms and styles. Sofu expanded ikebana from its traditional settings into contemporary spaces. He believed that ikebana could be practiced by anyone, any place and with any materials.

Noguchi collaborated with Teshigahara on creating vessels for ikebana and one of these works will be on display. Anya Gallaccio, Sharon Lockhart and Yukio Nakagawa have utilized plant material in their art, while Fiskin, Laura Owens and Gabriel Orosco have shown similar sensibilities to spatial relationship that are revealed in ikebana. Other contemporary artists featured in Living Flowers include Bas Jan Ader, Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij, Ori Gersht, Andy Ouchi, Manfred Pernice, Joe Scanlan, Anna Sew Hoy, Monique van Genderen, James Welling and B. Wurtz.

Living Flowers will note the interactions between the practice of ikebana and contemporary art, including the creation of suitable vessels for the arrangements, the use of plant material in installations and spatial compositions and concepts derived from ikebana traditions. In turn, an examination of contemporary art will illuminate the principles and practices of ikebana.

The exhibition is designed by Escher GuneWardena Architecture, a partnership between Frank Escher and Ravi GuneWardena. The firm is known for its designs that emphasize sustainability, affordability and the dialogue between form and construction. The firm has collaborated with contemporary artists (including Sharon Lockhart) and has worked on museum installations and the development of gallery spaces, most recently as designers of the 55th Carnegie International and the forthcoming exhibition Between Heaven and Earth: The Architecture of John Lautner at the Hammer Museum. Escher grew up and was trained in Switzerland, while GuneWardena, originally from Sri Lanka, studied both in the United States and Italy.

The architectural element in Japanese shoin-style architecture known as a tokonoma—a deep alcove with vertical supports often made of slender tree trunks—is critical to the design of this exhibition. The design created by Escher GuneWardena will explore the tokonoma form as well as extend outside the formal gallery spaces and will transform the National Museum’s Pavilion.

The three ikebana schools will create new arrangements each week during the course of the exhibition. Each of the schools will also demonstrate their techniques and use of materials at public programs at the National Museum (Ikenobo will demonstrate on June 22, Sogetsu on July 20 and Ohara on August 24).

"The Japanese American National Museum is proud to premiere Living Flowers: Ikebana and Contemporary Art," announced Akemi Kikumura Yano, CEO of the National Museum. "The cultural tradition of ikebana is a mainstay within the Japanese American community, but its practice has been shared with many other Americans today. Putting these traditions within the context of contemporary art today helps more people appreciate both ikebana and contemporary art."

This exhibition is made possible, in part, by the generous support of the Aratani Foundation, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Metlife Foundation Museum Connections Program, The James Irvine Foundation, E. Rhodes & Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, The Steven and Kelly McLeod Family Foundation, Michael W. Oshima & Chiaki Tanaka, Ph.D., UCLA Paul I. and Hisako Terasaki Center for Japanese Studies, Pasadena Art Alliance, and Mariko O. Gordon & Hugh A. Cosman. Media sponsors include the Los Angeles Downtown News, LA18 KSCI-TV, and The Rafu Shimpo. Public programs are supported, in part, by Department of Cultural Affairs, City of Los Angeles. For more information, call the Japanese American National Museum at (213) 625-0414.