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Japan, Paris meet at Academy: Exhibit offers Western art from Japan

by Kawailehua Kahumoku

Five years ago George Ellis, former director of the Honolulu Academy of Arts, came up with the idea to bring Japan and Paris together in Hawai‘i. In an art exhibition, of course. It would show European paintings purchased in the late 19th and early 20th centuries by Japanese collectors and Japanese paintings influenced by the Europeans.


Ellis initiated negotiations with Japanese collectors and museums, and when he retired Stephen Little, current director and president of the academy, took over the responsibility, finalized Ellis’ negotiations, secured some additional works, and opened the exhibition for public viewing April 8.

According to Little, Ellis’ vision was to tell the story of European painting in Japan—one never before told outside of Japan. The exhibition would show art by major impressionists, post-impressionists, and modern artists such as—Claude Monet, Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso, Jean Baptiste Camille Corot, and more—that have been housed in Japanese collections. To do this, the academy arranged for the loan of more than 50 paintings from 28 Japanese collections.
The exhibition also shows works by Japanese artists who introduced Western techniques to Japan. It is the first exhibit ever to look at this aspect of art history.

“You see great works of art and [you] also learn about Japan and France,” said Little, who went on to explain how art can open people’s eyes and make them see and understand things in ways that would otherwise require reading 20 to 30 books.

Little believes that telling the story of art in Japan from over 100 years of art collection is one important thing the academy can do. Little said, “It’s unique,” it’s a show about dialogue, about two countries trying to understand each other. He also admits that it was an incredible opportunity to bring these world-class paintings together, paintings that cannot be found anywhere else in the world, all at the same time, in the same room.

More than 20 museums helped arrange the loans of paintings for the exhibition. “It’s exceeded my expectations,” said Little.

According to Little, it cost the academy more than $1 million to put the exhibition, including the catalogue, together, and it’s “amazing.” The exhibit will end on June 6, but Little is proud that the catalogue will live on to tell the story of the interaction of art between Japan and Paris.

“ I’m extremely proud of the staff and scholars in both Japan and Europe who helped to make all of this exhibition possible,” said Little, a sentiment that was echoed by Academy Western Art Curator Jennifer Saville. “We’re so lucky to have it all come together so well,” Saville said.I’m grateful to the cooperation of all the artists and collectors that helped make it all possible.”

The full-color, 200-page catalogue is available in soft cover and can be purchased at the Academy Shop for $27.50. It includes essays by leading Japanese and American scholars.

The exhibition is open for public viewing Tuesday through Sundays. Admission is $15 for adults and $10 for children 6-17 years old. (Children 5 and under are free). For more information, call the Japan and Paris hotline at 532-8719. To order the catalogue, call the Academy Shop, 532-8703.



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