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The Art of Sight, Sound, and Heart

Opening lecture and reception, Friday January 7, 2011

Japanese theatre, in its two classic forms, is rooted in ancient religion (Noh) and buoyed by popular culture (Kabuki). The Art of Sight, Sound, and Heart: Visualizing Japanese Theatre at the Carleton College Art Gallery, presenting woodblock prints and printed ephemera; carved masks, figurines and netsuke; and other objects, will explore Kabuki and Noh objects and imagery from the 18th through the 20th centuries. The exhibition also offers a rich array of programs including scholarly lectures, and performances that highlight contemporary transformations by international artists of traditional Japanese theatre and dance.

The Art of Sight, Sound and Heart will primarily use Japanese woodblock prints to chart changing practices and interpretations in Kabuki from the 17th century to the present. Kabuki is a form of Japanese drama based on popular legends and characterized by elaborate costumes, stylized acting, and the use of male actors for all roles. Woodblock prints evolved as a popular graphic medium in parallel with Kabuki theatre. Focusing on individual actors, these prints and other printed ephemera including playing cards, and fans contributed to a cult of celebrity that continues today as Kabuki actors cross over into film stardom.

Noh theatre combines song, dance and drama, using set themes, simple scenery and masked and elaborately costumed performers. Rooted in religion, Noh theatre traditionally played to elite, rather than to popular, audiences. Until the 20th century, when artist Tsukioka Kogyo began to render Noh themes in woodblock prints, masks and costumes comprised the visual artifacts of this theatrical form. The Art of Sight, Sound and Heart will present Noh masks embodying a long tradition, and also offer recent experiments by artist Bidou Yamaguchi, who not only carves stock Noh types but also represents famous faces from Western art history.

The Art of Sight, Sound and Heart will open with a lecture/performance by David Furumoto, University of Wisconsin-Madison. In Kabuki theater, male actors play all roles; the female impersonators are known as onnagata. In "The Path of the Onnagata: From Male to Female," this actor and theater director will publicly stage his own gender transformation, an act usually hidden behind the dressing room door. Furumotos lecture will illuminate several poignant works in the exhibition, and help celebrate the wide array of art forms connected to the Visualizing Japanese Theater celebration.

The exhibition features works from the Carleton College Art Collection and others on loan from local collectors, museums including the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, and other liberal arts college museums. The exhibition and related programming run through March 9, 2011, and are funded in part by Viz (Visualizing the Liberal Arts, a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation).

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