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Perlman Teaching Museum opens 2016 with a celebration of the iconic Japanese cherry blossom

January 15, 2016 at 2:19 pm

Carleton College’s Perlman Teaching Museum will open the New Year with an infusion of springtime, in the form of the iconic Japanese cherry blossom.

In the Braucher Gallery, renowned Japanese artist Ayomi Yoshida, in collaboration with a group of her own students from Japan and Carleton art students, are creating the on-site installation, “As Cherry Blossoms Fall,” which both celebrates the annual flowering of cherry trees in Japan but also calls into question the impact of global warming on its future.

The nearby Kaemmer Gallery will feature an accompanying exhibit of 19th- and 20th-century Japanese prints dedicated to the cherry blossom motif, “Falling Blossoms, Floating World.”

The new exhibits open Friday, Jan. 22, 2016, with a presentation by Yoshida at 7 p.m. in room 236 of the Weitz Center for Creativity, followed by a reception with light refreshments in the Perlman Teaching museum lobby and commons area.

A beloved national symbol in Japanese art and culture, Japan has celebrated the cherry blossom, or sakura, in annual festivals dating back to the 9th century. Hundreds of years later, the impact of global warming has caused cherry trees to bloom earlier and earlier in the year, shifting the flowering of cherry trees—and the celebrations—from April to March. Acclaimed Japanese print and installation artist Yoshida wonders, “Will there come a time when the trees stop blooming?”

Her answer is YEDOENSIS, a room-size installation series begun in 2008 designed to meditate on this question. Reflecting on the ephemerality of life that cherry blossoms symbolize, the exhibit is comprised over 100,000 tiny hand-printed woodcut petals glued into place one-by-one, with the assistance of Yoshida’s team from Japan along with Carleton art student volunteers. Yoshida considers their tedious, painstaking work as an exercise in the comparability of human industry to nature, and finds satisfaction and hope in seeing small individual acts amount to something much larger.

“Falling Blossoms, Floating World” celebrates the cherry blossom motif in 19th- and 20th-century Japanese prints. Because of its intensely beautiful yet brief existence, the cherry blossom has come to symbolize the transience of beauty and life in Japan. In the 17th-century, cherry blossoms became associated with the hedonism of the pleasure districts that flourished in Edo, glorified by Asai Ryōi in his famous novel Ukiyo Monogatari (“Tales of the Floating World”) of 1661: “living only for the moment, savoring the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms, and the maple leaves, singing songs, drinking sake, and diverting oneself just in floating, unconcerned by the prospect of imminent poverty, buoyant and carefree, like a gourd carried along with the river current: this is what we call ukiyo.”

This selection of ukiyo-e or “pictures of the floating world” complements Yoshida’s installation about the threatened existence of cherry blossoms. Drawing upon the Japanese art collection of the Minneapolis Institute of Art, the St. Olaf College Flaten Art Museum’s collection of prints by Yoshida family artists, and Carleton’s own Special Collections, “Falling Blossoms, Floating World” examines the many faces of sakura, the cherry blossom, and the enduring tradition of hanami (“flower viewing”).

Finally, a concurrent exhibition, “Temporary Flowers to True Flowers,” featuring prints by Yoshida’s former student assistants Fumiko Hasegawa, Nao Masuda, Takako Sato, Emi Tanaka, and Norio Taniguchi, will be on view on the 4th floor of the Laurence McKinley Gould Library during the winter term. This is the first time these artists have exhibited outside of Japan. The title makes references to the ideas of Japanese playwright Zeami (1363-1443), who with his father created the Noh tradition of Japanese theatre that is practiced to this day. The "temporary flower" is the expression of raw talent, while the "true flower" is "the fullest flowering of one's art," attained through discipline and training.

Ayomi Yoshida (b. 1958, Tokyo) is the youngest in the venerated Japanese Yoshida family of artists, and the third in a succession of three generations of women artists in the family. She is passionate about the value of experiential learning and has taught at many Japanese and American universities, often involving current students in her installation projects, such as “As Cherry Blossoms Fall.”

These exhibits are made possible thanks to the support of the Carleton College Departments of Art and Art History, Asian Languages and Literature, Asian Studies, and Cinema and Media Studies, and the Laurence McKinley Gould Library. Artist Ayomi Yoshida’s visit is sponsored by the Elizabeth Nason Distinguished Women Visitors Fund.

The Weitz Center for Creativity is located at Third and College Streets in Northfield. For more information and gallery hours, visit go.carleton.edu/museum or call (507) 222-4342.