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Book Review: Designing Nature

By (November 4, 2012) One Comment

Designing Nature: The Rinpa Aesthetic in Japanese Art

by John Carpenter

Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2012


This sumptuously-produced book by New York’s Metropolitan Museum of art coincides with its exhibit, on view until 13 January 2013. Author John Carpenter is a curator of Japanese art at the museum, and he has assembled 153 illustrations to fill this book’s 200-something pages. The color reproductions are of one hundred works, including painting, calligraphy, ceramics, and other forms of art.

The Rinpa style of Japanese art began in the early 17th Century and can be traced forward all the way to the modern era, with its bold brush strokes, striking colors, and links to nature. My favorite painting, “Crane and Pine Tree with Rising Sun” by Suzuki Kiitsu, is a perfect example of the Rinpa aesthetic. The crane, a symbol of longevity in Asian history, is featured with the rising sun in the background and a pine tree in the foreground. It’s simple yet breathtaking.

crane and pine tree with rising sun – suzuki kiitsu

Additional praise for this book should go to the design by Jean Wilcox, which makes Designing Nature a feast for the eyes. Every aspect has been developed with a high degree of attention to detail. The only improvement I might have suggested would have been a few color reproductions done as folded pullouts rather than spread over two successive pages.

Designing Nature also has an excellent bibliography and a section of notes, a necessity with any good art book and something to which I’m certain I’ll refer in the future.

The Metropolitan Museum has drawn from its large collection of Japanese art for the exhibition. There are many private lenders who have made works available for viewing, and the Yale University Art Gallery in New Haven has also added one poetry screen to the exhibit. I’d hoped that a few more museums with large collections of Rinpa art could have been brought into this event. Massachusetts, for example, has a few museum collections that could have enhanced this New York exhibition even further.

Even as it is, however, this is a very good assemblage of Rinpa works. The book (an oversized paperback) is well worth your money, and if you can visit the Metropolitan Museum before the 13th, you should visit the exhibition.

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