Under a canopy of cherry blossoms in a transformed Great Hall at the NGV, Mr Yuji Akimoto, Director of the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan, officially opened the Pauline Gandel Gallery of Japanese Art (read Mr Akimoto’s opening speech here and Mrs Gandel’s here). The result of a significant donation by Pauline Gandel, the independent gallery space is the culmination of a three-year project and part of the revitalization of the Asian section at the NGV. Serendipitously coinciding with the release of the Federal government’s White Paper on Asia and its call for ‘Asia literacy’, the renovated Myer Asian Galleries and the new Pauline Gandel Gallery of Japanese Art draw attention to the NGV’s Asian collection and provide the first truly dedicated space for Japanese art in Australia.
Wooden panelling of appropriately shibui hue invites the visitor into a light, open gallery space that subtly expresses the distinctness of Japan. The design of the gallery and the careful presentation of the works on display create a true sense of Japanese culture, providing a delightful contrast with the Asian galleries. The exhibition space allows the display of a number of works from the NGV collection that have never, or not for a significant number of years, been on display and in a context which enhances their appreciation.
Fittingly for the opening of the first dedicated space to Japanese art at the NGV, the initial installation offers a general overview of a number of genres of Japanese art. There is rarity and strength in particular in the displayed collection of ukiyoe pillar prints. Buddhist art is well represented through donations of Alan and Maria Myers, and negoro lacquer works donated by Baillieu and Sarah Myer are given due recognition in their individual settings. A highlight in the section devoted to the way of tea is the Oribe bowl presented to the NGV by Mitsubishi.
To celebrate the opening of the gallery, a number of exceptional works of 18th and 19th century Japanese lacquer from the personal collection and private museum of Pauline Gandel are on short-term loan to the NGV. These works include a stunning 17th century samurai helmet (see below) featured in the entry foyer and an 18th century bridal trousseau suite (see below) with a particularly interesting Australian provenance, Victorian born Commander General Sir Horace Robertson, head of British Commonwealth Forces in Occupied Japan. Addressing the lives of the aristocracy of the Edo Period (1600-1868), Pauline Gandel’s collection of Japanese lacquer has been formed over the last 25 years under the professional guidance and curatorship of Lesley Kehoe. It stands now as one of the most significant collections in the world.
Contemporary works of art, while not central to the current installation, are not forgotten. For those already familiar with traditional Japanese art, these add a spirited lift to the new gallery. Highly popular in comments coming back to us at Lesley Kehoe Galleries are the stunning ceramic and glass sculptures by Kondo Takahiro and the magnificent autumn moon writing box by Unryuan Kitamura Tatsuo (see below).
Open an introductory book on Japanese art and most of the works in this first installation can be found. As an entrée to the universe of Japanese art it meets expectations. As it develops and matures, we look forward to a distinctly individual collection that identifies the NGV as a major contributor to the understanding of Japanese art and culture.
Samurai Helmet 17th Century Pauline Gandel Collection of Japanese Lacquer
(Photo by Earl Carter © Pauline Gandel)