Art of the Samurai

Sharon and I visited the Art of the Samurai, and the Mandalas exhibitsx(, this Saturday at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. Here's a quick review.

This is primarily an exhibit of blades. If you have a serious interest in the sword maker's art, you should carefully put down anything sharp or heavy, drop whatever else you are doing, and go see this exhibit as soon as possible. The exhibit fills several large galleries, and the walls are mostly lined with glass cases displaying blades. I mean bare blades on stands, so you can see the tangs and maker's marks. Some of them are "named blades" with impressive ownership pedigrees. The description cards give a lot of attention to details about the blade that reveal how it was made and what "school" the maker was following. There are a handful of impressive hilts and scabbards, but mostly it's bare blades.

Secondarily, there is armor. For the most part, the armor is in the middle of the room, allowing close up (through plexiglas, but less than a foot away), 360 degree (!) views. No pictures allowed, so bring your sharpest memory. You are close enough that you can see where damaged braided lacing has been replaced with dyed leather! Quite sweet, although of course it's impossible to see the inside. Of course I paid a lot of attention to braids. Sorry.

Most striking are few examples showing a historical portrait scroll of a famous person right next to the armor he wore while posing for the portrait. Some of these scrolls are great, and the detail in them would be very useful, but again, no photos. You might get away with one or two non-flash pictures before the docent yells at you, but choose wisely.

Other things in the exhibit include a nice collection of impressive kabuto, a few scrolls, some archery equipment, a few jinbaori, one hitatare, and some screens. Most disappointing to me was just four panels from a 26 panel screen showing the "traditional crafts". Displayed are tsuba making, sword polishing, making curved boxes, and house building. Apparently there's a panel in the full set showing kumihimo. I told Sharon if they'd had it on display I would have sent her outside to wait for me while I took pictures of it until they threw me out.

Once you're in the museum, don't miss the Mandala exhibit over in the Japanese galleries at the other end of the building. Quite a bit of detail over there on devotional scrolls, sculpture, and ritual objects.

Overall I'd say we spent about five hours in the museum, which also included browsing through a few other galleries (Rodin! Vermeer! A shark in a tank of formaldehyde!) including the traditional visit to see the Temple of Dendur. No visit to the Met is complete without it.

2009.11.09 at 11:30am EST