Friday, October 1, 2010

Hear The Silence So Loud

Details of Hiroki Otsuka's reverent and iconoclastic Daruma 28.

New York City: high-paced, intense--a metropolis where walking a step too slow or too fast can set off a deafening barrage of profanity and car horns. Amongst the craziness there always exists the need for escape, tranquility, and dare I say, Zen. For a weary New Yorker, Japan Society is that escape with its relaxingly quiet atmosphere, calming waterfall garden, and host of intellectually stimulating programs.

The escape is multiplied by three with the Society's new exhibition The Sound of One Hand, featuring America's first ever exhibition encompassing the paintings of eighteenth century Zen Buddhist master, Hakuin Ekaku. Though his work comes from a time where reverence and adherence to ancient traditions were the norm, it has a truly modern, populist feel to it.

Riffing on the contemporary vibe of Hakuin's art, the Society also presents two fresh, contemporary remixes on reverent Buddhist subject matter. Downtown artist Max Gimblett and author Lewis Hyde’s  oxherding is a bold spin of 'proper' form--10 years of collaboration deconstructing and reconstructing precious texts and holy images. As Gimblett himself puts it, he would have been considered a pop artist had he arrived in New York 10 years earlier in the 60s. His fusion of pop art sensibilities and Japanese calligraphy along with his intensity as an artist proves that the art of Zen, with its emphasis on tranquility and simplicity, doesn’t have to be boring.

There's another shock to the religious system before entering the Hakuin exhibit proper. Hiroki Otsuka’s Daruma 28 depicts the master and founder of Zen Buddhism, Daruma, in 4 acrylic paintings that portray him in private moments of spiritual struggle as a strikingly manga-esque, Gen-Y monk.

The Sound of One Hand opens today. Admission is $12, $10 for students and seniors, and free for Japan Society members and anyone under 16. oxherding and Daruma 28 are free to all Japan Society visitors during the course of the exhibition.

T.D.

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