Statues of Wrath and Serenity

Head-guardian-kingAndrew Butterfield at the New York Review of Books:

Every age is one of anxiety. But few have responded with art more deeply serene than that of the Kamakura Period in Japan (1185-1333). Following a murderous clash of clans in civil war, and the widespread destruction of temples and statuary, Buddhist artists, at first based chiefly in Nara and Kyoto, devised both new techniques to allow the rapid replacement of what had been so wantonly destroyed, and a new style to inspire and to calm the shattered spirits of the survivors. The result was one of the great flowerings in Japanese art.

A show of Kamakura sculpture, “Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan,” has just opened at the Asia Society in New York, the first American exhibition on the subject in more than thirty years. The show is very small—just one room with only about two dozen statues and another dozen or so items—and yet it is rapturously beautiful and deserves more visitors than its scale might suggest.

By expressive character, the sculptures on view can be broadly divided in two contrasting modes. One consists of statues, such as those of the Wisdom Kings Fudō Myōō and Daiitoku Myōō, that display vivid gestures and grimacing faces.

more here.