The Art Institute’s Department of Textiles is fortunate to own a large collection, some 200 in all, of kesa, the rectangular or trapezoidal outer garment traditionally worn by Buddhist monks and priests in Japan. The textiles have been mostly acquired over the years by donations from various private collectors, but the largest group and many of the most significant pieces came from the collection of Ralph and Mary Hays in 2004. Although a few examples of our kesa have been displayed in the past, this is the first exhibition at the Art Institute to present an overview of this distinctive group of textiles.
Often described as a mantle or robe, the kesa is worn draped diagonally over the left shoulder and under the right armpit. The Japanese term kesa derives from the Sanskrit word kasaya (or turbulence, an allusion to the dyeing process) and indicates the garment’s Indian origin. Indeed, as a reminder of this origin and the historical Buddha’s own simple patched garment, kesa are formed from many fragments of the same cloth. Within each garment, the fragments are typically organized in a series of columns framed by a border with mitered corners. The number of columns, ranging from five to 25 but most often seven, indicates both the specific function of that garment and also the rank of the wearer within the religious hierarchy. Many examples are adorned with six added squares, usually from a different fabric, that reinforced points of stress from wear but have assumed symbolic value as well. Attached rings, loops, and cords helped hold the garments in place when worn.
Although there are earlier examples, particularly in Japanese temple collections, most surviving kesa date from the Edo period (1615–1868) and the Meiji period (1868–1912). The fabrics used during these periods are often highly patterned and made of sumptuous materials, in aristocratic defiance of the garments’ humble beginnings. Some of the fabrics are reused garments—Noh theatrical robes, kimonos, even Chinese robes—donated to temples by wealthy devotees. This selection of 23 kesa shows both the range and exquisite intricacy of this beautiful and historically rich garment.
16 hours 39 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago COMING SOON—Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–75
The short-lived Tokyo magazine Provoke is now recognized as a major achievement in world photography of the last 50 years. A major international traveling show, which has Chicago as its only North American venue, this exhibition is the first survey of postwar Japanese art to be organized at the Art Institute and draws heavily on the the museum’s collection—more than 60% of the over 200 items on display belong to the Art Institute.
OPENING JANUARY 28—http://bit.ly/2jMlnUx
19 hours 51 min ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW ON VIEW—The Italian–born American artist Josef Stella revisited his native Italy in 1922, where he became fascinated by Renaissance painting. Drawing inspiration from Sandro Botticelli, Stella began to produce decorative, detailed, symbolic compositions, such as A Vision (seen here). Stella was enthralled by the tropical plants he observed at the Bronx Botanical Garden in New York, and he imagined an iconic woman growing out of the earth like the towering flowers on either side of her.
The French–born American artist Gaston Lachaise found his own iconic inspiration for the sculpture, Woman (Elevation), in Isabel Dutaud Nagle, whom he later married, telling her, “I want to create a miracle with it… as great as you.” This sculpture represents Lachaise’s first full-scale expression of the idealized female form that would come to dominate his art. Modernists like Lachaise believed preclassical art possessed a primitive vitality absent from later art forms.
See Josef Stella’s A Vision (1925/26) and Gaston Lachaise’s Woman (Elevation) (1912–15; cast 1927)—on view in Gallery 271.
1 day 16 hours ago The Art Institute of Chicago NOW OPEN—Rodney McMillian: a great society
Our latest exhibition in the Modern Wing represents the last decade of the artist’s work in video. Grappling with the complexities of class, race, and place in America, Rodney McMillian employs elements of performance, public speaking, oral history—and his interest in the science fiction genre—to expose the social and psychological consequences of economic inequality, endemic racism, and the failed promise of freedom and prosperity for all of its citizens. While McMillian's work engages the often stark realities of history and contemporary culture, it is motivated by the potential for alternative realities and future transformation.
See Rodney McMillian: a great society on view in the Modern Wing through March 26.