Unfolding Worlds: Japanese Screens from the Gitter-Yelen Collection

The exhibition Unfolding Worlds: Japanese Screens from the Gitter-Yelen Collection, opened at the Israel Museum on June 7, displays masterpieces by some of the most influential and leading Japanese artists from the seventeenth century through the early twentieth century.

Unfolding Worlds presents 15 large-scale, exquisitely-painted screens from the Gitter-Yelen Collection, amassed over a period of 30 years. This marks the first time the collection is being exhibited in Israel, and includes five screens on display for the first time anywhere.

One of the most distinctive forms of Japanese art, this selection of outstanding folding screens exemplifies the most brilliant artistic achievements of the Edo period (1615-1868) and contains beautifully designed pictorial compositions that reflect the social and cultural ideals of their time. Prevalent Japanese themes such as nature, urban life, and mythic or classic literary narratives unfold on each screen, telling a story and bringing to life both the world depicted by the screen and the world in which it was created.

This exhibition displays monumental screens commissioned during the Edo period by nobles of the Imperial court and feudal warlords for their castles and mansions, and by wealthy lower-class merchants for their urban homes. The screens are constructed of a thin wooden frame, encased by layers of paper. This paper surface is then painted with natural pigments derived from minerals such as malachite, pearl, and iron oxide. Gold leaf and silver were also used for their opulence as well as their reflecting qualities, which illuminated the screens displayed in unlit and darkened castles.

“This is the first display in Israel of the history of Japanese screen painting, and a first display here from the Gitter-Yelen Collection one of America’s most comprehensive private holdings of Japanese Art,” said James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director. “With a focus on framed light in Japanese art, this exhibition fits as a companion exhibition to James Turrell’s Light Spaces, which also opens on June 7.”

Unfolding Worlds Japanese Screens from the Gitter-Yelen Collection, is curated by Miriam Malachi, Associate Curator, Marcel Lorber Department of Asian Art. The exhibition is made possible by the donors to the Museum’s 2014 Exhibition Fund: Claudia Davidoff, Cambridge, MA, in memory of Ruth and Leon Davidoff, Hanno D. Mott, New York, The Nash Family Foundation, New York, and Yad Hanadiv, the Rothschild Foundation in Israel.

The Gitter-Yelen Foundation

The Gitter-Yelen Foundation, a private nonprofit foundation, was established in 1997 by Dr. Kurt A. Gitter and Alice Rae Yelen. Its mission is to educate and encourage interest and scholarship in the fields of Japanese art and self-taught American art through direct viewing, exhibitions, digital media, publications, lectures, and symposia. The Gitter-Yelen Art Study Center, an initiative of the Gitter-Yelen Foundation, is dedicated to the research and study of Japanese art and American Self-Taught art. Conceived as an institution where interested visitors, students, and scholars can learn about these art forms in an inviting atmosphere.

The Israel Museum, Jerusalem

The Israel Museum is the largest cultural institution in the State of Israel and is ranked among the leading art and archaeology museums in the world. Founded in 1965, the Museum houses encyclopedic collections ranging from prehistory through contemporary art and includes the most extensive holdings of Biblical and Holy Land archaeology in the world, among them the Dead Sea Scrolls. In just under 50 years, the Museum has built a far-ranging collection of nearly 500,000 objects through an unparalleled legacy of gifts and support from its circle of patrons worldwide. In 2010, the Museum completed a comprehensive renewal of its campus led by James Carpenter Design Associates, New York, and Efrat-Kowalsky Architects, Tel Aviv, including the creation of new galleries, orientation facilities, and public spaces, and the complete reinstallation of its encyclopedic collections. The Museum also organizes and presents programming at its off-site locations in Jerusalem at the Rockefeller Archaeological Museum, where it presents archaeological artifacts from the Land of Israel; and at its historic Ticho House in downtown Jerusalem, a venue for exhibitions of contemporary Israeli art.

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