NIU Art Museum explores ‘Noh Masks of Bidou Yamaguchi’

Bidou Yamaguchi. Zō-onna (Middle-Age Woman),1998. Japanese cypress, seashell, natural pigment, Japanese lacquer; (8.27x5.31x2.76 in.). Courtesy of Kelly Sutherlin McLeod and Steve McLeod Collection. © Bidou Yamaguchi.
Bidou Yamaguchi. Zō-onna (Middle-Age Woman), 1998. Japanese cypress, seashell, natural pigment, Japanese lacquer; (8.27×5.31×2.76 in.). Courtesy of Kelly Sutherlin McLeod and Steve McLeod Collection.M
© Bidou Yamaguchi.

The Northern Illinois University Art Museum will present “Traditions Transfigured: The Noh Masks of Bidou Yamaguchi,” a national traveling exhibition organized by the University Art Museum at California State University Long Beach.

Traditions Transfigured opens Tuesday, March 24, at the museum in Altgeld Hall and runs through Friday, May 22.

Artist Bidou Yamaguchi will be present to discuss his work during a public artist talk at 5 p.m. Tuesday, March 24, in Room 315 of Altgeld Hall prior to the exhibition’s reception from 6 to 8 p.m.

Celebrate the opening of the exhibition with live musical performance of traditional Japanese chamber music by members of the Chicago Koto Group playing shakuhachi (Japanese flute) and koto (Japanese zither) instruments.

The exhibition features sculptural works from master Noh mask carver and contemporary artist Yamaguchi.

As a purveyor of masks for the Hōshō School of Noh, Yamaguchi’s masterfully carved masks are used in the highly stylized and formalized musical dramas of Japanese Noh Theater. But Yamaguchi’s other work in the exhibition departs from traditional Noh masks and borrows recognizable historic portraits.

The subject matter of these masks are taken not from traditional Noh drama characters, but rather, iconic portraits from the European art historical canon and Kabuki actor portraits.

The masks transfigure popular historic female portraits in oil into the three-dimensional Noh mask medium. This combination creates an uncanny mix of the familiar with the freshness of Yamaguchi’s work. The inclusion of Kabuki actor portraits also contrasts the formal Noh Theater with the informal, comic Kabuki plays in Japan. Yamaguchi’s work is a product of a highly skilled, technical craftsman and contemporary artist.

Yamaguchi himself represents two worlds; simultaneously he is part of contemporary art training formally studying as an artist and designer in a modern art school and yet he is also a part of Japan’s historic apprentice system where he trained with a master in the highly formalized, traditional structure before attaining the rank of master himself. The dual nature of his training bridges both the historic Noh mask making practice and the artistic practice of contemporary art.

He was born Yamaguchi Hiroki in 1970 in Fukuoka, Japan, and attended the Kuwasawa Design School in Tokyo, where he studied sculpture and graphic design. After working in the graphic design industry in Japan, Yamaguchi decided to pursue artistic expression outside of this commercial context and, after a period of experimentation and self-taught Noh mask carving, Yamaguchi apprenticed with master carver Ogawa Gendou, who granted Yamaguchi master status and presented him with the art name Bidō (Bidou) in 1996.

Bidou Yamaguchi. Mona Lisa, 2007. Japanese cypress, seashell, natural pigment, Japanese lacquer; (8.27x5.31x2.76 in.). Courtesy of Kelly Sutherlin McLeod and Steve McLeod Collection. © Bidou Yamaguchi.
Bidou Yamaguchi. Mona Lisa, 2007. Japanese cypress, seashell, natural pigment, Japanese lacquer; (8.27×5.31×2.76 in.). Courtesy of Kelly Sutherlin McLeod and Steve McLeod Collection.
© Bidou Yamaguchi.

In 1998, Yamaguchi was granted purveyor status of masks to the Hōshō School of Noh signifying acceptance into the formalized world of traditional Noh Theater.

Yamaguchi’s success in the contemporary art world is evident as his works are in the permanent collections of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minnesota; the Museum of Nihon University, Tokyo; the Target Corporation’s collection, Minnesota; and Houshou School, Tokyo. His work has also been exhibited at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts and the Portland Art Museum; Yamaguchi has also lectured throughout the United States and Europe.

This national traveling exhibition was organized by the University Art Museum at California State University Long Beach in conjunction with Kendall H. Brown. Major support has been provided by the McLeod Family Foundation and a grant from Instructional Related Activities at CSULB.

The exhibition installation at the NIU Art Museum was made possible through generous support from Patricia Anne Burke, the PLB Honor Fund and Richard F. Grott. Lead funding was also provided by The Elizabeth Allen Visiting Scholars in Art History Fund and the Art History Division at NIU. Additional support has come from the Illinois Arts Council Agency; the Dean’s Circle of the College of Visual and Performing Arts; and the Friends of the NIU Art Museum.

Associated Events and Programs

Public Artist Talk by Bidou Yamaguchi
Tuesday, March 24, 5 to 6 p.m., Altgeld Hall 315

Opening Reception
Tuesday, March 24, 6 to 8 p.m., Art Museum
Live musical performance by members of the Chicago Koto Group playing traditional Japanese chamber music on shakuhachi (Japanese flute) and koto (Japanese zither).

Tōshūsai Sharaku. Ōtani Oniji III as the Retainer Edobei (Sansei Ōtani Oniji no yakko Edobei), 1794. Ink and pigment on paper, reprinted by Adachi, 1940. (15.38x10.25 in.). Courtesy of Pacific Asia Museum. Gift of Peter Ries.
Tōshūsai Sharaku. Ōtani Oniji III as the Retainer Edobei (Sansei Ōtani Oniji no yakko Edobei), 1794. Ink and pigment on paper, reprinted by Adachi, 1940. (15.38×10.25 in.). Courtesy of Pacific Asia Museum. Gift of Peter Ries.

Friday, April 17
Japanese Prints of the Art Institute of Chicago
followed by shopping trip to Mitsuwa Marketplace in Arlington Heights
This Get-on-the-Bus trip offers private viewing of highlights from the Japanese print collections at the Art Institute of Chicago with Janice Katz, the Roger L. Weston associate curator of Japanese art. Opportunity to discover more about Japanese culture with a shopping excursion to the extensive Japanese Mitsuwa Market. Bus departs NIU School of Art parking lot at 8:30 a.m. with return arrival at 6:45 p.m. Transportation fees are $12 for NIU Art Museum members, $15 for students and senior non-members and $18 for others. Museum admission, meals and incidentals are on your own. AIC members have free admission; general admission is $23 for adults and $17 for students and seniors. Limited to 20 participants. Pre-registration and payment deadline is Wednesday, April 1.

Slide Lecture “The Afterlife of Appropriation”
Wednesday, April 22, 5 to 6 p.m., Altgeld 315
“The Afterlife of Appropriation” a slide lecture presented by Sarah Evans, assistant professor of art history at NIU, who examines art of the 1970s and its contributions to postmodernism, will discuss appropriation art which reuses and references borrowed images.

Make Your Own Mask
Saturday, April 25, 1 to 4 p.m., Art Museum
Mask-making workshop for 2015 Artigras! with gallery component followed by hands-on activity led by Eric Fuertes of Barb City Initiative. Age 13 and older. Limited participants and pre-registration required. For registration details, call (815) 753-1936.

Film Screening and Discussion of Akira Kurasawa’s 1957 classic, “Throne of Blood”
Thursday, April 30, 7 to 10 p.m., Egyptian Theatre, 135 N. Second St., DeKalb
Film screening and discussion with NIU history and language professors E. Taylor Atkins and John R. Bentley moderating this Japanese re-interpretation of Macbeth. Tickets are $7 for adults and $5 for students, seniors and NIU Art Museum members. Doors open at 6:30 p.m.

Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford
Saturday, May 30
Get-On-The-Bus Trip with Teppanyaki lunch at a Japanese restaurant followed by afternoon at the glorious Anderson Japanese Gardens in Rockford, ranked among the highest quality and most authentic Japanese gardens in North America. Bus departs NIU School of Art parking lot at 10 a.m.; return arrival at 6 p.m. Transportation and garden admission included: NIU Art Museum members are $20; students and senior non-members are $22; others are $25. Lunch costs and incidentals are your own. Note: Garden paths are uneven. Registration and payment deadline is Thursday, May 21.

NIU Art Museum logoLocated on the west-end first floor of Altgeld Hall, the galleries are open to the public from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, noon to 4 p.m. Saturday and by appointment for group tours.

Exhibitions and lectures are free; donations are appreciated.

Pay parking is available in the visitor’s lot on Carroll Avenue and at metered spots in front of Altgeld Hall. Free parking is available Saturdays and during receptions and visiting artist lectures in the lot northeast of Gilbert and College Drives.

For more information, call (815) 753-1936.

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