Elites in East Asia have communicated spiritual freedom through the "armchair reclusion" expressed in poetry and painting. Korean and Japanese artists were inspired by the "international code" in Chinese poems to represent their inner utopia and liberation from a mundane life. They interpreted—rather than copied—the Chinese prototype, using their own sophisticated tastes. As a result, Korean and Japanese art sometimes appears fresher and offers a greater emotional appeal than the original Chinese painting of the same period.
This exhibition, the first in-depth comparison of the achievements of Korea and Japan from the late 14th century, consists of some 100 examples from the CMA's permanent collection—many that have never been shown since the 1990s. The show features every art form, including painting, calligraphy, and craft, that transformed Chinese lyrical aesthetics in the Korean Joseon period and in the Japanese Muromachi, Momoyama, and Edo periods.
This presentation highlights Korean and Japanese artistic efforts to fuse the genres of art and poetry in works as diverse as landscape painting, figure painting, and calligraphy. With strokes of genius, artists in the early Joseon period and Muromachi period explored themes such as the Chinese Xiao Xiang River, producing a rich array of artwork—from hanging scrolls and powerful screens that provoke the imagination to intriguing images of the natural world—all without traveling to China.
Figure paintings of the recluse show an inner heart protected from the "dusty world" of politics. Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove, Four Elders of Mt. Shang, and The Eight Immortals of the Wine Cup also epitomize the refined way of life idealized by the scholarly class in Korea and Japan.
In addition, Korean and Japanese artists expanded the genres with their own poems in their own style of calligraphy. Korean scholars expressed Confucian values in calligraphic poems written in albums and on screens. The Japanese often wrote long handscrolls on decorative paper printed with gold and silver patterns.
With the popularity of classical poetry under intellectual patronage, seemingly mundane objects such as porcelain vases, bronze mirrors, and lacquer wares emerged as a decorative art inspired by poetry. They indicate the pursuit of reclusion in Korea and Japan through motifs such as the chrysanthemum.
Also included in the exhibition is a collage by a contemporary Korean artist as well as works from Japanese artists who offer a modern interpretation of this tradition to merge poetry with the visual arts.
The Cleveland Museum of Art is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture. The Ohio Arts Council helped fund this exhibition with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence, and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans.