3 October 2014 until 18 January 2015
Pictures on Movable Walls
Folding Screens from Japan and the West

With twelve Japanese and Western folding screens from the 17th to 20th centuries, an exhibition in the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) is showing how the significance attributed to the folding screen, which is not just a piece of furniture, but also a medium for pictorial representation, changed over time. The folding screen, which originates in China, took on a very individual form and significance in Japan. The traditional Japanese house has only very few solid walls and items of furniture. One sits on tatami, rush mats stuffed with rice straw. Painted folding screens, byōbu, and sliding doors, fusuma, serve as flexible room dividers and partitions to protect privacy. The literal meaning of byōbu is “wall against the wind”. The earliest still preserved folding screen, which is in the Imperial Treasury Shōsō-in in Nara, dates from the 8th century. Over the following 300 years, the only evidence of folding screens, widely used both in Buddhism and in a secular context, is provided by painted picture scrolls. In the fortress palaces of the noble warrior castle they are a symbol for the power and wealth of their owners. In the dwellings of the abbots of the Zen temples they provided a contemplative and poetic focus and a backdrop worthy of the attention of the venerable occupant of the room.  The wealthy middle class surrounded themselves with folding screens decorated with motifs illustrating urban life and its festivities and amusements. The invention of paper hinges in the early 14th century marked an artistic turning point. The individual panels now present a single integrated image. The introduction of screens positioned in pairs as well as the innovation of painting on gold foil produce impressive panoramas full of vividly depicted scenes of great subtlety. They follow a specific principle in their composition: an central expanse is flanked by outer panels on each side which close off the scenery. The scene is always to be “read” from right to left.  The artists of the Art Nouveau and Art Déco movements are inspired by the Japanese folding screens to create works of their own in the genre. The paravent becomes an exotic item of interior decoration. The lasting fascination with this genre is illustrated by works of Marc Chagall or Jim Dine.

Ill.: Tosa-Schule, Der Held Narihara und seine Begleiter bewundern den schneebedeckten Fuji-Berg, Japan, Edo-Zeit, um 1700, Malerei mit Tusche, Farben und Gold auf Papier, © Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg