The 5th Japan Suiseki Exhibition
by Tom Elias
The annual Japan Suiseki Exhibition held in the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in Ueno Park has become the premier display of excellent Suiseki. The 5th exhibition, staged from February 14-17, 2018, continued to maintain the high standards set by the Nippon Suiseki Association led by president Kunio Kobayashi and executive director Seiji Morimae. The association is composed primarily of viewing stone and bonsai dealers who support and encourage individual collectors to display their prized stones in this exhibition.
An emphasis is given to older high-quality stones of historical interest or to those once owned by well-known collectors. The displayed accessories are also of fine older examples of excellent craftsmanship. The stones are displayed in traditional ways that use suitable tables, trays, or scrolls in the case of the tokonoma displays. The majority of the stones are displayed without additional accessories except for a display table or tray. These simple understated displays place emphasis on the stone rather than a more decorative display using multiple accessories.
“Kienho” (top) and a large Kamuikotan stone (bottom) from Hokkaido.
The exhibition is held in four large rooms of the Citizen’s Gallery on the second floor of the art museum. Visitors entering the first room encounter the Special Entries—exceptional stones from private collections loaned for this exhibit. A large Kamo River landscape stone “Kienho” was the featured stone this year. It has been in the Tokugawa Yoshinobu family for since the Meiji period which began in 1868, 150 years ago. Six other stones completed the special entries section of the exhibition. The Suiseki Accessories, another major section also located in the first room, had eleven elegant display tables, suibans, and dobans made by some of the finest craftsmen in Japan and China.
The second and third rooms of the exhibit were devoted mainly to the tokonoma-like displays which featured a scroll with a stone. Some of the general entries—stones without accompanying scrolls—were included in the second, third, and fourth rooms. Dark colored horizontally oriented stones with subtle base or trays dominated the exhibition. Although, the white and light green piece of Japanese jade from the Itoigawa River added a bit of color to the exhibit, another colorful display was a black Saji River stone displayed in a bright yellow ceramic tray with a crackled texture.
Itoigawa River jade (top) and a Saji River stone (bottom).
In order to display a stone in this exhibition, people must be members of the Nippon Suiseki Association (NSA). The membership fee is 10,000 Yen (about $92) which includes a copy of the annual Meihen-ten catalog of the exhibition held in June at the Meiji Shrine in Tokyo. A judging panel is selected from the NSA board of directors to evaluate the perspective stones for the exhibition. That panel reviews the stones or photographs of the stones in October, three months prior to the actual exhibition. The judges determine if the stone is appropriate but they do not try to authenticate claims about previous owners or if scroll paintings are genuine or not. That is the responsibility of the person submitting a stone for the exhibition. A autumn judging date provides time for the stones to be photographed and a catalog of the exhibition to be published and available by the opening of the February exhibition. Participants in the exhibition pay a judging fee (5,000 Yen, about $46) and an exhibition fee (30,000 Yen for the general section and 100,000 Yen for a tokonoma display). Each person exhibiting a stone receives two copies of the exhibition catalog as no additional cost.
The setting of this exhibition—the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum—adds prestige and helps to elevate stone appreciation to an art form in Japan. This is an excellent exhibition Japanese Suiseki and novices as well as connoisseurs will benefit from attending one or more of these events. Fortunately for stone enthusiasts, the NSA has recently signed another five-year contract with the museum for future exhibition from 2019–2023.