Phillips after 5: Journey to Japan

Collage of photos from April 5 Phillips after 5

Photos: Sue Ahn

Phillips after 5 on April 5 took museum visitors on a Journey to Japan in celebration of Snapshot and the National Cherry Blossom Festival‘s 100th anniversary. Former Cherry Blossom Queens and Princesses donned traditional Japanese kimonos on loan from Arise Gallery, guests participated in Japanese language lessons with a teacher from the Japan-America Society, and Project Natale entertained with smooth jazz throughout the evening.

Tidal Basin at Cherry Blossom Time, circa 1922

The blossoming of the cherry trees was a rite of spring for Washingtonians in 1922 as it is today. Around that time, Marjorie Phillips captured in oil paint a scene of delicate blossoms floating above the Tidal Basin. 1922 would have been the 10th anniversary of the planting of the trees; this year is the 100th. While peak bloom hit very early this spring, the festival continues off the mall tonight with a Journey to Japan at Phillips after 5.

Painting by Marjorie Phillips of a woman in hat and jacket with young girl under blossoming cherry blossom trees at the Tidal Basin.

Marjorie Phillips, Tidal Basin at Cherry Blossom Time, c.1922. Oil on canvas board, 9 3/4 x 13 3/4 in The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Gift of the artist, 1984.

Dispatches: More from Japan

Visiting Sensoi Temple, Tokyo, Japan. Photo courtesy Renée Maurer

Less than a week ago, I had the great pleasure and responsibility to act as courier for a shipment of loans traveling to Tokyo, Japan, part of the exhibition To See As Artists See: American Art from The Phillips Collection at the National Art Center. With these works of art under my careful supervision, I began my journey, a trip of a lifetime, to a continent I had never visited. I was ready for the adventure. After seventeen hours (and a quick peek at Anchorage from the tarmac), I arrived at Narita airport.

Having the good fortune of a few days off before the start of the installation schedule, my first full day was spent in Tokyo, where I visited the impressive Sensoji Temple (pictured above), in Asakusa. The day continued with a boat ride to the Hama-rikyu Gardens, a nice respite from the intensity of the city, a walk through the high-end shopping district of Ginza, the gardens of the Imperial Palace, and the Shibuya neighborhood, where lanes of traffic merge from six different directions in the busiest intersection in Japan. The weekend continued with a trip to nearby Kamakura, where a massive 37 foot Buddha can be found seated against an immense blue sky and Nikko with its colorful, ornate temples and shrines tucked into the mountains.

Robert, Motherwell, Chi Ama, Crede, 1962. Oil on canvas, 82 x 141 in. The Phillips Collection, Washington, D.C. Purchased by The Phillips Collection through funds donated by Special Director's Discretionary Grant from The Judith Rothschild Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Gifford Phillips, The Chisholm Foundation, The Whitehead Foundation, Mr. and Mrs. Laughlin Phillips, Mr. and Mrs. Marc E. Leland, and the Honorable Ann Winkelman Brown and Donald A. Brown, 1998.

The next four days were spent working at the National Art Center, a magnificent facility that opened in early 2007. It boasts one of largest and most sophisticated exhibition spaces in Japan and is located in the trendy neighborhood of Roppongi. I worked with the friendly staff at the museum, conservators from the nearby Mori Arts Center, our sponsors from the Yomiuri Shimbun, as well as Phillips Chief Registrar Joe Holbach and Associate Curator for Research Sue Frank. Although the days were long, the work was very rewarding. We were a terrific team. Everyone was generous with their time and willing to take on work to make the exhibition look its best. It was a pleasure to experience the thrill of our colleagues at National Art Center as they saw our paintings uncrated. They were especially moved by our Hoppers, O’Keeffes, and Doves. It was also a wonderful surprise to see the Center’s huge galleries transform into intimate spaces with 110 of our American masterworks on display. Our Robert MotherwellChi Ama Crede (1962), looked tremendous on a wall of its own, where you could really appreciate its scale. At the end of the installation, everyone felt pleased with the results. In truth, our paintings have never looked better.

-Renée Maurer, Assistant Curator