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November 4th, 2008
Museum Exhibition of McBrien Collection Surveys and Celebrates 20th Century Japanese Craft

PRESS PREVIEW: Friday, December 5 from 10 am to noon

The Philadelphia Museum of Art will present a survey exhibition of Japanese crafts – including ceramics, lacquerware, metalwork, and wood - in all their rich diversity of media and techniques spanning the 20th century. In The Art of Japanese Craft: 1875 to the Present (December 6, 2008 - Fall 2009), the works reflect many key moments of artistic activity, from the period of Japan’s first forays onto the international stage of world’s fairs to the dynamic creativity of the 1920s and 1930s, to the heady post-World War II period when the craft arts were redefined, to the present. This comprehensive overview is among the first of its kind, and presents a group of 70 gifts and promised gifts to the Museum from a single donor, Mr. Frederick R. McBrien III – a collection that will establish Philadelphia as one of the premier places for the study and enjoyment of the stunning craftsmanship of Japan’s modern and contemporary artists. Almost all of the works in the exhibition will be on public view for the first time outside of Japan. Approximately 35 works will be on view at any one time, so there will be a rotation of works in spring. The exhibition includes several less-explored areas such as metal crafts of the prewar period. It will be on view in the Museum’s East Asian Art Galleries 241, 242, and 243.

“The Museum is fortunate to have such an insightful and generous benefactor as Frederick R. McBrien, whose goal in collecting has been to help us fill the 20th century gap in our holdings of Japanese craft art,” Felice Fischer, The Luther W. Brady Curator of Japanese Art and Curator of East Asian Art, said. “While Japanese crafts of the Meiji period have been well represented with pieces shown at the 1876 Centennial Exhibition, the first half of the 20th century was not. It was a period when Japanese artists in every field were trying to define their own aesthetic and cultural identity on an increasingly global stage. The varying solutions artists found result in the wonderful range of motifs, styles and techniques that appear in these 70 works.”

Japan is one of the few cultures that fully appreciated and fostered its craft art traditions in the 20th century, It instituted a system of national competitive exhibitions, commissioning and purchasing crafts through the Imperial Household Agency, and supporting artists as “holders of important intangible cultural property.” The exhibition features work by six artists who have been awarded this designation, and are popularly referred to as “living national treasures.”

The exhibition will be divided into themed sections such as animal, floral, and geometric motifs, and spans more than 120 years. Among the many remarkable objects that will be on view are a superbly crafted lacquer box made around 1875, examples of Art Deco-influenced metalwork, and an abstract contemporary celadon vase.

About Frederick R. McBrien III

A native of San Marino County, California, Frederick McBrien III had his first experience with Japanese culture when strolling through the Zen garden at the Huntington Library in Pasadena. Mr. McBrien studied French language and culture as a young man at school and at the Alliance Française in Paris, and discovered that his taste for fine Japanese art and crafts was one he shared with French artists of Art Nouveau and Art Deco. He spent summers in Reading, Pennsylvania, with visits to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and developed friendships with Philadelphia artists such as Warren Rohrer and Edna Andrade. His first acquisition was the stunning early 20th-century Vase with Design of Ivy, purchased in 1996. The range of interests and the excellence of craftsmanship represented by the works gathered in this exhibition reflect the background and taste of Mr. McBrien's collecting.


A fully illustrated catalogue (60 pp. with nearly 150 color images), published by the Philadelphia Museum of Art in association with Yale University Press, will accompany the exhibition. An introductory essay by Dr. Fischer will discuss the artists and ideas that shaped and defined the aesthetic of crafts in 20th-century Japan. Illustrated entries will explore distinctive qualities of 25 of the objects. A comprehensive checklist will include color illustrations of objects not reproduced elsewhere in the publication. The book also will include a section on artists’ biographies and reproductions of their marks. It will be available for purchase ($19.95) in the Museum Store, or by calling 800-329-4856 or online at

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