Striking Objects: Contemporary Japanese Metalwork

March 2, 2024 – early 2026
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Embossed gold jar (detail), Ōnuma Chihiro (b. 1950), Japan, Shōwa era, 1988, hammered copper with amalgam gilding (kinkeshi), National Museum of Asian Art, Smithsonian Institution, Bequest of Shirley Z. Johnson, S2022.8.37a–c © Ōnuma Chihiro

Arthur M. Sackler Gallery
1050 Independence Ave., SW
Washington, DC

B1, Gallery 22

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Metalworking is at once powerful and delicate. Immense labor and heat are required to extract pure metals from ore to form alloys that are then made into flat metal sheets. The technique of hammering introduces powerful blows to create a shape, yet it can also soften and refine metal through the gentle warmth of rhythmic strikes. Traditional Japanese metalworking evolved to produce functional items, such as vessels and tools. Hammering was primarily applied to create water containers for making tea, gongs for both religious and secular use, bells, swords, and armor. Over time, the development of alloys, patination methods, and the infusion of foreign decorative techniques, such as chasing and inlay, expanded the visual and aesthetic potential of hammered metalwork.

Contemporary Japanese metalworking breathes life into traditional methods that have been passed down and practiced over generations. The artists featured in Striking Objects create masterpieces that combine tradition with creativity and innovation. The exhibition highlights works from the collection of Shirley Z. Johnson (1940–2021), distinguished lawyer, philanthropist, and former board member of the National Museum of Asian Art. Her passion for contemporary Japanese metalwork and her visionary gift have made the National Museum of Asian Art home to the largest collection of such works in the United States.