National Museum of Asian Art Announces Its Newly Acquired Shirley Z. Johnson Collection of Contemporary Japanese Metalwork

Objects From This Unprecedented Gift Will Be on View in the Upcoming Exhibition “Striking Objects: Contemporary Japanese Metalwork”
February 26, 2024
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Close-up photograph of gold surface with bumpy texture and repeating pattern.

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 Copyright Ōnuma Chihiro.

The latest exhibition from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art, “Striking Objects: Contemporary Japanese Metalwork,” will display 17 contemporary Japanese metalworks alongside 18 metalworking tools that came to the museum as part of archival materials from the Shirley Z. Johnson Collection. “Striking Objects” will introduce audiences to how a basic metalworking technique—hammering—can achieve a variety of visual effects. The exhibition will be on view March 2 through early 2026 in the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery.

In 2022, the museum received the Shirley Z. Johnson Collection of contemporary Japanese metalwork, an acquisition of unprecedented scale at both the museum and in the West. The unparalleled collection includes exquisitely crafted objects like vases, containers and jars made of silver, copper, gold and other metals as well as archival materials such as hammers, chisels and specialized Japanese stakes called ategane.

“Striking Objects” forms part of a broad museum initiative on contemporary Japanese metalwork supported by the Shirley Z. Johnson Endowment, which funds the Shirley Z. Johnson Curator of Japanese Art, sponsors visiting Japanese metal artists, supports curatorial and conservation projects, research and curatorial fellowships, artist residencies, workshops, symposia and new acquisitions. The museum is the premier center for studying and appreciating contemporary Japanese metalwork outside of Japan.

“Since our very beginning, the National Museum of Asian Art has collaborated with colleagues in Japan and celebrated Japanese arts and cultures within our galleries,” said Chase F. Robinson, the museum’s director. “‘Striking Objects’ is a wonderful opportunity to showcase this tradition while delving deeper into metalwork, an important part of Japanese art. I am thankful to Shirley Johnson for her decades of dedicated service to the museum and the extraordinary legacy she has bestowed to the American people with her financial support of remarkable collection gift.”

“Striking Objects” includes works by two artists designated by the Japanese government as national treasures for hammering: Sekiya Shirō (1907–1994) and Ōsumi Yukie (b. 1945). Ōsumi is the first woman to hold this title for metalworking.

The exhibition reveals a network of student–teacher relationships stemming from Sekiya, who taught other artists such as Ōsumi, Ōnuma Chihiro (b. 1950) and Hagino Noriko (b. 1949). Although most of the artists featured in “Striking Objects” trained through an apprenticeship system, their works demonstrate how each individual distinguishes themselves with a personal style and show the range of finishes and surface effects one can achieve using specific tools.

The National Museum of Asian Art hosted two of the artists in this exhibition as artists-in-residence: Tanaka Terukazu in 2018 and Ōsumi in 2015. Each artist had a small display of their works during their respective residencies, all of which are now a part of the museum’s collection.

“‘Striking Objects’ features contemporary masterpieces that speak to the living tradition of Japanese metalworking,” said Sol Jung, the National Museum of Asian Art’s Shirley Z. Johnson Assistant Curator of Japanese Art. “I am excited to share how contemporary Japanese artists continue to innovate and expand upon the creative potential of hammered metalwork.”

In September 2021, Jung was appointed the inaugural Shirley Z. Johnson Assistant Curator of Japanese Art. She stewards the museum’s collection of pre-modern, modern and contemporary ceramics, lacquer ware and metalwork, which together number over 3,000 works.

Since the 1923 founding of the National Museum of Asian Art, its collection of Japanese art has grown to a total of 15,000 pieces that showcase Japan’s deep cultural history for American and international audiences.

About Shirley Z. Johnson

Johnson (1940–2021) was a scholarly collector, antitrust attorney, autism advocate and resident of Washington, D.C., for nearly 50 years who served on the board of the National Museum of Asian Art from 2004 to 2012 and from 2017 to 2021.

The National Museum of Asian Art is honored to be the primary beneficiary of Johnson’s philanthropy, which embraced many institutions and causes, including the Walters Art Museum and the George Washington University Textile Museum. Johnson’s extensive gifts to the National Museum of Asian Art include her archives on collecting and a significant collection of Ming- and Qing-dynasty textiles. She also bequeathed more than 60 outstanding artworks by contemporary Japanese artists who work in metal. A pioneering collector in this field, Johnson helped establish the global recognition it receives today.

After her retirement in 2009, Johnson passionately pursued her interests in Asian arts and supporting autism, including founding the innovative TRI Project for children in Iowa and serving on the Board of DC Peers, an organization providing social programs and activities for high schoolers and young adults with autism. Johnson was a recognized art collector and published author on Chinese textiles and Japanese metal art.

Credit

This exhibition is made possible by the Shirley Z. Johnson Endowment Fund.

Support for this exhibition and the museum’s Japanese art program is provided by Mitsubishi Corporation.

About the National Museum of Asian Art

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Asian Art is committed to preserving, exhibiting, researching and interpreting art in ways that deepen our collective understanding of Asia, the United States and the world. Home to more than 46,000 objects, the museum stewards one of North America’s largest and most comprehensive collections of Asian art, with works dating from antiquity to the present from China, Japan, Korea, South Asia, Southeast Asia and the Islamic world. Its rich holdings bring the arts of Asia into direct dialogue with an important collection of 19th- and early 20th-century art from the United States, providing an essential platform for creative collaboration and cultural exchange between the U.S., Asia and the Middle East.  

Beginning with a 1906 gift that paved the way for the museum’s opening in 1923, the National Museum of Asian Art is a leading resource for visitors, students and scholars in the United States and internationally. Its galleries, laboratories, archives and library are located on the National Mall in Washington, D.C., and are part of the world’s largest museum complex, which typically reports more than 27 million visits each year. The museum is free and open to the public 364 days a year (closed Dec. 25), making its exhibitions, programs, learning opportunities and digital initiatives accessible to global audiences.  

For more information, visit the museum’s website and follow updates on Instagram at @natasianart, Twitter at @NatAsianArt and Facebook at @NatAsianArt.

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SI-63-2024

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Jennifer Mitchell

202-251-4892
mitchellja@si.edu

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