A Super Bowl Art Wager: Denver Wins


Tsuji Kakō Sound of Waves, Six-paneled screen, one of a pair Ink and color on gilded paper. 65-1/2 in. x 12 ft. Gift of Henry and Mary Ann James

Art museums in the two Super Bowl cities have agreed to a friendly bet: the main art museum in the losing city will loan the museum in the winning city a work of art. The Denver Museum has promised a not very interesting sculpture by the famed American practitioner of cowboy kitsch, Frederic Remington. The Seattle Art Museum, after first promising then retracting a work of Native American art (Native Americans requested the Nuxalk tribal bird mask not be made a Super Bowl wager), have promised an image of an eagle by the Japanese artist Tsuji Kako. But here’s the odd thing: Using the Seattle Museum’s online search tool, I can’t find anything pertinent to the Kako work, titled “Sound of Waves.”

A little research digs up the basics about Kako: He worked late in the Meiji era, was respected as an artist with a particularly individual style, a dynamic use of color and an interest in depicting waves. That’s easily seen in the almost electric spray of water under the eagle’s right wing and beak. An online biography mentions this seemingly odd detail: “In 1921 he organized a personal exhibition…at the Mitsukoshi Department store in Osaka.” To contemporary ears, that may sound rather damning (a department store, not a gallery?), but in Japan, at the time, department stores played an important role in exhibiting and promulgating culture. The best of them were elegant and respectable venues.

While it’s hard to find online, it does exist (though no image) in a catalog link the museum sent. And they passed on this description of the work:

 “Sound of Waves” represents a heroic subject: a magnificent eagle perched on a rugged rock at the seashore.  The bird faces the ocean as if ready to lift off into the air after a prey with his wings spread wide open.  The sense of power inherent in the subject is enhanced not only by the monumentality of the image and the striking combination of ink and gold but also by the artist’s display of dazzling technique.  Ink brushwork on the slick surface of gold-leafed background demands a flawless execution.  Kako’s mastery of this technique is demonstrated in the beautifully drawn eagle.  Equally impressive is his bold lineless technique in the portrayal of waves.  With a skillful manipulation of a wide brush laden with blue pigment, he represents the swelling waves and the dynamic movement of water.  The exuberant splash of white (gofun) that depicts the spray of waves further reinforces the virile theme. Kako painted this pair of screens during the New Year’s holiday in 1901.

 

It sounds to me like Denver will get the better deal, artistically, if they win the game. The loan, no matter who wins, will last for three months, with shipping and other expenses paid by the losing city.

 

 

 

Philip Kennicott is the Pulitzer Prize-winning Art and Architecture Critic of The Washington Post. He has been on staff at the Post since 1999, first as Classical Music Critic, then as Culture Critic.
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Philip Kennicott | January 31