Beyond Golden Clouds: Japanese Screens from the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum
June 26–September 27, 2009
Regenstein Hall

The Japanese screen, the decorated surface par excellence, reveals the essence of Japan itself more than any other painted format. The word “screen” in English is often used as equivalent to the term byobu in Japanese, which designates a freestanding multipaneled partition. The name byobu, already in use in the eighth century, is made up of two characters that describe its most fundamental purpose—“to block” and “wind.”

Perhaps because of the screen’s standard height—approximately that of an average person—or its long horizontal expanse, its presence commands attention when set up in a room or gallery. At its most basic, the folding screen is a beautiful temporary wall that allows large rooms to be divided according to how the space is to be used. But as this exhibition demonstrates, a multiplicity of other functions come to bear on the reception of Japanese screens at different points in history and around the globe.

Highlights of the exhibition include a pair of screens depicting a bustling ink landscape by the 16th-century artist Sesson Shukei, the earliest work in the show. Willow Bridge and Waterwheel by Hasegawa Soya is a tour de force of the art of the folding screen produced during the format’s heyday in the 17th century. Kishi Ganku’s Bamboo of 1829 was likely set up around the perimeter of a room so that would-be literati would feel as if they were dwelling in an idyllic bamboo grove. Morita Shiryu’s 1969 screen Dragon Knows Dragon makes use of nontraditional materials; it is a calligraphic work wherein the characters appear in gold on a black surface that shines with the finish of lacquer.


In conjunction with the Yale University Press, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Saint Louis Art Museum have jointly published an accompanying exhibition catalogue—fully illustrated in color—that includes separate entries on each of the works, as well as essays by the organizing curators and other scholars on a range of topics related to the history and development of Japanese screens. The catalogue is available in the Museum Shop in both softcover and hardcover.


Beyond Golden Clouds was organized and curated by Janice Katz, Roger L. Weston Associate Curator of Japanese Art, Department of Asian and Ancient Art at the Art Institute of Chicago.


Support for this exhibition was generously provided in part by the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation. Major funding for this exhibition is generously provided by Roger and Pamela Weston. Performance programs and lectures are provided by the Japan Foundation, New York.

Special Thanks

Special thanks to Miki Hanafusa for providing the Japanese translation of the object labels on this Web site.

Maize and Cockscombs (detail), mid 17th century. Kate S. Buckingham Endowment.