Traverse City Record-Eagle

February 22, 2013

Japanese bamboo art at Dennos

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Japanese bamboo art has taken many shapes since the eighth and ninth centuries,but a handful of Japanese artists have been turning what is often tough grass into graceful works of art for six decades.

“Modern Twist: Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Art,” a new exhibit at the Dennos Museum Center, opens today and will run through June 2.

It includes the work of 17 Japanese artists who, since the 1950s, have experimented with the resilient plant often used to make ancient objects for Buddhist rituals, tea ceremonies and ikebana, a Japanese flower arranging art.

“The thing that is most important about this exhibit is to see the skill of what the artists do, turning large strips of bamboo into these incredibly delicate pieces,” said Gene Jenneman, Dennos executive director. “It’s a very handsome exhibit.”

Although bamboo is a prolific natural resource, it is a challenging artistic medium. There are fewer than 100 professional bamboo artists in Japan today. Mastering the art form requires decades of exacting practice while learning how to harvest, split, and plait the bamboo.

One of the pieces in the exhibit is part of the Dennos collection, donated in 2003 by artist Ueno Masao when the museum put together a large exhibit of Japanese kimonos, prints, basketry, contemporary works and other art, Jenneman said..

An added Dennos twist to the traveling exhibit is three performances today in Milliken Auditorium by Japanese storyteller Kuniko Yamamoto. About 700 to 800 students from schools scattered across northwest Lower Michigan are scheduled to attend morning performances. The third one starts at 8 p.m. following an opening reception for museum members, guests and ticket holders.

A native of Japan, Yamamoto uses traditional Japanese music, handcrafted masks, origami, mime, stylized movement and some magic to tell both ancient and modern myths and fables, spiced with social revelations to educate and amuse.

She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Otani University of Kyoto, Japan in 1983. She began performing professionally in her hometown of Osaka, where she grew up studying traditional dance, music and theater. She has received national exposure performing Japanese Storytelling at the Silk Road International Exposition and on Kansai National TV in 1985.

Yamamoto does not usually travel with the exhibit, curated by Andreas Marks, director and chief curator of the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture in Hanford, Calif.

“This was purely a marriage of our own,” Jenneman said. “Her work as an artist isn’t related to bamboo. It’s a broader look at Japanese culture.”

Tickets for the 8 p.m. show are $22 members, $25 in advance and $28 at the door (plus fees) and can be purchased on line at or by calling the box office at 995-1553. Performance ticket holders are invited to attend the 7 p.m. exhibition opening reception as well.

The Dennos Museum Center is open Monday to Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday until 8 p.m. and Sundays 1-5 p.m. Admission is $6 adults, $4 for children and free to museum members.