Simon Starling: At Twilight (After W. B. Yeats’ Noh Reincarnation)
Friday, October 14, 2016 through Sunday, January 15, 2017
Japan Society – 333 E. 47th Street (between First and Second Avenues)
Admission: $12/$10 students and seniors/Free Japan Society members and children under 16 (Admission is free to all on Friday nights, 6:00 p.m. until 9:00 p.m.)
Japan Society Gallery hosts the solo institutional debut in New York City of Turner Prize-winning artist Simon Starling with his major new installation, Simon Starling: At Twilight (After W. B. Yeats’ Noh Reincarnation). The ambitious, new multimedia production by Starling incorporates major Western Modernist as well as classical Japanese artworks, juxtaposing Japan’s traditional, centuries-old and highly ritualized masked, dramatic theater (noh) and its influence on the avant-garde this century.
“It’s very special that Japan Society can present Simon’s latest project, given his longstanding commitment to understanding global cultures, including Japan,” says Yukie Kamiya, who is making her Japan Society Gallery curatorial debut, following her appointment as Gallery Director in November 2015. “It’s also an honor for me to work with Simon again, after collaborating at the 2014 Yokohama Triennial and the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art in 2010. Simon is a visionary for how his artworks transcend time and place – and challenge us as the viewer to engage with the politics of our time.”
In conceptualizing At Twilight, Starling looked back to the early 20th century and W.B. Yeats’s dance play At the Hawk’s Well for inspiration. Yeats, who never traveled to Japan but was greatly inspired by Japanese noh, wrote the play alongside American poet Ezra Pound, who was an early translator of noh plays into English. First staged in 1916 in London, At the Hawk’s Well helped spark interest in noh and Japanese culture among Western audiences. At Twilight commemorates the centennial of the original performance and weaves together Starling’s research of classical and Modernist artworks with his own contemporary pieces to explore the impact of traditional Japanese art on the 20th century Western avant-garde.
At Twilight reimagines Japan Society’s galleries as an immersive theatrical environment for visitors, including a “forest” of new masks and costumes by Starling (in collaboration with master mask makers Yasuo Michii and Kumi Sakurai); a video reenactment of the climactic Hawk’s Dance from Yeats’s play (choreographed by Javier de Frutos and Scottish Ballet); and archival materials that Starling used as research displayed alongside masterpieces of early 20th century Modernism.
The installation brings to life the surprising personal and professional interconnections that Starling discovered through his research. Key figures who collaborated with Yeats on the 1916 production are represented as noh masks, including Pound, Nancy Cunard, Michio Ito (the Japanese dancer who played the Hawk in the original 1916 performance), and Yeats himself. By incorporating these notables through newly crafted noh masks, modeled after artworks by Constantin Brancusi, Jacob Epstein, and Isamu Noguchi, Starling reveals the multiple sources of inspiration in the arts around WWI. One of the exhibition’s highlights is a mask representing Cunard, based on a 1928 abstract sculpted portrait of her by Brancusi.
Simon Starling: At Twilight includes important loans from The Museum of Modern Art, The Noguchi Museum, the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College, and the Estate of Constantin Brancusi. At Twilight is organized by Japan Society in collaboration with The Common Guild, Glasgow, Scotland.
Kicking off the exhibition is an opening night lecture in which Starling discusses the inspiration he drew from Irish playwright W. B. Yeats’s culturally hybrid dance play At the Hawk’s Well and the early 20th-century artistic collaborations that helped bring that work to life in the shadow of World War I. The lecture will be followed by an exclusive cocktail reception with the artist.
For more information and to purchase tickets to the opening night lecture, please visit Japan Society’s website.