The Museum of Design Atlanta’s newest exhibition, The Art of Ichiyo Ikebana, brings an ancient personal art form into a formal modern setting. The work of Akihiro Kasuya, who has served as headmaster of Atlanta’s Ichiyo School of Ikebana since 1983, explores the spiritual art of flower arranging as a site-specific installation, broadening the genre’s effect and relationship to its viewers. While ikebana is a practice still immersed in centuries of tradition, Kasuya’s Ichiyo School seeks to update the form and stress the arranger’s ability to express emotions or ideas. The difference is subtle but lends itself perfectly to a contemporary art environment.
The exhibit spans two different galleries. Kasuya fills one entire space with a number of massive arrangements that he, his son, and his students were actively creating throughout the opening reception on Sunday. An adjacent gallery features work by the Atlanta chapter of the Ichiyo School that explores a shared theme of water. The students’ works are primarily displayed on pedestals and, due to their smaller scale in relation to Kasuya’s works, many seem ready to take home and display on a dining table rather than be interpreted as site-specific installations.
Kasuya and his son Naohiro traveled from their hometown of Tokyo to Atlanta four days prior to the exhibit to begin collecting materials for their installations. I was impressed by the amount and quality of the flora, but Naohiro assured me that all of their materials were collected from local flower shops around Atlanta. Although many of the materials selected seemed outside the realm of local plants, Kasuya and his students do an excellent job of harmonizing their supplies with the surroundings. The clash of verdure is not at all distracting.
While classical ikebana is often practiced in complete silence, the buzzing opening was anything but quiet or still. Visitors could hear the slightest pings of what may have been traditional music, barely audible over the festive chatting and sounds of tinking drink glasses. Kasuya’s larger-than-life arrangements are overwhelming with their vast variety of vegetation, awe-inspiring bamboo, and cleverly constructed containers. The array of textures and fragrances proved to be perhaps too tempting to some viewers, as I noted several who reached out to touch the arrangements, more than once to detrimental effects.
Since the smaller arrangements each demand at least a moment of the viewer’s time, managing traffic flow between so many displayed in one gallery causes some difficulty. Ikebana is known for its minimalist qualities; the crowded space was somewhat distracting. The jovial atmosphere and busy vibe, however, also enhanced Kasuya’s intention of bringing modernity to tradition.
Due to the ephemeral nature of such a display, Ichiyo students will create new arrangements for each week of the three-week exhibition run. The dynamism of this exhibit is sure to provide Atlanta’s gallery addicts welcome opportunity to consider an aged practice anew.
The Art of Ichiyo Ikebana will be on display at the Museum of Design Atlanta through September 18.
Instructors from the Ichiyo School will host introductory workshops Tuesday, September 7, through Saturday, September 11. The workshops will meet mornings, from 10AM-12Noon, and afternoons, from 1:30-3:30PM.