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Miracles and Mischief

Omi-onna Mask • Momoyama period,  • 16th century  • Pigments on Japanese • cypress wood  • 8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.  • (20.9 x 13.3 cm)  • Tokyo National Museum • Photo courtesty of Los Angeles County Museum of Art  •  • 
Omi-onna Mask
Momoyama period,
16th century
Pigments on Japanese
cypress wood
8 1/4 x 5 1/4 in.
(20.9 x 13.3 cm)
Tokyo National Museum
Photo courtesty of Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Miracles and Mischief: Noh and Kyogen Theater in Japan
LOS ANGELES  •  Los Angeles County Museum of Art  •  Ongoing
Known for more than 600 years as Japan's most influential forms of theater, noh and Kyogen evolved out of street entertainment, seasonal agricultural festivals, and religious rituals. Dating from the 14th through the 20th centuries, the art objects in the exhibition are gathered from the most important museum, shrine, temple, theater, and daimyo family collections in Japan, many of which have been designated as Important Cultural Properties by the Japanese government.

Noh drama is a performance art devoted in large part to the inner lives of ghosts. Miracles and mysteries surround the origins of noh, with uncanny tales of the supernatural powers of distant ancestors, romantic claims of aristocratic lineage, martial tragedy, and hints of espionage. Noh productions generally consist of four main characters, a chorus of eight voices, and an instrumental ensemble of three or four musicians.

Kyogen, a form of comic drama shares its origins with noh in the various entertainments of the 11th and 12th centuries, and has been performed since the fourteenth century with the noh on a noh stage. While much of noh is about transcendence of the ordinary, Kyogen theater deals with everyday life. The masks, costumes, props and even the very bodies of actors that are treated so reverently in the noh become instead the objects of irreverent play: young maidens get into neck-pulling contests with warriors, horses buck their masters to the ground, crabs pinch the ears of unsuspecting priests, and monkeys dance and chatter.

In contrast with the masked noh drama, where music and dance form the basis of the performance, Kyogen is primarily a theater of speech and mime. Masks are not frequently worn; another reason why Kyogen is considered a "realistic" theater form. When masks are used, they are as likely to function as stage props than as costumes and are rendered realistically in order to remind the Kyogen audience of people they might actually know.

Miracles and Mischief: Noh and Kyogen Theater in Japan showcases more than 100 costumes that represent the variety of forms used in noh and Kyogen repertories. Costumes are classified according to tailoring, weave structure, design patterns, and use. Three main groups differentiated by tailoring and use are: osode—outer garments with broad sleeves with large wrist openings; kosode—kimono-style robes with narrower sleeves and small wrist openings; and hakama—pleated or bifurcated skirts. The light-sensitivity of the art objects requires that they will be presented in two installations, with the second presentation going on view December 19 (the galleries will be closed to the public December 16, 17, and 18 for the rotation). Each installation presents a full overview of the development of noh and Kyogen.

The show includes over 30 masks dating from the 14th through 19th centuries. The masks represent those worn for male and female roles, including the Jo (Old man) Mask (Nanbokucho period, 1369), an Important Cultural Property on loan from Nagataki Hakusan Shrine, and the Omi-onna Mask (Momoyama period, mid-to-late 16th century) from the Tokyo National Museum. Mask-making tools are also on display.

Los Angeles County Museum of Art Web Site

Contact: Tel: (1) 323 857 60 00

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