If you're one of those who scarfs down your raw seafood without learning much more about Japanese culture than how to hold a pair of chopsticks, "Japanese Painting From the Collection of Mrs. Marilyn Alsdorf"
will give you a better understanding of the culture and its history. Boasting a selection of work from notable painters from the 11th through the 19th centuries, the exhibit of 30 works covers a variety of subjects. The earliest are religious. You'll learn about Buddhism from early, simple iconic sketches (but since the ink is applied with a brush, it's still technically a painting) like Seated Bodhisattva
and Amida Raigo Depicting the Descent of the Buddha Amida Nyorai,
a finely detailed work that lives up to its complicated name. Later works focus on nature landscapes and animals. Delicate calligraphy paintings by Hon'anu Koetsu allow language and image to artfully coexist in small squares. There are even some good examples of works that make social commentary, such as those by Hakuin Ekaku, a Zen priest who perfected a deceptively simple style as a vehicle for his criticism. There are also works that explore the existential, such as Skull and Calligraphy,
a meditation on life and death. Most works are fairly small but "framed" in fabric as hanging scrolls, which are works of art themselves. Also on display is "World Heritage Sites of Wakayama Prefecture: Pictures of Koya-san and Kumano,"
pictures of Florida's "sister state" in Japan. The exhibit includes large glossy images of Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines, religious festivals, social rituals, and the area's terrain. Just think what a wonderful conversationalist you'll be at your next sushi-serving soiree. (Through December 31 at Morikami Museum, 4000 Morikami Park Rd., Delray Beach. Call 561-495-0233.)
Now on Display
Nothing like kicking the bucket to make others appreciate a person and this is doubly true for artists. In May, the death of the Dutch abstract expressionist who helped found an art movement known as CoBrA (an acronym for the initial letters of the founders' cities of origin: Copenhagen, Brussels, and Amsterdam) inspired a Fort Lauderdale exhibit "Karel Appel: In Memoriam." As far as memorials go, this is an intimate one, composed of just 11 works from the museum's permanent collection. Despite its size, the exhibit not only honors the artist but provides examples of his work in a variety of media. Though his work may be labeled abstract, it is not strictly so. Even in the ones that come the closest to being nonrepresentational, there is at least the hint of object. Using vivid colors applied in thick swipes and swirls, one untitled, undated oil painting (which is more nonspecific than abstract) might be construed as a portrait: Dark-blue splotches suggest eyes; the rectangle at the bottom could be a mouth. Most works are abstract in the art term's original meaning the reduction of the subject to a simplified form. The works exhibited have a childlike quality in their simplicity, expressiveness, and playfulness. Big Bird With Child offers an excellent example, where the mixed-media piece uses wood to give dimension to the otherwise flat forms. (Through May 1 at Museum of Art/Fort Lauderdale, 1 E. Las Olas Blvd., Fort Lauderdale. Call 954-525-5500.)