Monday, March 2, 2009

Kimono Buffet and the Sum(o) of All Things

Kimono Buffet and the Sum(o) of All Things
By Tom Wachunas

It all started when I volunteered my services to ArtsinStark to write up the press release for the Sumo wrestling bout scheduled for March 22 at the Canton Museum of Art. After some internet researching of Sumo and pondering such an event in conjunction with the work of Itchiku Kubota, I had great concerns about efficacy and propriety, and shared them with the good folks at ArtsinStark, including Robb Hankins, ArtsinStark president and CEO.

Not long into our e-mail exchanges, I was told (not by Mr. Hankins) that my services would not be needed after all, as ArtsinStark decided to handle the Sumo publicity in-house. I admit that my initial reaction was that perhaps a message was being sent: If you’re not with us, you’re against us. But that’s another story. Besides, I’ve been writing press releases and program notes for the Canton Symphony with no problems, even though I might not really “like” or “get behind” a particular piece that the Symphony has slated to perform.

What’s really at issue here is something more complicated. Hankins’ response to my concerns spoke volumes about the operative philosophy behind Kimonofest – the myriad of events and activities that have been attached to the Kimono exhibit. Kimonofest was clearly designed to offer and reflect the cultural cornucopia that is modern-day Japan to as wide an audience as possible. “Not low-brow, not high-brow, but every brow,” Hankins wrote. Accompanying all this cultural bric-a-brac, this buffet of all things for all people, it seems to me, is a throw-caution-to-the-wind attitude that experiencing art must first, by definition, be fun.

I have nothing against the Sumo tradition or even witnessing a Sumo bout. But not here, not in this museum. Call me old-school and high-brow, then. Art museums are not just reliquaries that preserve the remarkable and precious accomplishments of the past. They are living sanctuaries of a sort, lifting up the genius and profundity of individuals like Itchiku Kubota, who spent a lifetime deeply, spiritually connected to translating the awesome glories of nature.

This exhibit, as I’ve mentioned before, is a masterfully prepared feast indeed. But beware the lesser chefs who have offered side dishes of their own. Some are truly tasteless.

I welcome your comments, one and all.

1 comment:

Tom Wachunas said...

In Canton, if it smacks of sports, they will come. The March 23, 2009 edition of The Repository reported that "a packed theater crowd-around 450 people-" came to the Players Guild Theater to witness Sumo Sunday. It makes me wonder why people don't regularly fill the house of one of the oldest (and highest quality)community theaters in the country to witness a play. ArtsinStark CEO Robb Hankins said, "The average American knows very little about sumo wrestling." I've long had the impression that the average Cantonian knows very little about art, but it's not for lack of opportunity or venue. So while I stand by my comments in the above posting, I also wonder how long it will be before Canton crowds don't need to be cajoled or otherwise prompted to visit a great art show, or see a compelling play, or hear their astoundingly good symphony orchestra other than the fact that the arts are already here and worthwhile. Perhaps in this case the success of Kimonomania (Kimonofest)will be best measured by how many of the packed sumo house not only actually saw the Kimono exhibit, but will willingly return to see future exhibits because they have genuinely grown to savor the arts on their own terms. If sumo wrestling was the necessary bait for such an outcome, then some good might yet come of it.