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Arts / Galleries

Houston’s Own Hidden Zen Garden

Surprisingly Tranquil Spot Appears — But It’s Being Closed Soon

BY // 09.25.15

One of the biggest surprises during the hubbub of openings that kicked off the fall art season was the presence of a quiet, contemplative Zen space on the second floor of the 4411 Montrose Gallery Building.

The installation, “I Am Content With What I Lack — The Poetics of Japanese Gardens,” forces the viewer to slow way down, beckoning them into a serene encounter with calibrated nature and minimalist art. (The poetic, enigmatic title comes from an inscription on a stone water basin in the garden of the mid-15th century Ryoanji Temple in Kyoto, which is celebrated for its rock garden (watch for an allusion to that landscape in “I Am Content.”)

For this occasion, the Japan America Society of Houston, which keeps a low profile most of the time, stepped up to invite the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston’s Asian art curator Christine Starkman to transform a vacant gallery space within the 4411 building. Starkman tapped three Japanese artists working in an understated aesthetic and/or with traditional materials, aligning these creatives with a master landscape architect who is also of Japanese heritage.

All four talents live in Houston, underscoring the diversity of our city, as well as the unique cultural traditions within the Japanese culture — in this case, garden design (realized by Keiji Asakura, a partner at landscape architecture company Asakura Robinson who also serves on the City of Houston Planning Commission), stoneware (crafted by Terry Hagiwara, who shows at 18 Hands Gallery in the Heights), paper-lantern design (devised by Mari Omori, who is a well-known member of the Houston contemporary community and a professor of art at Long Star College — Kingwood) and abstract sculpture (chiseled by Masaru Takiguchi, represented by Colquitt denizen Hooks-Epstein Galleries).

Without giving too much away, “I Am Content” serves up an experience that typifies the value of “Less is more” with its evocative emptiness, enlivened only by an occasional waft of incense. It typifies the practice of Zen Buddhism and is also a call to make quiet time within modern life — a value espoused by the 1450 Kyoto temple that inspired this exhibition and something that is needed even more today.

Like many of the best things in life, the beauty of “I Am Content”‘ is fleeting. Mounted for a mere two weeks, it closes Saturday, September 26. (Photography courtesy Japan America Society of Houston.)

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