TAI Modern’s first show of 2020 pairs works of Japanese bamboo art with flowers in a nod to the longstanding relationship between the two. “The works of bamboo art in our gallery do not need a flower arrangement to complete them,” gallery director Margo Thoma explains. “I don’t want to trivialize or distract from a work of art by adding flowers. Nevertheless, pairing flowers with bamboo baskets still feels very special to me. It brings the historical roots of Japanese bamboo art to the forefront, and I have found that putting flowers in a basket redirects my attention from the actual form of the basket to the shape and potential of the negative space it creates. It is another way of learning about this multifaceted art form.” The association between flowers and bamboo baskets began in the 6th century, when Buddhism was introduced to Japan from China. It was customary to place offerings of flower petals in shallow bamboo trays before an image of the Buddha. Aristocratic Buddhist families began to practice the flower offering ceremony at private altars. Over time, arrangements of stemmed flowers replaced the original offering of petals. By the early Kamakura period (1192-1333), the offering or presentation of flowers began to spread outside of a solely religious context. Flower arrangements became more ornamental and relocated to living quarters and formal reception rooms, where they were featured as important design elements. Baskets made from bamboo became a popular choice of vessel for ikebana arrangements. Early masters created baskets with the understanding that they would most often be displayed with flowers. A familiarity with the principles of flower arranging was essential to the bamboo artist working 150 years ago. Today, when a bamboo artist creates a flower basket, they do not necessarily expect that it will be used to hold flowers. However, the importance of functionality and relevance of ikebana is a matter of active debate, and each individual artist has a slightly different stance. Says artist Ishoi Setsuko, “I create art for the purpose of visual appreciation. However, when I plan to make a work in the form of a flower basket, I think about how I would put flowers in this basket when the work is finished. When a single flower or when many flowers are placed in a basket, the work shows a different expression. Since flowers are alive, I feel that they change not only the atmosphere of the piece itself, but also the atmosphere of the place.” TAI Modern is the world’s leading dealer of contemporary Japanese bamboo art. For over 20 years, the gallery has sought to present compelling exhibitions, build strong collections, further academic research on bamboo art in Japan, and support and encourage artists in this incredibly challenging medium. The exhibition will be on view March 11 - 31 in-person at the gallery, supplemented by online exhibitions on taimodern.com and artsy.net. TAI Modern is open Monday through Saturday from 10am-5pm.