Art Exhibitions

Portland Japanese Garden is a natural vehicle through which to explore Japanese art and design. Art exhibitions explore ideas and aesthetics integral to the fabric of life in Japan. Introducing a wide array of artists and art forms, these exhibitions reflect on ways we experience peace through connections to art, nature, and one another.

Art exhibitions at Portland Japanese Garden began with Diane Durston, Curator Emerita (former Arlene Schnitzer Curator of Culture, Art and Education from 2007-2018). It launched with a series of four special exhibitions a year— one for each of the four seasons—that would reflect the intersection of art and nature and introduce the importance of seasonality in Japanese art and gardens. The exhibitions would celebrate work influenced by the aesthetics of Japan or created in response to the Garden itself.

Aki Nakanishi, Portland Japanese Garden’s current Arlene Schnitzer Curator of Culture, Art, and Education explains, “Traditionally, the role of Japanese gardens is to offer a place of quiet contemplation detached from the noise of modern society. But at the same time, Japanese gardens have always embraced, if not strived for a sense of symbiosis created at the intersection of architecture, art, and nature, which demonstrates the balance that can be achieved when nature and human ingenuity converge.”

Now more than a decade later, Portland Japanese Garden has successfully introduced the work of more than 75 artists representing Japan and its unique artistic traditions. The works come from internationally known artists—some of whom have been recognized as Living National Treasures in Japan, as well as rising young artists and artisans from all parts of the country.

Current Art Exhibition – Masterpieces in Miniature: The Art of Netsuke Sculptures

Saturday, December 16th, 2023 – March 4, 2024

Portland Japanese Garden is thrilled to present a selection from our collection of netsuke in our winter exhibition Masterpieces in Miniature: The Art of Netsuke Sculptures. In the world of netsuke, form and function meet to produce wonder and joy. Small enough to fit in the palm of a hand, these miniature carvings invite one to experience Japanese culture from the nation’s vibrant Edo period (1603–1868). Netsuke (pronounced nets-keh) were personal fashion accessories worn on the sash of a man’s kimono and reflect the ingenuity of their craftspeople, featuring designs filled with spirit, astounding detail, and entertaining style.

Japanese Netsuke miniature ivory sculpture depicting a boy with a Daruma.
Boy with a Daruma toy Japanese ivory netsuke early 20th century from The Marian P. Miller Collection. Courtesy of Portland Japanese Garden photo by Nina Johnson

Guest curated by Dr. Peter Doebler, the Kettering Curator of Asian Art at Dayton Art Institute, this exhibition will feature a selection of never-before-seen netsuke as well as works not seen since 2010. Masterpieces in Miniature will draw from our extensive netsuke holdings from The Netsuke Collection of James R. Coonan, Denise C. Bates, and Lurline C. Menzies and The Marian Plumb Miller Collection. The art exhibition, taking place in our Pavilion Gallery, will explore diverse stories that inspired netsuke forms, ranging from gods, heroes, and fantastical creatures to symbolic animals from the natural world. 

Read more about The Netsuke Collection of James R. Coonan, Denise C. Bates, and Lurline C. Menzies.

Japanese Netsuke miniature ivory sculpture depicting five puppies wrestling
Five puppies wrestling Japanese ivory netsuke late 19th century from The Marian P. Miller Collection. Courtesy of Portland Japanese-Garden photo by Nina Johnson.

Explore Previous Art Exhibitions