You are here

7 Reasons to Check Out 'The Life of Animals in Japanese Art' at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC

@acraftymitch - Free art exhibit at the National Gallery of Art East Building on the National Mall in Washington, DC

Don’t miss your chance to experience the spectacular 18,000-square-foot exhibit, which is on display through Aug. 18.

Even though the dog days of summer are upon us, Washington, DC’s National Gallery of Art is currently showcasing a dynamic and historic exhibition in the form of The Life of Animals in Japanese Art in its East Building. Read on to find out why the display is a must-see, and keep in mind that admission to the family-friendly exhibit is free of charge.

1 Extended hours will be offered from August 3-18
Extended hours will be offered from August 3-18 National Gallery of Art

As the exhibit embarks on its final weeks at the National Gallery of Art, the museum is giving visitors extra chances to enjoy the expansive display. For more than two weeks, The Life of Animals in Japanese Art will stay open until 8 p.m. a late summer gift that will allow you to make one or more visits. And if you saw The Life of Animals earlier this summer, you should give it a second look – 50 new pieces have been rotated in, including textiles, paintings and armor.

2 The exhibit is the first of its kind in the United States

Carved wooden monkey sculpture at the Life of Animals in Japanese Art exhibit at the National Gallery of Art - Free art museum exhibit on the National Mall in Washington, DC

The Life of Animals in Japanese Art is truly unique in its theme: never before has a U.S. museum showcased an exhibit entirely dedicated to displaying Japanese art through its wide-ranging, humorous and often anthropomorphic representation of animals. In total, the jaw-dropping collection totals more than 300 works across 17 centuries, from the fifth century to the present day. The variety of forms is also notable: you’ll see sculptures, paintings, kimonos, woodblock prints, textiles, metalworks, ceramics and lacquerwork, among others.

Discover the best and most interesting museums in Washington, DC

3 You can marvel at masterpieces that rarely leave Japan
You can marvel at masterpieces that rarely leave Japan National Gallery of Art

Among its 300 remarkable pieces, the exhibit features nearly 180 that traveled from Japan, many of which rarely, if ever, leave the Land of the Rising Sun. Seven have even been deemed Important Cultural Property by the Japanese government, including the mammoth, six-foot-tall Monju Bosatsu Seated on a Lion, with Standing Attendants (1273) by Buddhist sculptor Kōen and Deer Bearing Symbols of the Kasua Deities, a 14th century bronze with fantastical elements and remarkable detail.

4 There’s a world of animals awaiting you

Mother and child at the Life of Animals in Japanese Art exhibit at the National Gallery of Art East Building - Free art museum in Washington, DC

What may stun you more than the incredible scope of the exhibit is its depiction of animals, which range from the truly hilarious to the dramatic to the larger-than-life. Thematic sections reveal the numerous roles that Japanese culture has assigned to animals, from their personalities to their spiritual importance to their exotic characteristics to their place in the natural world and pop culture. You will see frogs, snakes and sparrows, as well as mystical animals such as dragons, phoenixes and river sprites. Several pieces depict all 12 animals of the zodiac together, a rarity in Japanese art. Folkloric interpretations include humorous scenes like foxes conducting a wedding and soldier’s helmets designed to look like rabbit ears and deer antlers.

5 Essential Japanese artists are featured throughout
Essential Japanese artists are featured throughout National Gallery of Art

In the work drawn from 66 Japanese and 30 American public and private collections, you will discover pieces by outstanding artists both historic and contemporary. Kusama Yayoi’s colorful three-dimensional dogs greet you at the beginning of the exhibit, while its conclusion features the breathtaking In the Land of the Dead, Stepping on the Tail of a Rainbow, an 82-foot-long vibrant painting by Murakami Takashi that is an experience unto itself, a piece that fills the room in its powerful response to the 2011 earthquake and tsunami that struck Japan. In addition to these masters, you can also gaze at work from Nara Yoshitomo, Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Sesson Shūkei.

6 Family audio tours can enhance your exhibit experience

Ornate plated armor on display at the Life of Animals in Japanese Art exhibit at the National Gallery of Art - Free museum exhibit on Washington, DC's National Mall

The National Gallery of Art wants you and the entire family to be interactive during your time with The Life of Animals in Japanese Art, including the responsive installation that awaits you at its entrance. Two different audio tours are offered, each untangling different aspects of the exhibit. An activity guide can accompany the group on your voyage, featuring a Picture Hunt and a make-your-own-badge kit on its back page.

7 The gift shop is filled with fascinating items that relate to the exhibit and Japanese history and culture
The gift shop is filled with fascinating items that relate to the exhibit and Japanese history and culture National Gallery of Art

After exploring the exhibit and before you depart the Gallery’s East Building, make sure to stop by the East Shop, which will also stay open during the exhibit’s extended hours. You will find an array of custom-made items, including jewelry by artisan Chikako Yajima imported from Japan, handmade Zodiac sake cups, paper art featuring animals, Gallery-designed canvas tote bags, plush animals, art supplies and much more.

Explore DC's Arts & Culture