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'Spectacular Helmets' Of Japanese Warlords


Singled out by Time magazine as the "single exhibition not to be missed in New York City" last November, "Spectacular Helmets of Japan" is installed at the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco through Jan. 26.

The show consists of 75 rare, fragile helmets dating from the 16th to the 19th centuries. These fantastic sculptural symbols of power and status come from the age of the great Japanese warlords. Helmets served not only as physical and supernatural protection and symbols of rank, but also identified and separated individual warlords from their anonymous troops.

No two exhibited helmets are alike. Formed in a variety of dramatic, thematic shapes such as whirlpools or animal skulls, some incorporate animal horns; others sport clan symbols or the likenesses of auspicious animals such as lions, hares, tortoises or lobsters (favored because of their protective armor). Some helmets were decorated with Shinto and Buddhist motifs, carved and lacquered into masks of various deities. Underlying the sculptural forms was a sturdy protective cap of riveted metal leaves.

The most expressive and imaginative helmets were made in the last decades of the 16th and first three decades of the 17th centuries, during the ascendancy of the new military aristocracy. The warlords' quests for a unique personal statement encouraged originality in art, architecture, fashion and thought.

Previously seen only at Asia House in New York, the exhibition's San Francisco stop is the only other opportunity to see this material before its return to Japan. An accompanying catalogue has essays by artist Isamu Noguchi; Rand Castile, exhibition organizer and director of Asia House; John Whitney Hall, professor emeritus, Yale University, and Japanese metalwork specialists Yoshihiko Sasama, Iwao Fujimoto and Uichi Hiroi.

The museum has scheduled special programs in conjunction with this exhibition, including a festival of Akira Kurosawa films that informed Western audiences of the visual splendor of feudal Japan. Information: (415) 558-2993.

The Palm Springs Museum will host "The Armand Hammer Collection: Five Centuries of Masterpieces," Thursday through March 9. The exhibition features more than 100 paintings and drawings, including 40 masterworks that will travel to Moscow in the spring as part of the first exchange show under the recent U.S.-Soviet cultural agreement.

Works on exhibition include paintings and drawings by Michelangelo, Titian, Rubens, Rembrandt, Monet, Cezanne, Degas, Renoir, Toulouse Lautrec, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Pissarro, Corot, Morisot, Bonnard, Vuillard, Soutine, Vlaminck, Gilbert Stuart, Harnett, Sargent, Cassatt, Prendergast, Seurat and Picasso. Tickets ($3 per person for non-members) may be obtained through Ticketmaster agencies or at the door. Information: (619) 325-7186.

Photography and video works by six West- and East-Coast artists will be on view at the USC Atelier, Friday through Feb. 23 at the Santa Monica Place shopping mall.

The exhibition, "People: Close Up," includes works by Jim Goldberg of San Francisco, who combines photographs of and handwritten statements by elderly residents of a nursing home in Cambridge, Mass., where he was artist in residence. Joan Logue, erstwhile Los Angles artist now residing in New York City, showcases her latest video work, "New England Fishermen," which explores fish stories. Branda Miller of Los Angeles shows "Unset Boulevard," a look at the hopes and dreams of a Sunset Boulevard billboard sitter.

Peter Reiss, also of Los Angeles, offers portraits of his students at the Exceptional Children's Foundation of Los Angeles, along with photographs taken of themselves by the students. Joshua Touster of Santa Monica, a photographer interested in public culture, presents recent work and Carrie Mae Weems' "Family Pictures and Stories" reveals insights into the lives of the younger generation.

According to USC Atelier director Noel Korten, who organized the exhibition, " 'People: Close-Up' is both biting and gentle but above all it's compassionate. These artists do not detach themselves from society; they immerse themselves in it."

Information: (213) 743-2788.

Artist Mark Stock designed the sets and costumes for Los Angeles Chamber Ballet's premiere of Antoine de Saint Exupery's "The Little Prince," opening Jan. 31 at the Japan America Theatre. "The Little Prince" is a narrative ballet with a contemporary treatment; it focuses on various encounters involving the prince during his journey through the universe in search of the meaning of love and friendship.

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