Three Japanese sliding door paintings displayed at the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition were found in a storage facility maintained by the Chicago Park District, raising questions about what other treasured works of art might be lying around undiscovered.
The associate curator of Japanese art and the Asian art conservator at the Art Institute of Chicago have evaluated the Japanese sliding door paintings and concluded they are the paintings originally displayed at the World’s Fair. Historic photos also match the paintings.
The work of Japanese artist Hashimoto Gago — three, two-sided panels that are painted sliding doors — were thought to be missing or destroyed until they were located recently, officials said. The paintings are “moderately stable, but will require conservation treatment,” officials said.
Park District historian Julia Bachrach subsequently uncovered documentation indicating that the paintings date back to the fair. The sliding doors were displayed in the Phoenix Pavilion on the Wooded Isle at the center of the 1893 Exposition, officials said.
The Park District now plans to work in partnership with the Art Institute to conserve the paintings. Only then will a determination be made about where and how the sliding doors will be displayed.
It’s not the first time that treasured works of art have been found in the bowels of Park District storage facilities.
During the 1970s, the Park District discovered carved transom panels from the Phoenix Pavilion. The panels were conserved and put on display at the Art Institute in 2011.
Known as “fusama,” the sliding door paintings are representative of traditional Japanese construction techniques.
The inner wooden fretwork was covered with a layer of paper before the painted surfaces were attached. Black lacquer frames were fitted over the edges of the fretwork cores. The frames were then eased into waxed grooves in building’s floor, where the paintings functioned as sliding doors.
Over the years, Chicago aldermen have talked during budget hearings about the treasured and valuable works of art in the city’s collection, much of it in storage.
At one point, then-Ald. Bernard Stone (50th) talked about selling off those valuable works of art to raise revenue.
Janice Katz, the Art Institute’s associate curator of Japanese art, was thrilled at the Park District’s latest discovery.
“These paintings bring to life, in vivid color, a moment of history that had previously been lost forever,” Katz was quoted as saying in a news release issued by the mayor’s office.
The release quoted Mayor Rahm Emanuel as marveling at the timing of the discovery: “At a time when we are working to honor Jackson Park’s historic past by revitalizing the park to restore Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision, it is a thrilling development to have found original artwork from the 1893 Exposition.”
Jackson Park remains in the running for the Obama Presidential Library, although Washington Park is thought to be the front-runner.
Either way, Emanuel hopes to revitalize Jackson Park — with $29 million in habitat restoration, landscape improvements and newly planted trees — to return the park to famed landscaped architect Frederick Law Olmsted’s vision.
Earlier this summer, Emanuel joined Yoko Ono, the consul general of Japan and representatives of Project 120 to announce installation of a permanent piece of public art by Ono in Garden of the Phoenix in Jackson Park.