Samurai armor at the Met

Fighting heroically, while looking good and living well, seems to be the theme of an exhibit at New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art. Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868 runs through January 10 , 2009. (photos)

In a review of the exhibit for the New York Times, Roberta Smith writes:

Fighting heroically to the end while looking good was what it was all about, even if the end turned out to be seppuku — ritual suicide — one way to avoid humiliation or assuage shame. Regardless, arms and armor of suitable grandeur and efficiency were required, and it was by meeting these requirements that generations of artisans helped shape the defining opposition of centuries of Japanese aesthetics: utter, even hermetic simplicity versus off-the-charts ostentation.

This opposition lies at the heart of “Art of the Samurai: Japanese Arms and Armor, 1156-1868,” a sumptuous, revelatory and long-awaited exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art that gives the term split personality a whole new meaning. The show’s armor and helmets are among the world’s most lavish works of multimedia art, and — in the opposite corner, as it were — its plain and simple sword blades, presented au naturel, offer subtleties of silhouette and tone that could challenge the most ardent admirer of Minimalism.