Abe Awards $1 Million to Freer and Sackler Galleries, Inducts Director Into Order of the Rising Sun

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Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with Julian Raby, director of the Freer and Sackler, and James Ulak, senior curator of Japanese art, in front of a rare Japanese painted screen at the Freer Gallery of Art on April 29. (Photo courtesy the Freer and Sackler Galleries)

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe with Julian Raby, director of the Freer and Sackler, and James Ulak, senior curator of Japanese art, in front of a rare Japanese painted screen at the Freer Gallery of Art on April 29. (Photo courtesy the Freer and Sackler Galleries)

WASHINGTON — Japanese Prime Minister Shinzō Abe announced April 29 that the Japanese government will present $1 million to the Freer Gallery of Art and Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, the Smithsonian’s museums of Asian art.

It will also award Julian Raby, director of the Freer and Sackler, the Order of the Rising Sun, one of Japan’s most prestigious civilian honors.

Both honors recognize the museums’ promotion of Japanese art and culture and come as the Sackler is preparing a landmark exhibition of the Japanese artist Tawaraya Sōtatsu’s works for October.

The support and award were announced at an event at the Freer Gallery during Abe’s official visit to Washington, D.C., last week.

The $1 million honors the historic role the Freer has played in U.S.-Japan relations since the early 20th century and its leadership role in fostering bilateral collaboration between cultural institutions. It will support the Freer and Sackler’s ongoing, vigorous program of exhibitions, performing arts, public events, conservation and research that promote Japanese art and culture to U.S. audiences.

In recognition of these efforts, Raby will be inducted into the Order of the Rising Sun, one of Japan’s highest honors for accomplishments in international relations, culture and the environment.

Raby is the only sitting U.S. art museum director to be so recognized.

The full list of foreign recipients of the 2015 Spring Imperial Decorations was released by the Japanese government April 29. The Order of the Rising Sun, Gold Rays with Neck Ribbon, will be conferred by Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Kenichiro Sasae at the ambassador’s residence in Washington.

Raby is one of 85 individuals selected worldwide in 2015 to receive the medal, founded in 1875 as the first national decoration awarded by the Japanese government. This is the third time the order has been conferred on a member of the Freer and Sackler staff — James Ulak, senior curator of Japanese art, received the honor in 2010, and past Freer director Harold Stern received it in 1977.

Raby, 65, is a world-renowned expert in Islamic art. Since his appointment as director of the Freer and Sackler galleries in 2002, he has supervised more than 50 special exhibitions, including the major Japanese exhibitions “Hokusai” (2006), “Masters of Mercy: Buddha’s Amazing Disciples” (2012) and “Chigusa and the Art of Tea” (2014).

The galleries have also embarked on several collaborations with Japanese public and private universities and maintain a national flagship program for Asian painting conservation, working closely with Japan and other countries.

The Freer Gallery of Art opened in 1923 as the Smithsonian’s first art museum and the first institution in the U.S. dedicated to Asian art and culture. The adjacent Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, founded in 1987, allows for greater scope in acquisitions and international exhibitions.

The galleries contain one of the world’s most important collections of Japanese art, including renowned masterpieces such as “Dragons and Clouds” and “Waves at Matsushima” by Tawaraya Sōtatsu — works that will be featured in the October exhibition, which is presented with the Japan Foundation — with noted strengths in the rinpa style, ukiyo-e art of the floating world and Buddhist art.

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