Zen Master Sengai (1750-1837)

  • 18 May - 10 August 2014

    2014 Switzerland and Japan celebrate 150 years of diplomatic relations. To honour this occasion, we showed a solo exhibition devoted to the work of the Zen master and painter Gibon Sengai (1750–1837). His sketch-like images, which are accompanied by texts that combine humour with profundity, still seem startlingly contemporary.

    Exhibition in two parts!
    1st part (pdf)
    18 May - 29 June
    2nd part (pdf)
    1 July - 10 August

    Gibon Sengai was abbot of Japan’s oldest Zen monastery. He retired at the age of sixty-two to devote himself exclusively to painting and calligraphy, which he used as teaching materials for his pupils. He saw his art as a way of helping people—even very simple people—to understand Zen Buddhism. Right up to the nineteen-eighties, the West was in the grip of Zen fever, not least on account of the writings of the Zen teacher and Sengai expert, Daisetz T. Suzuki (1870–1966). Sengai’s centrality to Zen is evident from what another abbot allegedly replied when asked how to study Zen: “Look at Sengai. There is Zen everywhere.”

    The timelessness of these very modern-looking paintings has to do with both their semantically charged simplicity and with the subtle sense of humor that shines through in Sengai’s amiably ironic take on all the big questions of human existence. His paintings radiate a deeply humane wisdom, which can scarcely leave anyone untouched.

    The Idemitsu Museum of Arts in Tokyo is the proud owner of the world’s most important collection of ink paintings and calligraphy by Zen master Sengai. Now, for the first time in over fifty years, forty of these works are to go on show in Zurich in honor of 150 years of diplomatic relations between Switzerland and Japan. Because they are extremely sensitive to light, the works are to be exhibited in two series lasting six weeks each.

    Exhibition in the media

    “Zen-Meister Sengai”
    (Sammeln Collection Magazin, 29/07/2014)

    “La pittura zen e i tessuti sacri dedicati al Buddha”
    (Azione, 21/07/2104)

    “Leçons de méditation du maître Sengai”
    (Le Temps, 14/07/2014) 

    “Die duldsame Weide”
    (NZZ, Philipp Meier, 01/07/2014) 

    “Frosch sein”
    (NZZ, Eva Dietrich, 12/06/2014) 

    “Sengai - Ein Meister, der alle Meisterschaft hinter sich gelassen hat”
    (Journal21, Klara Obermüller, 09/06/2014)

    Zen-Malerei von Sengai in Zürich
    (Badische Zeitung, 05/06/2014) 

    “Der Kuchen der Erkenntnis”
    (Badische Zeitung, 05/06/2014)

    “Lieber Mond, wie alt bist du?”
    (NZZ am Sonntag, Manfred Papst, 01/06/2014) 

    “Von einem lachenden Frosch und Schlangen mit explosivem Atem”
    (Zentrum Karl der Grosse, Felix Ghezzi, 27/05/2014) 

    “Der humorvolle Zen-Meister”
    (Tagesanzeiger, 26/05/2014)

    “Leichte Linie, grosse Offenheit”
    (Der Landbote, Angelika Maass, 24/05/2014)

    “Buddha ist ein Frosch”
    (NZZ, Philipp Meier, 17/05/2014) 

    “Das Museum Rietberg zeigt die Werke eines Zen-Meisters mit feinem Humor”
    (Aargauer Zeitung, Oltner Tagblatt, Solothurner Zeitung, 16/05/2014) 





  • Trailer

    Guided Tours in German

    Guided tours in German for free (ticket required): Thursday 12.15 p.m. + Sunday 11.00 a.m.

    Introduction in the Way of Tea in the Context of Zen Painting: every Wednesday, 18 p.m.

    Soyu Mukai, a declared tea master, is going to explain the Way of Tea in the exhibition Sengai in connection with the Zen Paintings. Introduction for free (ticket required) in German.

    Book a private tour!

    Tours and prices »


    Agenda (in German) »

    Event Highlight

    Concert: “Der Klang der Glocken”
    Sat 21 June 2014, 6pm
    Tadashi Tajima Shakuhachi (bamboo flute), Junko Handa Biwa (Kurzhalslaute), Shogo Hiyoshi Koto (zither), Kuniko Obina Shamisen (Langhalslaute) – Ensemble Nihon; Sonoe Kato Mezzosoprano, Akira Tachikawa Countertenor; Heidy Nyman Musikalische Leitung

    More »


    German-language listing More »


    Exhibition texts PDF »
    Press More »