Let me first admit, my experience with samurai is limited. When I learned Dallas had a samurai museum, the first thing three things that came to mind were Tom Cruise, Mulan (wrong country), and 47 Ronin. That there could be an entire exhibition -- much less a museum -- dedicated to ancient military armor seemed little more than a passion project of a far-too-wealthy man. But now that I've seen the collection in full at the Kimbell's new exhibit, Samurai: Armor From the Ann and Gabriel Barbier-Mueller Collection, I'd like to retract my cynical eye roll.
Samurai were seriously awesome. And someday, if ever I am loaded, I would like to own a samurai suit of my own. These sword-wielding protectors of medieval Japan weren't just fierce warriors, they were perhaps the most fashionable soldiers of all time, ever. And this collection features fully intact suits of armor, in all their colorful, exquisite glory. From the intricate helmets to the armor made especially for the horses, there are more than 140 pieces on display at the Kimbell for the next six months.
This exhibit makes a clear argument for the badassness of the samurai. They understood the rugged power of a mustache, adhering them to many of the helmets, or kabutos, as a method of intimidation. While the Western world hobbled around in armor that weighed in at 45+ pounds, the samurai suit was typically half that. Plus, the samurai were early adopters of gun warfare, very quickly fabricating a bullet-resistant vest. You can see small indentations where they tested the armor that stands next to the gun.
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The exhibit's cool factor is multiplied by its location in the Renzo Piano Pavilion, which is architecturally stunning. This is the first special exhibition in the pavilion since it opened last fall. Samurai opens Sunday with a full day of free admission. Do a two-for-one exhibit day and take in the last day of The Age of Picasso and Matisse: Modern Masters from the Art Institute of Chicago a survey of 20th century art, which we ranked one of 2013's best exhibits.