Ukiyo-e Viewed through Japonisme
On view at the Chiba City Museum of Art through March 6, 2022.
at the West Vancouver Museum
January 9 - March 22, 2014
and Nikkei National Museum
January 11 - March 23, 2014
Thanks to the generosity of collector Inagaki Shin'ichi of Tokyo, this spring local Vancouver-area audiences are getting a rare opportunity to view a selection of humorous, playful, dramatic, and cryptic prints that challenge our preconceptions of Ukiyo-e as a genre.
The two venues combined present a total of more than 100 woodblock prints from the late Edo and Meiji periods, including more than thirty prints by the increasingly popular Utagawa Kuniyoshi.
The exhibition also includes several prints by the world-famous Utagawa Hiroshige, but don't go expecting to see his lyrical landscape scenes of stations along the Tōkaidō Road. Instead, his playful designs of hands and figures in poses that appear as something entirely different when reflected as shadows against shoji paper demonstrate a totally different level of connection he and other wildly popular artists of his time were able to make with the Edo public, who were their audience and avid consumers.
Through a number of recent publications--Edo no asobi-e (Play pictures from Edo), Kuniyoshi no musha-e (Warrior prints by Kuniyoshi), Kuniyoshi no kyōga (Comical prints by Kuniyoshi) and others—Inagaki-san has been working to introduce contemporary audiences to the full range of pleasures such lesser-known Ukiyo-e prints of the mid- to late Edo and Meiji periods afforded to the people of their own times.
The prints themselves are also in superb condition, the vibrant colours and sharp impressions allowing for an even greater sense of affinity with the experience of the prints' original audience.
We are fortunate to have this collection here and I hope that the exhibition will reach a broad and diverse audience, being shared by these two intimate venues on opposite sides of the city.
The Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture in Hanford, California, is home to one of the premiere collections of Japanese art in North America. Located in the heart of the Central Valley of California, it has often been called an oasis -- a breath of beauty in the midst of vast stretches of farmland. I love this place and I am deeply indebted to it for launching my career in the field of Japanese art, but even though I am in Northern California at least once a year these days, I have not made the extra trek to Hanford in many years now. The latest news of the collection's move to a new home at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, which boasts an outstanding collection of Japanese art of its own already, is exciting yet sad at the same time. I know how much it meant to the Clarks to have the collection in the Valley, and at the same time knew that the collection could not stay at the Clark Center forever, but there is just something very special about the place that was not just about the art, as outstanding as the collection is. I will make the trip there this summer, although I feel a bit guilty that it took such big news to get me back there.
More details about the move can be found here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/06/04/3327588/clark-centers-japanese-art-on.html
Upcoming lectures at UBC
Looking forward to these two upcoming lectures:
The Inaugural John Howes Lecture in Japanese Studies
Haruo Shirane, Shinchō Professor of Japanese Literature and Culture at Columbia University, will be coming to UBC to deliver the inaugural John Howes Lecture in Japanese Studies.
Japan and the Culture of the Four Seasons: Nature, Literature, and the Arts
November 22 (Thursday)
6:30pm Registration; 7:00 pm Lecture
Asian Centre Auditorium, 1871 West Mall
Elegant representations of nature and the four seasons populate a wide range of Japanese genres and media—from poetry and screen paintings to tea ceremony, flower arrangement, and annual observances. Dr. Haruo Shirane will show how, when, and why this practice developed and explicate the richly encoded social, religious, and literary meanings of this imagery.
Please join us for a lecture and reception honouring Professor Emeritus John Howes. Dr. Howes is an intellectual historian and leading authority on Japan’s Christian and pacifist thinkers, who dedicated three decades to mentoring students and expanding Japanese Studies in the Department of Asian Studies at UBC.
For more information and to register, click here.
The initial impetus for my East Coast trip was the news that Ito Jakuchu's "Colorful Realm of Living Beings" series would be on view in its entirety at the National Gallery of Art at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. On loan for just four weeks, this is the first time the series has been lent outside of Japan and only the second time in the modern era that the series has been reunited with the Buddha triptych that it had originally accompanied when donated by the artist to Shokokuji Temple in 1765. I had seen selections from the 30-scroll series on previous occasions in exhibitions in Japan, but of course had never seen all thirty together and had never realized (although I'm sure it must have been explained somewhere in the label text or catalogue descriptions I must have just glossed over) that these were produced together with a Buddha triptych, and I had certainly never seen those images before, so it was quite enlightening to see the whole group united and filling a single gallery. No photos were allowed in the gallery, but the above gives some sense of the installation with the triptych at front center flanked by fifteen bird-and-flower paintings on either side. Images of the individual nature paintings can be found below. The findings regarding Jakuchu's verso-painting techniques discovered during recent conservation work on the series were also mesmerizing.
Also on the docket was a visit to the Sackler Gallery, where two other single-artist/single-work exhibitions featured the work of Katsushika Hokusai and Kano Kazunobu.
Masters of Mercy: Buddha's Amazing Disciples is supplemented by a great online introduction to this intricately detailed series of one hundred scrolls depicting the five hundred rakan (arhat) disciples of the historical Buddha. If you don't get a chance to see the exhibition -- or even if you did! -- this gives a wonderful overview of this impressive series of paintings.
Hokusai: Thirty-Six View of Mount Fuji offers pristine and rare impressions of all forty-six images from this wildly popular print series, including a rare "Pink Fuji" early impression of Fuji in the early-morning sun, which became more popular in its later, more deeply colored incarnation that is more familiar as "Red Fuji."
I was so excited about these exhibitions that I had to return with a group of students and art history faculty from Washington College in my home town of Chestertown, MD. Student photos from the trip can be found by clicking on the photo at left. Thanks to all who attended! (I hope they didn't mind having my niece and nephew tag along!)
There was so much more that I didn't get to see in DC, all as part of the National Cherry Blossom Festival celebrations. This year marks the 100 year anniversary of the gift of 3000 cherry trees from the city of Tokyo to the city of Washington in 1912. (Just imagine what a major undertaking that would have been at that time!!)
I'm just back from a whirlwind East Coast tour, where I had the time to visit a number of fabulous Japanese art exhibitions and events in conjunction with Asia Week in New York City and the National Cherry Blossom Festival in Washington, DC.
First stop was the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the impressive exhibition "Storytelling in Japanese Art." The Illustrated Legends of the Kitano Tenjin Shrine alone was worth the visit. Its pristine condition drew a bit of a contrast with the more weathered condition of the scrolls on loan from the Spencer Collection at the New York Public Library. Of course, the flip side of that is that anyone can put in a request to see the library collection and see the works and handle them in person at the library. Not so easy to get that kind of access to the scrolls at the Met!
Next stop Japan Society Gallery and Ken Brown's exhibition "Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture 1920-45." The range of objects reflecting the influence of Art Deco in all aspects of Japanese visual culture in the pre-war era was truly impressive.
The NY Times review of the exhibition can be found here:
Last New York stop, the Museum of Arts and Design for the exhibition "Beauty in All Things: Japanese Art and Design" on through May 21. It was my first time visiting this museum and I found it quite enjoyable. Many of the artists in the areas of ceramics and bamboo arts were familiar, but here again the combination of different media and craft forms was impressive.
The "Cabbage Chair" by NENDO and "Hagoromo" (Angel's Robe) of silk and wood by Kobayashi Masakazu formed an intriguing pair and of course the two-mat tea room made of silk drapes hanging from a PVC pipe frame caught my interest as well. I'm not quite sure why the bamboo chair is called "Tea Ceremony Chair" but the craftsmanship and design were remarkable.
Edo: Arts of Japan's Last Shogun Age runs until May 21 at the Richmond Museum.
See the full story here:
History buffs will enjoy the suits of samurai armour and katana swords and the impressive travel palanquin decorated in lacquer and gold maki-e designs of the Tokugawa shogunal crest. This selection of artworks primarily from the Art Gallery of Greater Victoria (Victoria, BC) is abbreviated from a more expansive exhibition organized by that museum in 2009.
Unfortunately, due to space (and security/protection?) restrictions here in Richmond, many of the better paintings and prints from the original exhibition did not make it to this venue, but a full-colour hardcover catalogue of the complete exhibition (including all items on view in the current Richmond version of the show) is also available for sale at the Richmond Museum or through Amazon here: catalogue.
I provided tours of the exhibition for the Feb. 25 Experience Japan Day and will be offering public tours again on Sunday, May 6, from 10:30 to 3:30 every hour on the half hour.
If you haven't seen the exhibit yet, I hope to see you there!
Just spent a fascinating afternoon and evening with Ishii Kaori, director of the film "Meguru"/"Chain of Life" about the work of artisan Fujimoto Yoshikazu, one of only two practitioners of mokuhanzome woodblock print dyeing still active in Japan.
I'd never heard of mokuhanzome before seeing this film, but it turns out that in this case the artisan didn't learn the craft as an apprentice to other artisans to whom it had been passed from generation to generation. While studying Edo komon stencil dyeing technique, Fujimoto encountered an ancient piece of fabric with a woodblock printed pattern, rediscovering and perhaps even reinventing a technique that had been all but abandoned in the Edo period with the rise of stencil printing.
Ishii-san's documentary film goes a step beyond describing and documenting the artisan's technique and process and delves into the spirit of what it means to be an artisan and what it means to create for the love of creation in our modern world. I was honored to be asked to facilitate her post-screening director's talk, so had the extra good fortune to to be able to speak with her a bit in private before the screening.
The film not only tells the story of the work and lifestyle of the artisan, but is also a very personal account of the director's encounter with the artist and the impact it had on her own outlook on life. The artisan remarks at one point in the film that he never once felt tired making mokuhanzome because it was so much fun. Ishii-san jokingly remarked that she hadn't quite achieved that level of oneness with her work--she was absolutely exhausted at the end of each day of filming! :)
But the result is a mesmerizing one. Even the brief preview gives you a sense of the dream-like feel of the film. I ended up watching it a few times as I prepared for the interview, but the simple piano melody running throughout and the impossibly perfectly captured plunk and squish (?) of the block stamp being impressed on then lifted from the silk still haunt me. Ishii-san described the vision she had for the film as being as a fairy tale--a story of a single person and his approach to life that is symbolic of a larger story, one that could just has easily have been told about some other person. It just happened that Fujimoto-san was the right person at the time.
Would I really have thought that closely about the structure of the film if I hadn't been asked to lead a discussion with the director? If I had been interviewing the artisan, I'm sure I would have experienced the film very differently. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to watch the film not once but a few times, to see and hear some of the "behind-the-scenes" stories, and to get to know the charming director.
I was so engrossed in talking with her that I even forgot to take a photo of her in her beautiful furisode kimono!!
In any case, for those who have the chance, I highly recommend the film!
For those interested specifically in the mokuhanzome technique and unable to see the "Chain of Life" film, the below is not the same film, but gives a more practical overview of the work of the same artist.
About this blog
Check here for news on my latest projects as well as Japanese art exhibitions and programs of interest in the Vancouver area and beyond.