TMA exhibit ‘Fresh Impressions: Early Modern Japanese Prints’ runs through Jan. 1.Written by Sarah Ottney | Editor in Chief | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) Chief Curator Carolyn Putney is hoping history repeats itself with the museum’s latest exhibition, “Fresh Impressions: Early Modern Japanese Prints.”
In the 1930s, a pair of similar exhibits at TMA helped introduce the United States to shin hanga, a new art movement coming out of Japan.
The style, which means “new prints,” combined traditional Japanese woodblock print techniques and subjects with Western-inspired elements.
For the new exhibit, which opens Oct. 4 in the Canaday Gallery, TMA reassembled and reinterpreted the artwork from the 1930 show.
“Some of the prints have been in smaller exhibitions, but they haven’t been seen as a whole since 1930,” said Putney, who is also curator of Asian art for TMA. “It’s just unbelievable.”
The exhibit features 343 prints by 10 leading artists of the shin hanga movement.
The prints comprise one of the most comprehensive collections of shin hanga at any American museum, Putney said.
“The Toledo Museum of Art’s momentous 1930 exhibition inspired many American collectors and museums to add examples of these ‘new prints’ to their collections,” said museum director Brian Kennedy in a news release. “Now a new generation of visitors can experience this rare opportunity to view these incredibly vibrant and compelling images for themselves.”
Putney said visitors will be struck by the variety and beauty of the images and especially by their bright colors.
“Japanese prints are usually faded or washed out because people have hung them on the wall too long. The colors are really sensitive. Too much light and they fade away,” Putney said. “These are just as fresh as if they were done yesterday. They are in pristine condition and the colors are just vibrant and extremely beautiful.”
The prints depict actors, beautiful women, geisha, animals, birds, nature, landscapes, Japanese life and more, Putney said.
The museum owns all but five of the prints, most of them donated by local business leader and print collector Hubert D. Bennett in 1939.
Along with the prints, the show also includes objects depicted in the artwork, such as kimono, Kabuki costumes, suits of armor, samurai swords and a zen rock garden.
“We hope displaying some of the things that appear on the prints will give people an added appreciation of Japanese culture,” Putney said.
More than three years of planning went into the show, she said.
“I’ve wanted to do this show for a long time,” Putney said. “When Brian Kennedy came on as our director three years ago, he asked what I wanted to do and I said I really wanted to do this show, and he said, ‘Go for it,’ so it has been three years in the making.”
Artists whose work appears in the exhibit include Hashiguchi Goyo (1880–1921), Ito Shinsui (1898–1972), Kawase Hasui (1883–1957), Miki Suizan (1887–1957), Natori Shunsen (1886–1960), Oda Kazuma (1882–1956), Ohara Shoson, also known as Ohara Koson (1877–1945), Yamamura Toyonari, also known as Yamamura Koka (1885–1942), Hiroshi Yoshida (1876–1950) and Yoshikawa Kanpo (1894–1979).
The early 20th century saw a resurgence of woodblock printmaking in Japan, but most of the artists were trained at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, which taught painting in the Western style.
The artists used contemporary methods to revise a style called ukiyo-e, the traditional style of Japanese woodblock prints.
Among the differences are use of the Western one-point perspective versus the traditional Japanese birds-eye view and the use of synthetic colors versus natural colors.
“They started experimenting with new synthetic colors, so you get incredible pinks and blues and brilliant greens that wouldn’t have been seen earlier,” Putney said.
The artists kept the traditional method of printmaking, which involves many craftsmen in the process. First, an artist draws the design, then a carver carves the series of wooden blocks that create the print and then a printer prints it onto paper. Then a publisher markets and sells it.
The 1930 show appeared in 11 American cities, including Toledo, to raise funds for Japanese artists affected by a devastating 1923 earthquake.
The show was co-organized by TMA curators J. Arthur MacLean and Dorothy L. Blair in collaboration with shin hanga artist Yoshida. MacLean and Blair built TMA’s Oriental Art Department.
Although TMA had exhibited Japanese woodblock prints a few times before, the 1930 exhibit was the first to include a catalog documenting the shin hanga artists and their work.
“Our catalog became the Japanese woodblock shin hanga bible,” Putney said. “There was basically no other information besides that for 50 years, not until the 1980s.”
The current exhibition catalog is an updated version of the catalog from the 1930 show — this time in full color with larger images plus essays by Putney, Japanese scholars Koyama Shuko and Kendall H. Brown and Scottish shin hanga artist Paul Binnie.
“This catalog is really an important part of the exhibition,” Putney said. “We hope for it to be a great handbook for collectors and dealers.”
Brown, a professor of Asian art history at California State University Long Beach, will present a free lecture about the rise of the shin hanga movement and TMA’s role in its history 3-4 p.m. Oct. 6.
Binnie will offer a free lecture about the historical and technical aspects of woodblock printing in Japan from the 17th century to the present at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 21. His presentation will include a live demonstration. Binnie will also offer a traditional Japanese woodblock printing workshop Nov. 23-24.
“Fresh Impressions” runs through Jan. 1. Admission is free. A number of other free public tours, films and talks are planned. See the museum’s website for more information.
A free opening event is set for 7-9 p.m. Oct. 3, featuring traditional kimono-clad Japanese folk dancers, origami activities and narrated tea ceremonies.
To accompany the “Fresh Impression” exhibit, the museum’s collection of more than 400 netsuke will be on display near the exhibit starting Oct. 4, Putney said. Netsuke are tiny sculptures that functioned as buttons or counterweights to secure items on kimono sashes.
Another companion exhibit, “Ebb & Flow: Cross Cultural Prints,” opening Oct. 11, will highlight the global influence of Japanese printmaking in the 20th century and further explore the exchange of ideas between Eastern and Western cultures.
The museum is located at 2445 Monroe St. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, noon to 5 p.m. Sunday and closed Mondays.
For more information, visit toledomuseum.org.
Tags: Asian art, Carolyn Putney, Dorothy L. Blair, Hashiguchi Goyo, Hiroshi Yoshida, Hubert D. Bennett, Ito Shinsui, J. Arthur MacLean, Japan, Kawase Hasui, Koyama Shuko, Miki Suizan, Museum Director Brian Kennedy, Natori Shunsen, Oda Kazuma, Ohara Koson, Ohara Shoson, Oriental Art Department, shin hanga, Toledo Museum of Art, woodblock print technique, Yamamura Koka, Yamamura Toyonari, Yoshikawa Kanpo