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Posted 03/22/03, by Sharon Reed
Exhibition open until May 25, includes centuries-old woodblock prints
From March 25 through May 25, the Hood Museum of Art will present Inside the Floating World: Japanese Prints from the Lenoir C. Wright Collection, a selection of 60 woodblock prints from the 18th and 19th centuries featuring the work of such notable artists as Utagawa Kunisada, Kitagawa Utamaro, Ando Hiroshige, Suzuki Harunobu, and Tsukioka Yoshitoshi. The prints depict kabuki theatre, courtesan imagery, children, landscapes, and warriors, offering insight into the Japanese popular culture of the times.
Allen Hockley, Associate Professor of Art History at Dartmouth and curator of the exhibition, will present an opening lecture on Wednesday, March 26, at 5:30 p.m. in the Arthur M. Loew Auditorium. A reception will follow in the Kim Gallery.
This exhibition explores the "floating world," a term meant to evoke the fleeting, ephemeral quality of pleasure and human experience in the entertainment districts of Edo (modern-day Tokyo). Working with themes of kabuki (traditional Japanese theater); bijinga (women); landscape; poets, authors, and heroes; and surimono (limited-edition prints created for special events or individuals), Japanese print artists of the 18th and 19th centuries developed a popular visual culture that presented the floating world's intricate nuances in a medium that was highly sophisticated but relatively inexpensive.
Some highlights of the exhibition include Utagawa Kunisada's colorful and detailed triptych Interior of the Morita-za Kabuki Theater (1858). This work exemplifies those kabuki prints included in the exhibition that capture the complex social and artistic experience of the Japanese theater long after a performance ended and far beyond the boundaries of the theater district. Through the use of minute detail, Kunisada conveys the presence of the disparate social classes enjoying this egalitarian form of entertainment. The wealthiest patrons are seated in the highest boxes to either side of the stage, clothed in elegant costumes and displaying elaborate coiffures as they gaze down at the action below.
Utagawa Hiroshige's One Hundred Views of Edo: Meguro Drum Bridge and Sunset Hill (1857) reflects the popularity of depictions of natural wonders, sacred sites, and places of historical significance at a time when pilgrimage and travel were on the rise. The human presence in these scenes emphasizes how people used the landscape as well as its aesthetic qualities. Most 19th-century landscape prints were conceived in series, deriving their inspiration from poetic anthologies such as One Hundred Poets, One Line Each, which Hiroshige adapted for his series of views of the city of Edo. The serialization of these prints rendered them highly marketable and inexpensive for consumers.
Kitagawa Utamaro's Women under Wisteria (1790s) provides an excellent example of a bijinga (beauty picture). These prints depict women of all classes and professions but were especially concerned with images of courtesans from the city of Edo's Yoshiwara district, an area in which prostitution was legalized and courtesans were viewed as exemplars of sexuality and fashion. In this example, two statuesque beauties stand under a wisteria branch, boasting intricate hairstyles of the period.
Inside the Floating World is organized by the Weatherspoon Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro. Its presentation at the Hood Museum of Art is supported by the Marie-Louise and Samuel R. Rosenthal Fund and The Hansen Family Fund and is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue. An extensive website, www.dartmouth.edu/~ukiyoe, features prints from the Hood's collection and supplements and enhances many of the subjects and themes explored in the exhibition.
The Weatherspoon Museum's Japanese print collection has been acquired over the past 50 years by Lenoir C. Wright, Professor Emeritus of History and Political Science at the University of North Carolina, Greensboro.
- Sharon Reed
Introductory tours of Inside the Floating World are offered on the following Saturdays at 2 p.m.: April 12 and 26, May 17
Guided tours of the museum's exhibitions and collections are available by appointment for any group of five or more people. For more information or to schedule a tour, call 646-1469.
Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.