Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Harmonizing fantasy and reality

 Mountains and Rivers on the Kiso, 1857

Sudden Shower over Ohashi Bridge, circa 1856-1858

Fukagawa Susaki from “One Hundred Famous Views of Edo,” 1857

“Cherry Trees in Full Bloom at Arashiyama” from around 1834.

Kanbara: Night Snow, 1833-34, from "Fifty-Three Stations on the Tokaido Highway"

Even though it has been almost 5 years since I was in graduate school and my tastes have changed somewhat since then,  I still love Japanese ukiyo-e prints.  When I was buried under stacks of books writing my Masters thesis (on the influence of ukiyo-e prints on Stieglitz circle artist, Florine Stettheimer) I likely looked at over 50-100 Japanese prints a day from the likes of Hokusai, Utamaro and Hiroshige.  All were beautiful, but somehow Hiroshige always stuck out in my mind as the most capable print-maker.  

I was pleased to discover that Hiroshige and his world are the subject of a newly installed exhibition at the Fondazione Roma Museum, curated by Gian Carlo Claza.  (The exhibition will travel to London in July).  The museum has been lent over 200 prints by the Honolulu Academy of Arts, which has one of the most extensive holdings of ukiyo-e material worldwide.  Hiroshige is often recognized for placing an oversized element in the foreground of his prints to draw in the viewer.  For example, a giant lantern appears half-obscuring the sky in a print depicting a temple or an eagle seems to swoop directly in front of a snowy landscape and hinder the view of the snow-capped mountains behind him.  One thing remains constant in Hiroshige's prints: he is a master of the landscape.  His 120-sheet "One Hundred Views of Edo," for which he is highly regarded showcases some of the most wildly picturesque places imaginable.

When recently reading the review of Hiroshige's exhibition in the New York Times, I learned that he did not in fact visit all of the places that he so keenly captured in his prints--he was actually "harmonizing fantasy and reality."  In these troubled times, this practice is not uncommon.  And although daydreaming has long been a part of the corporate workday, it may be even more necessary than ever before.  With 'tonight's top stories' reading like a veritable harbinger of the end of days (with the Craigslist killer, the financial crisis, Mexico's earthquake, piracy in the Suez Canal, and the recent Swine Flu Epidemic taking over), a trip to your local gallery may be just what the doctor ordered.  So, get out on your lunch break, duck into a gallery down the street and escape to a fantastical place.  

1 comment:

Style Court said...

Emily, I so agree. This post really appeals to me. Love the woodblock prints and enjoyed learning more about your thesis.