Sometimes I like to consider myself a mini expert on Japan. I learned to speak and write Japanese in school years ago; I’ve traveled all over Japan numerous times; and most currently relevant, my brother, who has lived in Japan for 13 years, married into the coolest family of Japanese artists.
His wife is a classically trained artist but primarily conceptualizes and creates video game characters. Her sister has her own manga and anime series. Their mother is an art professor. So, you can trust that I’ve been taken to numerous art museums in Japan, and I’ve learned quite a bit about different styles and techniques. So, yesterday, when I was asked if I wanted to check out Chrysler’s new exhibit Gifts from Japan: Landscape Woodblocks in the Shin-Hanga Style, I thought it would make a fun, nostalgic diversion. I was expecting to see the same style of iconic woodblock prints that have been around for centuries…
Kawase Hasui, Japanese, 1883–1957. Pagoda at Honmon Temple, Ikegami, 1954. Color woodblock print on laid paper. Gift of Momotaro Yanagida, Mayor of Moji, Japan, sister city of Norfolk.
…What I didn’t expect was how vibrant and captivating this collection is! Shin-Hanga literally means ‘new prints’, and was an art movement in Japan in the 20th Century that fused together the ancient technique of block printing with a modern twist. This exhibit showcases 16 prints that seamlessly blend together iconic Japanese nature scenes with the European influence of shading and the use of linear perspective. The results are stunning.
Nostalgic scenes of Shinto shrines, Buddhist temples, and ancient bridges are brought to pulsating life with bold colors and subtle shading that are not often found in block prints prior to the shin-hanga movement. A new depth and vitality are present because of these techniques. The reverence of nature is a common theme throughout the collection. Idyllic scenes of cherry blossom tress, rivers, and Mt. Fuji filled me with a sense of tranquility. Japan has always had an interesting duality with paying homage to their ancient heritage yet also being perceived as ultra modern or even futuristic. The prints serve as an important reminder to take a calm moment to reflect on the present and the past. I found it inspiring to see art created in the 20th century honoring both artistic techniques and subject matters of the centuries old past.
Kawase Hasui, Japanese, 1883 – 1957. Mt. Fuji from Narusawa, 1936. Color woodblock print on laid paper. Gift of Momotaro Yan agida, Mayor of Moji, Japan, sister city of Norfolk.
These prints are also an interesting part of Norfolk’s past. They were given to the Norfolk Museum of Arts and Science (which later became the Chrysler Art Museum) by the mayor of their sister city in Japan, Moji (now called Kitakyushu) in 1961. Just last year, Brock Curator of American Art, Alex Mann, discovered the prints in a Museum prints-storage drawer during research. Impressed and intrigued by the prints, Mann went on a quest to discover more information about their creators and stories. Now, more than a half-century after they were originally donated, the prints are exhibited together for the first time, creating a unique and individual collection.
Enjoying the prints’ deceptive simplicity and vivid scenes alone is worth going to the Chrysler. But, as always, the masterminds at Chrysler know how to throw impressive events, so to compliment the exhibit the museum has organized a few cultural events:
Kodomo no hi: Children’s Day
Saturday, May 2 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m.
The Chrysler echoes Japan’s May festival with our own celebration of Gifts from Japan. Come make your own Japanese kite—a carp-shaped Koinobori. The fish streamers are a traditional sign of family strength and spirit.
Third Thursday: Sushi and Sake
Thursday, May 21 until 10 p.m.
A 6 p.m., learn how to make sushi from Chef Chris Boehme of Wisteria by Cuisine & Company and pick up some great recipes to try at home. The cash bar will include a sake tasting option and Wisteria will offer special Japanese-themed entrees this evening.
At 6:30 p.m., explore Gifts from Japan with Colin Brady, Asian art expert and Hermitage Museum Chief Curator, and Alex Mann, the Chrysler’s Brock Curator of American Art, as they illustrate what makes the exhibition’s Shin-Hanga prints both traditional and modern.
Cost: Free for Museum Members and students with current school ID, $5 for all others.
Free Family Day
Saturday, July 11 from 10 a.m.–3 p.m.
Summer Family Day focuses on the natural beauty on view in two of the popular exhibitions: The Artist’s Garden and Gifts from Japan. The Chrysler’s Family Day is generously sponsored by the Bunny and Perry Morgan Fund.
The show will be on view in the Museum’s Focus Gallery (G. 229) through July 26, 2015. Admission is free.