Turning Japanese at the TMA

. October 30, 2013.
Ebb-and-Flow-by-Paul-Binnie_2012_105-low-res-150x150

You have to see the Toledo Museum of Art to believe it. Less than an hour away and yet terra incognita for many art lovers here in cosmopolitan Southeast Michigan. “World class” has become a cliché but there’s not a city on earth that wouldn’t love to have this gem within its jurisdiction. The TMA is always worth the easy drive, but when there’s a special show it’s a must. Case in point: right now there is a complex of interrelated exhibitions with Japanese flavors and themes that my readers and fans have got to, got to, got to see.

The centerpiece is “Fresh Impressions: Early Modern Japanese Prints,” which runs through January 1, 2014. It is the reassembling and reinterpreting of the identical TMA show that electrified the North American art world when it was first exhibited there in 1930, the largest modern Japanese woodblock print spectacle ever assembled in this hemisphere. Now you can—must—see the museum’s same, entire 343-piece collection, still considered the finest in the United States. A prescient gift from local industrialist, H.D. Bennett, the prints have been in hermetic storage since the 1930s and have retained their vivid, ethereal color and their modern—indeed timeless—pristine esthetic.

The prints are from the “shin hanga” (literally “new print”) school of woodblock technique, a revival of traditional Japanese methods mixed with early 20th century western influences, including Impressionism. They comprise a variety of subject matter, including landscapes, seascapes, beautiful women, actors, temples, town and country. In addition to the prints there are companion objects on display – kimonos, Kabuki costumes, samurai swords and armor. There is a major companion catalog, reproducing all 343 works, on sale at the Museum Store or online at toledomuseum.org. A perfect Christmas gift for the loved one who has everything.

East meets West

Also running now through January 5 is “Ebb & Flow: Cross-Cultural Prints.” The 100 pieces drawn principally from the TMA’s collection are an exploration of cross-pollinating artistic exchanges since 1900, particularly between Japan and the West. Whereas the “Fresh Impressions” exhibit showcases the shin hanga school, “Ebb & Flow” features the “sosaku hanga” (“creative prints”) and “kindai hanga” (“modern-contemporary prints”) movements. Sosaku hanga was the result of Japanese artists starting to travel to the West around the turn of the 20th century. They were in for something of a shock, given that Japan had been a feudal society only 35 years earlier. One thing that stood out about Western printmaking was that the artist created the art himself from beginning to end: making the design, cutting the blocks, pulling the print, everything. In Japan, up to that time, each step of the work was divided among different artisans. The kindai hanga are post-War works, including a moving series by Japanese-American artist, Roger Shimomura portraying his time in an American internment camp during World War II.

The TMA has also pulled out its entire collection of Japanese netsuke, dating from the Edo Period. At more than 500 pieces it is one of the largest and finest in the world. Netsuke are the fasteners that hold kimonos in place, and the Edo Period dated from 1615 to 1868, the end of the feudal era. The craftsmanship is extraordinary in ceramic, ivory, horn and various woods. In addition, the museum has commissioned local clothing artists to create garments informed by the Japanese artworks on view. More than 21 pieces were selected for display including T-shirts, head pieces and hair decorations. On the last day of the exhibition, Friday December 27, there will be a massive runway show and reception.

There are also two other major exhibitions running, plus the TMA’s permanent collection, the free-standing glass museum made out of glass (perhaps the finest in the world), and the sculpture gardens that surround the museum. Don’t say I didn’t tell you.

Free. The Toledo Museum of Art, 2445 Monroe St.,
Toledo OH. Tuesday & Wednesday 10am-4pm;
Thursday & Friday 10am-9pm; Saturday 10am-5pm;
Sunday 12pm-5pm. 419-255-8000. toledomuseum.org