Monday, February 11, 2008

Hokusai Exhibition Nagoya City Art Museum

Hard on the heels of the ukiyo-e display currently underway at the Nagoya Boston Museum of Fine Arts in Kanayama is the Hokusai exhibition which opened on the 9th at the Nagoya City Art Museum.
Subtitled "Siebold and Hokusai and his Tradition" there are many examples of Hokusai's work on display.Some,apparently, are on show in Japan for the first time having been loaned from the Bibliotheque nationale de France and the National Museum of Ethnology in Leiden.
From the brief English language notes at the Museum and a little googling Ive been able to work out how Siebold fits into the scheme of things and gets to share the headlines with Hokusai.
Philipp F. von Seibold was a resident physician at Deshima,an island in Nagasaki harbour which was a Dutch trading post set up by the Japanese government of the day.He undertook extensive research into many areas including among other things the local geography,flora and fauna,botany,history and arts.His book "Nippon"which described his research remains a standard text.
He also amassed a huge ethnographic and plant collection including everyday household goods,tools and handmade items and crafts including woodblock prints.It is this collection which forms the basis of the Museum in Leiden and some of the works on display come from Siebolds initial accumulation.

As to Hokusai himself, he seems a fairly unusual character using around 26 different signatures on his work and moving home some 93 times in his lifetime.If the works on display are anything to go by he was not only hardworking but also skilled as a draughtsman,artist,painter,printmaker and book illustrator.

On display are prints from his "Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji" which includes the well known "The Great Wave off Kanagawa" print as well as examples from "A Tour of the WaterFalls of the Provinces" and others from "Unusual Views of Celebrated Bridges in the Provinces".
There are also portraits of people such as actors and well placed ladies as well as everyday scenes such as markets,kabuki theatres or candle making shops which are the bread and butter subjects of ukiyo-e.
There are also some large impressive scrolls depicting various animals,seasons and activities.

But if there was one thing that struck me it was the collection of sketch books that were on display.Each page was full of small accurate sketches of people working and every day things such as tools or utensils.Obviously they were used as references for later work.Some of them can be seen in different scenes,for example, in a number of the carpenters and sawyers prints.
A webpage from the Smithsonian site suggests that Hokusai may have coined the term "manga".(Articulations January 16 2008 Hokusai manga were "whimsical pictures filled with sketches of every day life" rather than the popular comic form we associate with the word today.Yet gazing at some of his sketches and having seen what salarymen are reading on trains there is certainly a graphic link between them as far as my untrained,uneducated eye can see.

Finally then there was a lot of varied work to see so I didnt begrudge the 1,100 yen admission for adults.
I would suggest however that one goes on a midweek day.I went today Monday 11th a National Holiday so every woman and her pushchair was there.
It was crowded,noisy and took me about two hours to see all the exhibition while being jostled and elbowed by impatient fellow patrons and being irritated by ringing mobiles..which begs the question why bring a cellphone to an art gallery?And if you have to why not switch it off?
The exhibition runs till 23 March and is 1,100yen for adults at the door.

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