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A permanent Japonisme display [New Jersey]

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A permanent Japonisme display [New Jersey]

  1. 1. ART REVIEWSART REVIEWS; In New Jersey, a Permanent JaponismeDisplayBy HOLLAND COTTERPublished: July 8, 1994New Jersey art museums within easy striking distance of Manhattan offer a number of low-keyrewards this summer. The Newark Museum is host to a cluster of offbeat mini-shows, fromcontemporary American to South Asian art. Jersey City Museums airy space on the top floor ofthe citys public library is filled with the vital work of six young sculptors. And the JaneVoorhees Zimmerli Art Museum at Rutgers University in New Brunswick has recentlyinaugurated the first-ever permanent display devoted to the international aesthetic movementknown as Japonisme. New BrunswickThe Kusakabe-Griffis Japonisme Gallery documents a formative though still little-exploredchapter in modern art history, the period from the mid-19th to early-20th century when Japanand the West were first engaged in fertile cultural exchange.Much of that exchange was socio-economic in origin: Japan, after opening its doors to trade in1853, was getting its first crack at Western-style industrial progress, while the West wasgaining access to an exotic foreign market. Nowhere did this venture have greater immediateimpact than on art. On the Japanese side, woodblock prints by artists like Hiroshige quicklybegan incorporating details of Western culture, from stovepipe hats to locomotives, whileadvanced European painters, Manet and Van Gogh among them, seized upon the formalproperties of Japanese art as a way to break the grip of Western academic tradition.It should be said right away that none of the work in the Rutgers Japonisme collection is of"masterpiece" calibre. Among its paintings and drawings, prints and posters, books andphotographs can be found works by a few high-profile figures (Mary Cassatt and Toulouse-Lautrec are represented by some graphic work; Frank Lloyd Wright by a stained-glasswindow), but most of the Western artists are notable primarily as textbook exemplars ofJaponisme itself.Yet from this non stellar, often ephemeral material, the Zimmerlis director, Phillip DennisCate, has shaped a telling study in cultural history. One of the installations very first imagesgives a taste of the fascinating crossbreeding to come. It is an 1885 Japanese woodblockportrait of Kukuchi Genichiro, editor of the countrys first newspaper. The prints technicalexecution is traditional, as is the pretty landscape of mountains and lakes it depicts. ButGenichiro himself is like nothing Japanese art has seen before: he is a rakish figure dressed ina natty checked tweed suit, knee-high boots and a beret like floppy black hat.
  2. 2. This portrait was intended as a positive emblem of Westernization (the title of the woodblockseries from which it comes is "Self-Made Men Worthy of Emulation"), though Japanesedepictions of Westerners themselves are sometimes unmistakably derisive. This is certainlytrue of Utagawa Yoshitoros print "English Couple" (1861), with its simian-looking beardedmerchant dominated by a towering, umbrella-wielding wife in pantaloons.Western artists display a similar mix of admiration, disdain and incomprehension in theiradaptations of Japanese culture. In a famous poster of a black-dressed Jane Avril, Toulouse-Lautrec forges a daring emblem of modernity from the flat planes and solid colours ofJapanese prints. By contrast, Philippe Burty, who coined the term "Japonisme" in 1872, turnsimages of Noh masks into cartoons, and Helen Hyde, one of several American artists whostudied in Japan, makes sentimentalized kitsch from what were presumably first-handobservations. Her work is a reminder that while some innovative Westerners used Japanese artto radicalize their vision, others sought the romantic images of pre-industrial serenity that thislong-sequestered island nation was imagined to embody.The Kusakabe-Griffis Japonisme Gallery (named for Americas first Japanese college student,who enrolled at Rutgers in 1867, and for his English tutor) provides substantial evidence for allthese points of view. It puts the good, the bad and the ugly side by side in a richly textured,stimulating exhibition that anyone interested in the shaping of 19th-century Europeanmodernism and in East Asian art will want to see. NewarkWork of the 19th century also plays a significant part in "Gods and Goddesses in Indian Art" atthe Newark Museum, a small gathering of South Asian sculptures and paintings from themuseums holdings.Among the remarkable pieces is a late-19th-century hollow metal head of the god Shiva fromsouthern India. With its large, intense eyes and fantastically decorated, winglike ears, it wascreated to be carried in religious processions. From the same century, from Rajasthan, comes alarge painting on unstretched cotton of women worshipping Krishna. Every element in thecomposition is symmetrical, yet the brilliantly coloured palm groves and peacocks set under astar-filled autumn sky are vibrant with spiritual animation.Splendid older pieces are also on view: the ninth-century goddess Parvati swaying to therhythm of unheard dance music is one; a striking four-headed Brahma carved in woodanother. But it is the 19th-century works that prove of particular interest. They represent aperiod only beginning to get serious scholarly attention and they give clear evidence of ancienttraditions perpetuated and transformed in the present.The California artist John Baldessari has done his share of transforming traditions, too. Hisphotograph-and-text-based conceptual work has had considerable influence on contemporary
  3. 3. art since the early 1970s, and "John Baldessari: Four Directional Pieces" at Newark offers asmall sampling of his output from the last three decades.The earliest work, "A Movie" (1972-73), is pretty much clever absurdist fun. It consists of 28old film stills arranged on the wall as a large spiral, dictated by the direction of the glances ofthe main characters -- Hollywood femmes fatales, gangsters and cowboys -- in each of the filmstills."Flying Saucers" (1992), with its fragmented shots of ruined buildings and Santa Monicabicyclists, offers a bit more food for thought, and the enlarged magazine photos of snakes in"Baudelaire Meets Poe" (1980) are genuinely creepy. The low visual wattage of this artistswork, however, remains a problem. Even at their most dynamic, his images tend to fadequickly from memory (it has often been said that he is more interesting for the work he hasinspired in others than for the work he has done himself). But the Newarks carefully chosenexhibition shows him at his most varied and engaging. Jersey CityThe Jersey City Museum also offers contemporary work. Of two shows on view this summer,Felice Nudelmans solo exhibition of photography has some memorable moments. Theopening image, titled "Allegory," of a womans distorted face in profile is mysterious anddisturbing, but the numerous murky-looking desert vistas that follow fail to convey a similarcharge. Only "Cathedral Lake," whose great glowing oval of light could be either a cloud in thesky or a body of water, shows how good a landscape photographer Ms. Nudelman can be.The group show of sculpture also has its distinct ups and downs. The attraction of JohnParriss visual puns (oxygen tanks made of Styrofoam, suspended in midair) pretty muchbegins and ends with their snappy colours, and Nancy Cohens pod like sculptures, despiteevidence of the artists nice way with materials, never get beyond suggesting 3-D refugees fromold Terry Winters paintings.Less technically resolved but more gripping are Lorenzo Paces homages to the writer JamesBaldwin. The strongest, titled "Go Tell It on the Mountain" after Baldwins book, bringstogether a battered church pew, a fan from an Alabama funeral home, a pair of beat-up highheels and an African-style sculpture to suggest the personal conflicts and cultural layeringfound in Mr. Baldwins fiction.Conflict of a certain theatrical kind is the entire substance of China Markss grotesque plasterfigures. Her tormented, often demonic creatures bring Hans Bellmer to mind, but the Rococoeroticism evident here is little more than audacious fluff. Better is Stephen Schofieldsunassuming abstract work, also Surrealist in flavor. His fat little floor sculptures, combiningsilk, chiffon and cement and looking like cushions stuffed to the point of bursting, keep the eyecoming back and invite hands-on investigation. Like Mr. Pace, Mr. Schofield is a talent worthfollowing, and the Jersey City Museum does well to bring him to our attention.
  4. 4. Photo: Toulouse-Lautrecs "Divan Japonais" (1893), part of the Zimmerli MuseumsJaponisme exhibition, at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, N.J. (Jane Voorhees/ZimmerliArt Museum)Japanese ArtBy GREGORY COWLESPublished: December 4, 2005Part of the charm of Japanese prints is their apparent simplicity - the clean lines, the richcolours, the traditional focus on animals or landscapes or beautiful women. Like the best comicbooks or advertising posters, these things pop.A courtesan and apprentice, by Hokusai, from "Ukiyo-E."A lithograph of 1890- 91, from "Japonisme."
  5. 5. A night view of Edo by Keisai Eisen (from "Ukiyo-E").A 19th-century Vietnamese Buddha, from "The Arts of Asia."But as with Hemingways sentences, simple doesnt necessarily mean easy. Every woodblockprint is the result of an elaborate collaboration, with segments of the artists original sketchcarved onto a series of cherry wood blocks, one for each colour, then inked and layeredcarefully onto paper to create the final product. That so mechanical and tactile a process canyield so ethereal an image is one of the subtler pleasures of Japanese prints, and one of thereasons to celebrate the steady stream of recent books offering high-quality reproductions.This year, the place to start has to be Gian Carlo Calzas UKIYO-E (Phaidon) , a lavishcollection of some 600 prints dating mostly from the late Edo period (1615-1868). The titletranslates to "the floating world," a catchall phrase for the transitory images these printmakerstried to capture: a bird lighting on a branch, a mother and daughter catching fireflies, theimposing Mount Fuji glowing red in the early dawn. Work from all the Edo masters is here,including probably the most famous Japanese print of all time: Hokusais "Great Wave" (1830-32), with its stylized crest like cappuccino foam.Readers more familiar with the Christmas-card version of "The Great Wave," whichsuperimposes a little Santa Claus hanging ten on the waves peak, may be interested inJAPONISME: Cultural Crossings Between Japan and the West (Phaidon), edited byLionel Lambourne. The book traces the cross-pollination between Japan and the West after the"bamboo curtain" fell in 1858, opening Japan to foreign trade and ending more than 200 yearsof self-imposed isolation. The result was a Western fad for all things Japanese. Lambourneprovides a series of fascinating side-by-side comparisons to show the influence of Japaneseprints on Degas, Cassatt, Monet and especially van Gogh, whose "Bridge in the Rain" is a directcopy of Hiroshiges great "Sudden Shower Over the Shin-Ohashi Bridge." Later chaptersbroaden the comparison to include advertising, furniture and the decorative arts.
  6. 6. An all-encompassing approach is also on display in THE ARTS OF ASIA: Materials,Techniques, Styles (Thames and Hudson, $50), by Meher McArthur, a curator at Pacific AsiaMuseum in Pasadena, Calif. McArthurs book is organized by material (the "very substance ofthe art," the author says in her introduction), with chapters on jade, silk, porcelain and so on,and includes examples from throughout Asia and throughout history, ranging from Han dynastyChina to 20th-century Indonesia. The subject is so vast that all this book can hope to do is givea little taste, but with so much to admire, sometimes a little taste is exactly what you want.

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