Friday, July 01, 2005

Art: How a Japanese Master Enlightened the West

An article from today's NY Times about an exhibition in Washington: East Meets West: Hiroshige at the Phillips Collection
"Legend has it that mid-19th century French artists discovered the wonders of the Japanese woodcut when they examined papers used to wrap imported Japanese ceramics. Today, looking at the prints of Utagawa Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai, the greatest of Japanese woodcut printmakers, it is hard to fathom that their works could have been viewed as the equivalents of our funny pages.
And it is easy to see how Modernists from Manet to Bonnard could find in the lucidity and technical and formal economy of those Japanese artists inspirational guides for escaping the suffocating conventions of Beaux Arts and Victorian painting.
[It] interweaves the print series that made Hiroshige famous - "The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido" - with paintings from the museum's collection by famous artists like C├ęzanne, Whistler and Braque, as well as by artists of less sturdy repute like Augustus Tack, Ernest Lawson and Maurice Prendergast.
Hardly any of the Western paintings in the Phillips Collection show convey that adventurous feeling of traveling through or into the picture.
That dimension of pictorial and psychic travel was left undeveloped by Western Modernist painting, which has tended to try to arrest the eye and the mind in the empirical here and now. But Hiroshige's kind of narrative did not die out. It flourishes in comic books, graphic novels and animated films that Eastern and Western artists continue to churn out in great volumes, transporting minds all over the world."