Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters March Toward the Sunset

Sunday June 13th is the last chance to be speared, spooked and spirited away by Utagawa Kuniyoshi’s ukiyo-e imagination at Japan Society Gallery's Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters. Featuring over 130 of Kuniyoshi’s sly and enthralling woodblock prints, the show has been one of Japan Society’s most well-attended traditional art exhibitions of all time. And no wonder: the art is cool. From the first rooms, featuring epic battles with supernatural beasties, through rooms where portraits of beautiful ladies, effete avengers and strapping warriors tantalize from the walls, all the way to the surreal quirky comics in the final room (cats mimicking the 53 stations of the Tōkaidō!), walking through the exhibition was like peeling the curtain back and peering into a world just to the left of real.

As Arthur Lubow wrote in New York magazine, Kuniyoshi’s art wasn’t just witty and fun to look at; he was something of a pioneer as well:
“In an almost 50-year career, spanning the first half of the nineteenth century, Kuniyoshi pushed across boundaries. He uses every part of the frame, deploying strong colors and powerful forms. He also works many genres: landscapes, beautiful women, actors, cats, and mythical animals, not to mention the battles of samurai and legendary heroes for which he is best known. Formally, he is brilliantly innovative: His three-panel compositions revolutionized Japanese art by spreading one image over an entire triptych.”

Kuniyoshi’s prints got rave reviews from local New York press: The New Yorker said his "eye for the fantastic and ghoulish remains unparalleled," CityArts found it "impressive," and Thrillist called them "Psychedelic" and "the venerable origins of bad-ass Japanese art." The New York Times commented on Kuniyoshi's erotic inclinations, featured briefly in the catalogue, but not in the physical exhibition.

After June 13th Japan Society’s mangaka-in-residence, Hiroki Otsuka, will bid us adieu, too, having worked since the exhibition's opening. In the meantime, he’ll be finishing up his original Kuniyoshi-based manga, Samurai Beam. Check out the final pages as they get posted online!

Too busy or geographically miss-located to catch the show before it closes? There are two ways it can live with you forever. Check out curator Timothy Clark's 300+ page, full color, gorgeously illustrated catalogue published by our co-presenters at London's Royal Academy of Arts. Or take home one of 36 high-quality Kuniyoshi reproductions, lovingly digitized and sized by our friends at the Museum of Fine Arts.

Japan Society Gallery is open this Thursday 11 am-6 pm, Friday 11 am-9 pm, and Saturday and Sunday 11 am-5 pm. Admission is free all the time for children under 16, Japan Society members, and,  thanks to the NEA's Blue Star Museums initiative, active duty military service members and their families. It is also free to everyone on Friday, 6-9 pm.

Catch the exhibition before it’s too late!


Photo caption: TOP, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Kabuki Actor Onoe Kikugorō III as the Spirit of the Cat Stone, c. 1835, olor woodblock print, R: 14 1/2 x 10 1/8 in., C: 14 5/8 x 10 in., L: 14 1/2 x 10 1/8 in, American Friends of The British Museum (The Arthur R. Miller Collection) 19408, photo © Trustees of The British Museum. BOTTOM, details of the exhibition catalogue Kuniyoshi: From the Arthur R. Miller Collection by Timothy Clark.

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