|Japanese Prints||Sign In | Register | Contact us | New User?|
Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan on view from October 20, 2006 -
February 4, 2007.
The Japanese literary tradition, dating from as early as the 8th century, is among the richest and most enduring of any country in the world, and ehon - or "picture books" - are one of the glories of world art. The New York Public Library's new exhibition, Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan, calls attention to the Library's world-renowned holdings of Japanese books, prints, and manuscripts. Opening October 20, 2006, Ehon includes approximately 280 objects, including books with printed illustrations, manuscripts, drawings, woodblock prints, and photographs.
Among the many treasures on view are Ito Jakuchu's 38-foot scroll from 1767, Aboard the Ship of Inspiration, depicting a voyage along Japan's Yodo River, and Kitagawa Utamaro's Gifts of the Ebb Tide (The Shell Book), a 1789 poetry book that is among one of the most beautiful books ever published. Joining the majority of Japanese artists in the exhibition are a number of artists from other countries who participate in the Japanese bookmaking tradition. Ehon is on view in two galleries of the Humanities and Social Sciences Library at Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street.
"The New York Public Library has built comprehensive collections that document the heritage of countries from around the world," said Paul LeClerc, the Library's President. "For scholars and researchers interested in Japanese culture, the brilliant collection of ehon displayed in this exhibition, along with materials from our Asian and Middle Eastern Division, Spencer Collection, Print Collection, and World Languages Collection, provide Library users with a current and historical view of the country's culture. Much of this material is also now available electronically through our Digital Gallery which allows the Library to share its numerous international collections with users from any corner of the globe."
"The Spencer Collection at The New York Public Library is home to over 300 manuscripts and 1,500 printed books from Japan," said David Ferriero, Andrew W. Mellon Director and Chief Executive of the Research Libraries, The New York Public Library. "Their careful gathering over the course of the last 60 years has been the work of three dedicated curators, the late Karl Kup and Joseph T. Rankin, and Robert Rainwater who retired as Curator of the Spencer Collection in 2005. Through the foresight and perseverance of these curators, the Library has built one of the largest and most significant collections of ehon in a library of the Western Hemisphere. Today we continue to acquire significant Japanese materials and materials related to the art of the book."
The exhibition is unique in interspersing ehon of different periods to explore the tradition, transmission, and transformation of ehon over time and facilitate a dialogue among the works on display. Through juxtapositions of old and new items, it is hoped that contemporary ehon artists coming to the exhibition will see their work in a new and different context and that the exhibition will spark a renewed appreciation of ehon in the Japanese community.
The exhibition spans two galleries. The first section, "Origins," in the Wachenheim Gallery, features early Buddhist books and a few secular manuscripts. Four thematic sections are on view in Gottesman Hall. "The Art of the Book" focuses on the nature of ehon as it has developed over the last four hundred years. "Heaven," "Earth," and "Humanity," a traditional Asian division of the cosmos, provides an opportunity to see parallel visions of common themes and to appreciate the range of artists' work.
The cumulative effect of an ehon, the importance of time, and the conversations between picture and picture, picture and text, artist and reader, are difficult to convey in an exhibition, in which books must be shown in closed cases and can be open only to one or two pages. Rather than being a limitation, it is hoped that this will prompt another kind of conversation, among the individual books and their readers. To assist the viewer in making such connections, the exhibition is laid out in a non-linear fashion, with some of the cases containing "Art of the Book" materials located within "Heaven," "Earth," and "Humanity." Object labels refer viewers to similar or contrasting images in other parts of the exhibition. To provide a taste of the traditional intersection within a single book, two volumes are shown in their entirety on touchscreens: Volume I of Flowers of a Hundred Worlds in "The Art of the Book" and Gifts of the Ebb Tide (The Shell Book) in "Earth." In addition, a didactic panel titled "Reading Ehon" provides a detailed look at the content, illustration, and production of "Nesting cranes and pine tree," an image from Yamaguchi Soken's The Playful Cranes Anthology (1818) on view in "Earth."
"One secret of the appeal of ehon is that their artists see with such imagination and clarity, draw with such verve, and embrace any subject, however humble or imperfect," explains exhibition curator Roger S. Keyes. "Ehon are indescribably intimate. They are so beautifully made, of such attractive and sensuous materials, that they attract, seize, and hold a reader's attention. Ehon provide relevation, energy, and inspiration and turn willing readers into artists. They empower people."
A million copies of the first Japanese book were printed between 764 and 770. Conceived as a miniature Buddha reciting an incantation, or prayer, to the cosmos for as long as the book existed, it wasn't meant to be read. For example, the Perfection of Wisdom Sutra was given to a Shinto shrine in 1279 to protect Japan from an imminent Mongol invasion. Most early ehon were Buddhist sutras bound as accordion books for ease of use or as handscrolls for convenient storage. Wealthy patrons often commissioned secular manuscripts in which pictures alternated with text. These were bound as individual books or as sets. Women sometimes painted charming small manuscripts in black-and-white, like The Tale of Genji (1554).
There is an art to making ehon and an art to reading them. Traditional Japanese architects designed buildings and compounds that separated the outside world from the inner sanctum with a sequence of barriers: wall, gates, corridors, and doorways. Ehon artists designed their books similarly so that readers also have to pass through a series of barriers, gradually leaving the outer world behind before reaching the art of the book. This section looks not only at the process, format, and media of printed books but also provides key examples of the ehon tradition.
Kaburagi Kiyokata's Lotus Rising from a Whirlpool (1913-14) demonstrates how expressive a book's cover can be, through its bold use of colors and symbology of a brush stroke depicting water. In aesthetic contrast, immaculate detail and exquisite line drawing converge in Katsukawa Shunsho's The Courtesans Senzan, Chozan, and Toyoharu of the Chojiya House Reading. In addition to the richly illustrated flows of the courtesan's robes, distinct details are easily visible, including a learned commentary on The Tale of Genji that rests in an alcove in the background, for the courtesans' reading enjoyment.
An ancient Asian tradition divides the cosmos into three realms. In the great threefold division of the cosmos, Heaven includes the sky, all the heavenly bodies, and things related to the sky, like weather. It also includes the invisible spirit world and the continuing spiritual presence of the dead. Some imagery of deities, heavens, hells, and spiritual practice is Buddhist, but one ancient name for Japan was Land of the Eight Million Gods, and much imagery in ehon is shamanic and animist.
The world's first printed books were enchantments directed toward invisible beings that could have a good or bad effect on the human world. Japanese examples of these works on view include a small wooden pagoda that houses incantations. Ordered by Empress Shotoku in 764, the incantation of The Million Prayer Towers (Hyakumanto) was to restore equilibrium and create long-term stability and peace. Kawada Kikuji's 1965 masterpiece The Map is a brilliantly-designed requiem published on the twentieth anniversary of the bombing of Hiroshima. The reader must pass through five separate boundaries before reaching Kawada's photographs, the silent, timeless sanctuary at the core of the book.
Ehon artists and their readers were fascinated with landscape. Some views were topographical, some symbolic, while many were purely expressive and imaginary. Expressive landscapes derived from traditions of Chinese painting. Western models influenced the development of cartography, medicine, and nature history in Japan, and Western drawing techniques, such as the use of perspective, influenced representational landscape.
Katsushika Hokusai is an iconic Japanese artist. The exhibition includes early printings of One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji, one of his masterpieces, and "Fuji in a winter wind," an original preparatory drawing for the book that clearly shows his working methods.
Gifts of the Ebb Tide (The Shell Book), 1789, by Kitagawa Utamaro, transports the reader to the actual Shinagawa beach where people stroll along conversing and hunting for shells. The heart of the book is a series of exquisite studies of thirty-six seashells with accompanying verse. The book ends in a brightly-lit room at night, where a group of women have begun a "shell contest," matching the separated halves of painted or inscribed clam shells. The book is printed on thick, luxurious hosho paper with mica, embossing, mother-of-pear, and actual gold bound with hand-painted indigo paper.
Ehon artists depicted the human condition in all its fascinating variety in their books: courtiers, samurai, craftsmen, merchants, farmers, and religious figures, as well as outcasts like actors and prostitutes. The art of reading was a familiar subject, as was sexual intimacy, and the exhibition includes a few explicitly erotic books.
The original "bad boy" of Japanese photography, Moriyama Daido, is represented with his Japan Theater Photo Album (1968) and its photo of a transvestite. There is both an aggression and a sadness to the image, taken close-up with a blank background. Kabuki theater is featured in Utagawa Kunisada's Poems for Ichikawa Sanj� from the Sanjo Circle in Edo (1829), in which the actor Ichikawa Danjuro VII is given the royal treatment with a brightly-colored woodblock.
The New York Public Library, New York
20 October 2006 - 4 February 2007
Press release and images by The New York Public Library - edited by artelino.
The images on this web site are the property of the artist(s) and or the artelino GmbH and/or a third company or institution. Reproduction, public display and any commercial use of these images, in whole or in part, require the expressed written consent of the artist(s) and/or the artelino GmbH.