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Mount Fuji’s Big Day

POSTED BY , ON July 22, 2013, Comments Off

Hokusai, Great Wave

Congratulations are in order for Mount Fuji, which was adopted on June 24 of this year as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. In Japan, thousands of people celebrated by trying to be among those witnessing the first raiko, or sunrise, since the announcement. At the Art Institute, we are celebrating by putting on view Katsushika Hokusai’s dazzling Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, including the great Great Wave, which hasn’t been on view at the museum for many years. (Okay, we’re kidding about that—we decided to put Hokusai’s series on view long before the UNESCO designation was a done deal—but we are very serious that this would be a great time to visit the museum and see Hokusai’s prints.)

Somewhat surprisingly, Mount Fuji was named as a cultural, rather than natural, heritage site, recognizing the extent to which the mountain has permeated Japanese cultural and spiritual life for centuries. It has been venerated as a sacred mountain since ancient times, but it was in the Edo period, roughly from 1600 to 1850 when the Japanese capital moved from Kyoto to Edo (modern-day Tokyo), that the popularity of Mount Fuji soared like the mountain’s snow-capped peak. Even though it is about 60 miles from Tokyo, Mount Fuji is visible from many points within the city, and a cult developed around the mountain. Called Fujiko, members of the cult gathered offerings and selected representatives who would climb the mountain. It was believed that the spirit of those who successfully ascended the mountain would be purified and they would be able to find happiness. Climbing the mountain was, in a sense, a rebirth: pilgrims who entered Mount Fuji, which was viewed as a female deity, would come out reborn and rejuvenated.

Soshu Nakahara

Hokusai’s Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei) was a product of the popularity of this cult. While the protagonist of the series is of course Mount Fuji, many prints also feature the pilgrims on their way to the mountain or to a famous view of Mount Fuji. In the print Soshu Nakahara (immediately above), for example, two pilgrims wearing large round hats are depicted on the bridge, and the taller pilgrim wears the traditional white garb. The traveler at the far right, a peddler, takes a step toward the mountain as if to begin his climb, despite the distance between them.

The popularity of the Fuji cult waned after the Meiji period when people began to consider mountain climbing as a pastime rather than a ritual. Yet even today, about ten groups make the pilgrimage up to a shrine near the summit of the mountain, and they wear white and carry a long walking stick as they did more than two centuries ago. When asked if people around the world understand the significance of Mount Fuji, the chief priest of the Fuji Hongu Sengen Shrine located in the southern foothills of Mount Fuji and guarding the “front entrance” to the mountain, recently said, “The word for tourism [in Japanese] is kanko, which is written ‘to see the light’ [in Chinese characters]. If visitors who visit this land feel something through viewing Mount Fuji, that is good enough for me.”

—Mai Yamaguchi, Department of Asian Art Intern

Image Credits: Katsushika Hokusai. Nakahara in Sagami Province (Soshu Nakahara), from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei), c. 1830–32. Clarence Buckingham Collection.

Katsushika Hokusai. The Great Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura), from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjurokkei), c. 1830–32. Clarence Buckingham Collection.

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Explicit Characters: Putting Asian Art Online

POSTED BY , ON March 20, 2013, Comments Off

  street scene

What do Japanese accent marks and opportunistic online pornographers have to do with each other, and with the Art Institute of Chicago’s rich collection of pre-20th-century Asian art? While raucous behavior (including at least one eye-catching display of bodily function) lurks within the two Chinese painted hand scrolls and one Japanese woodblock printed book that are now available online, nothing truly untoward seems to be happening on the surface.

Bumpo

These three artworks (above and immediately below) reflect an interest in everyday public life—whether in a 14th-century painted scroll of a bustling street, a book of playful woodblock prints of common people going about their business c. 1800 (that was meant for artists to copy), or an important, 13th-century painting of a scholar moving with his family to a new city (viewable in extreme, zooming detail). All of these artworks benefit from the animated movement of the Art Institute’s Turning the Pages™, a roster now thirty fascinating objects strong.

handscroll Yang Pu

For the first time on our website however, the movement goes from right to left. For the street scene (the top image) in particular, the scrolling motion creates the illusion of actual movement down a real street, whether the figures are parading by, or the viewer strolls along. Take your time to amble through these scenes; recognizable character types from pious to provocative abound, and not everyone is what they may seem, whether beggars, astrologers, or nobles.

While the two scrolls were relatively easy to prepare for the web by splicing together a very long image from photographs, the accompanying text for the street scene mainly consisted of collector’s seals and commentaries about the image dating over several centuries. Yang Pu may well have included such texts, but lost them during remounting. The book below proved more difficult to describe for an English-speaking audience, as it has a lengthy preface, requiring a good bit of research and technical fiddling from intrepid interns Mai Yamaguchi (Asian Art) and Liana Jegers (Prints and Drawings/Turning the Pages). The transcribed Japanese characters have appeared as question marks or empty boxes in the explanatory captions in a rather capricious manner.

Turning the Pages

So if you made it this far, you might be wondering where the opportunistic pornographers mentioned above come in. Well, consultations with our programmers in London have already resulted in the successful implementation of the needed diacritical mark, a macron, above the ō in the artist, Bumpō’s Romanized name, but consistency failed us once again on our home turf! A technical difficulty resulted in our website being unable to properly display any sort of mark of this sort for fear that it might be html code with nefarious intent! We link to our Turning the Pages™ books through our “My Collections” interface, which allows any viewer to assemble illustrated lists of their favorite Art Institute artworks from the museum database, and then type in comments on their choices. In the past, entirely inadvertently, users gained permission to include any type of formatting in the comments section, including live image and page links. These could be viewed by anyone, and were no longer restricted to referring to artworks owned or sanctioned by the museum. In fact, at least one enterprising individual took this to mean the Art Institute was offering free advertising space for their porn site. It wasn’t pretty. A few missing macrons are a small price to pay for the museum’s digital dignity.

Click below for access to any of the newest Turning the Pages resources:

Bumpo Sketches Book

Street Scene Handscroll

Yang Pu Handscroll

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Work of the Week: Yohji Yamamoto

POSTED BY , ON January 11, 2013, Comments Off

If you looked at just the bottom of this garment, you might guess it was from 19th-century France, whereas the top wouldn’t look out of place on any contemporary sidewalk. And the contrasts don’t end there; this trench-dress hybrid’s exterior is made of a heavy, stiff cotton, while the interior is lined with a fragile organdy. These seemingly incongruous juxtapositions makes sense, however, when you consider the designer’s intent. Yohji Yamamoto’s “dream is to paint time” and his work often alludes to the history of dress. His collections also often have an androgynous bent, increasingly blurring the lines between male and female.

This garment is part of Material Translations: Japanese Fashion from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, the first collaboration between the museum and the School of the Art Institute’s Fashion Resource Center. Last night, the organizers of the exhibition—Janice Katz, the Roger L. Weston Associate Curator of Japanese Art at the museum, and Gillion Carrara and Caroline Bellios of the Fashion Resource Center—spoke in-depth about Japanese art and avant-garde fashion. Thy also shared some construction secrets with the audience. For example, imagine the weight of this dress. The heavy cotton combined with the wire shaping at the bottom make it extraordinarily heavy. Taking into account that the wearer wouldn’t be able to lift her arms without ripping the garment, Yamamoto placed a vent where an underarm seam would normally be, allowing for freedom of movement. This design feature also indicates that this is a garment made to be worn—I love to imagine it strolling down the streets of Chicago.

Image Credit: Yohji Yamamoto. Dress and Safety Pins, 1999. Purchased with Fashion Resource Center Funds.

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Behind the Seams

POSTED BY , ON November 02, 2012, 1 COMMENTS

As I have already admitted, the Ando Gallery is my favorite gallery in the museum. So it was thrilling to see the transformation it’s undergoing in anticipation of Material Translations: Japanese Fashion from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (opening tomorrow). This exhibition marks several milestones: the first time pieces from the School’s Fashion Resource Center (currently celebrating its 25th anniversary) have been shown in public and the first time contemporary fashion has been presented within the museum’s Asian Art galleries. It’s also the first true collaboration between the Fashion Resource Center and the Art Institute; it was jointly organized by Janice Katz, the Roger L. Weston Associate Curator of Japanese Art at the museum, and Gillion Carrara, Director of the Fashion Resource Center.

We invite you to get a first look at some of these garments that blend characteristics of contemporary Japanese fashion—like irregularity and a deconstructionist technique—with an undeniably avant garde sensibility. Pieces range from Issey Miyake’s pleated top and skirt that take on sculptural qualities when worn to Yohji Yamamoto’s dress secured completely by black enamel safety pins. The exhibition also includes garments by Junya Watanabe and Rei Kawakubo, among other designers.

The presentation also includes a video installation by contemporary artist (and professor at the School) Jan Tichy. This site specific piece uses light to dramatically alter visitors’ experience of the gallery, according to Katz creating a “3D orchestration of light.” The light will illuminate and play off of the 16 wooden columns that are one of the architectural hallmarks of the space, ultimately producing an environment that enlivens the gallery, but also encourages contemplation.

For those of you familiar with exhibitions in the Ando Gallery, this might seem a departure, but as Katz pointed out to me, there are many similarities between traditional Japanese art and contemporary fashion. Both have strict attention to detail, widespread use of asymmetry, and a strong focus on materials. Both embrace the inherent characteristics of their chosen media, but also push them to the limit.

Enjoy a preview of some installation photos and if you’re interested in hearing more, Katz and Carrara, along with Caroline Bellios, Assistant Director at the Fashion Resource Center, will join forces for a lecture that explores the intricacies of Japanese fashion on Thursday, January 10.

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I Ain’t Afraid of Noh Ghost!

POSTED BY , ON October 31, 2012, Comments Off

Active from 1790 until his death in 1849, Katsushika Hokusai was a renowned Japanese painter and printmaker in his day, perhaps most famous in the West for The Great Wave off Kanagawa.

Lesser known is Hokusai’s series of prints One Hundred Stories (Hyaku Monogatari), based on a popular game of the Edo period thought to have been created by samurai as a test of courage. The game begins at nightfall, with participants lighting 100 candles in a dark room. They then take turns telling ghost stories (kaidan), many of which are traditional tales with a moral lesson. A candle is blown out after each story, making the room grow darker and darker. It is thought that spirits are conjured once the final candle is blown out and the room is pitch black. It is no wonder then that some players would leave the final candle untouched! Below are a few gruesome kaidan for your Halloween pleasure, as depicted by the master Housai.

The Home of Dishes (Sara Yashiki) tells the story of a young maid who accidentally broke some of her master’s precious kitchenware. The unforgiving nobleman murdered the young woman and threw her body in the well. Her ghost returned nightly thereafter to plague him.

According to the legend, Kohada Koheiji, depicted here, was a traveling actor murdered by his wife and her secret lover. Here, Koheiji pulls down a mosquito net bed canopy to torment his killers while they lie in bed together.

Hannya was originally the deity of smallpox in the Indian kingdom of Gandhara. In the Noh theatre tradition, she represents the lost soul of a jealous or tormented lover and her mask is often fitted with horns. Here, the demoness holds the decapitated head of a child in her upraised hand; blood oozes from the wounds she inflicts with her long fingernails.

This symbolic print features mementos of the dead in accordance with the usual customs: a bowl of water with a green leaf in it, a spirit table, and a tablet bearing the inscription of the Buddhist name of the deceased. The snake, not surprisingly, symbolizes malevolence but can also symbolize the spirit world. One assumes the snake is lingering around this shrine to the dead for less-than-benevolent reasons.

Happy Halloween!

Katsushika Hokusai. The Home of Dishes (Sara Yashiki), from the series “One Hundred Stories (Hyaku Monogatari)”, c. 1831–32. Clarence Buckingham Collection.

Katsushika Hokusai. Kohada Koheiji, from the series “One Hundred Stories (Hyaku Monogatari)”, c. 1831–32. Clarence Buckingham Collection.

Katsushika Hokusai. The Laughing Ogress (Warai Hannya), from the series “One Hundred Stories (Hyaku Monogatarti)”, c. 1831-32. Clarence Buckingham Collection.

Katsushika Hokusai. Haunted Revenge (Shunen), from the series “One Hundred Stories (Hyaku Monogatarti)”, c. 1831–32. Clarence Buckingham Collection.