Design New England

From Japan, The Serene Past and the Troubled Present

01. Under the Wave off Kanagawa_0.jpg
Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa-oki nami-ura), also known as the Great Wave, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjûrokkei) Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849)about 1830–31 (Tenpô 1–2)Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

By Regina Cole

Two exhibits from the Land of the Rising Sun to opened April 5 at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston. One shows the surprising modernism of Japan’s 18th- and 19th-century art, the other how contemporary Japanese photography expresses profound human responses to tragedy.

Hokusai features the woodblock prints and paintings of Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), the first Japanese artist to be internationally recognized. Among the more than 230 works from his seven-decade career is the famous Under the Wave off Kanagawa, also known as The Great Wave. Endlessly reproduced in pop culture, from tattoos to emoji, the circa 1830 image is part of the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. It is the first time all 36 views have been shown together at the MFA.

02. Fine Wind, Clear Weather also known as Red Fuji_1.jpg
Fine Wind, Clear Weather (Gaifû kaisei), also known as Red Fuji, from the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji (Fugaku sanjûrokkei) Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849) about 1830–31 (Tenpô 1–2) Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper. Nellie Parney Carter Collection—Bequest of Nellie Parney Carter. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
08. Chrysanthemums and Horsefly_0.jpg
Chrysanthemums and Horsefly, from an untitled series known as Large Flowers. Katsushika Hokusai (Japanese, 1760–1849) about 1833–34 (Tenpô 4–5)Woodblock print (nishiki-e); ink and color on paper. William Sturgis Bigelow Collection. Photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

The accompanying exhibit, entitled In the Wake, features photography created in response to the triple disaster of March, 2011, the earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear power plant meltdown that have become tragic, defining events for Japan. Approximately 100 images by 17 photographers, emerging talents as well as some of Japan’s most celebrated artists, are divided into two sections. The first, which deals with the earthquake and tsunami, is a powerful expression of loss. The second focuses on the disaster at the Fukushima nuclear plant and broadcasts a prevalent emotion of anxiety. The show incorporates news footage and the international photographic response to 3/11. An affecting expression of personal loss, is found upon a wall covered with family snapshots that were washed up in the debris.

02. Kôzô Miyoshi_0.jpg
2011:04:02, Minamisanriku, Motoyoshi, Miyagi Prefecture from North East Earthquake Disaster Tsunami 2011 Portfolio Kōzō Miyoshi (Japanese, born in 1947) 2011. Photograph, gelatin silver print © Kōzō Miyoshi. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
06. Lieko Shiga.jpg
Rasen kaigan (Spiral Shore) 45 from the series Rasen kaigan (Spiral Shore) Lieko Shiga (Japanese, born in 1980) 2012. Photograph, chromogenic print. © Lieko Shiga. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
16. Nobuyoshi Araki.jpg
From the series Shakyō rōjin nikki (Diary of a Photo-Mad Old Man) Nobuyoshi Araki (Japanese, born in 1940) 2011 Gelatin Silver Print. © Nobuyoshi Araki, Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.
17. Yasusuke Ota.jpg
Deserted Town from the series The Abandoned Animals of Fukushima. Ôta Yasusuke (Japanese, born in 1958) 2011. Photograph, pigment-based inkjet print. ©Yasusuke Ota. Courtesy, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

Hokusai’s beguiling and often entertaining images, largely created for commercial purposes, afford a fascinating glimpse into Japan’s past. The 3/11-prompted photography, on the other hand, was produced as artists responded to tragedy. Together, they show us a great deal about Japanese art.

Advertisement:

Hokusai will be at the Museum of Fine Arts Boston mfa.org until August 9; In the Wake will be on display until July 12.

Great design is always at your fingertips! Read Design New England’s March/April 2015 issue online!

Jump To Comments

Conversation

This discussion has ended. Please join elsewhere on Boston.com