Modern Japanese Prints Add Flair to Unusual D.C. Venue
Typically, many of the Asian prints and paintings to be found in Washington, D.C., end up in the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler art galleries. This spring, however, 212 modern Japanese prints have instead popped up at a somewhat unusual venue: the Library of Congress.
Known more for its extensive collection of books and relics of U.S. history, the library is now hosting an exhibit of contemporary Japanese prints in conjunction with the College Women’s Association of Japan (CWAJ) and its annual print show competition. The prints on display were selected from hundreds of submissions, and not coincidentally, their appearance in the United States overlaps the National Cherry Blossom Festival.
The exhibit’s title, “On the Cutting Edge: Contemporary Japanese Prints,” is a bit of a misnomer because not all of the women artists who are showcased are from Japan. The panel of Japanese curators who judged the submissions for the prestigious CWAJ show selected entries from native Japanese as well as foreign artists who have lived in the country.
That’s because the criteria for exhibiting is based more on the works themselves than on their authenticity as native art. Since its beginning in 1956, CWAJ’s print show has become the “premier” platform for contemporary Japanese art, according to the Library of Congress.
Artists from around the world entered more than 800 pieces for consideration into CWAJ’s 50th anniversary print show. Of that total, 221 were selected for the annual display in Tokyo that began in October 2005. All but nine of those selected for display were donated to the Library of Congress by galleries and, in many cases, by the artists themselves.
The pieces are all modern-day woodblock prints created using traditional techniques—a type of art known as hanga. Although the methods are old, they create anything but outdated products, resulting in prints that are a far cry from the ancient pieces found in the Freer and Sackler galleries.
Many pieces, such as Hideo Hagiwara’s “A Nebula No. 3” and Takahiko Hayashi’s “The Nest of Winds 2,” would be at home on the walls of a chic urban home focusing on abstract design. Others, such as Kumiko Hattori’s “My Kitchen,” are more playful or involve contemplative subject matter.
Most of the prints were created in recent years by artists using a variety of printmaking techniques and themes. They employed Linocut, woodblock, silkscreen, lithograph, engraving and etching to portray everything from still life to religious subjects to landscapes.
For would-be museum-goers who are discouraged by long lines, heavy tourist traffic, high admission fees or other barriers, the Library of Congress has outdone its counterparts with its impressive online presence, featuring a gallery on its Web site that contains a link to every one of the prints on display.
There are, however, two very good reasons to trade in the virtual tour for the real thing: The display marks the first time that the Library of Congress has registered an exhibit with the National Cherry Blossom Fest-ival, and it’s the library’s largest print show to date—adding a contemporary flair to the library’s acclaimed collection of Japanese prints from the Edo Period to the 20th century.
For a different but related take on Japanese prints, check out a separate exhibition at the Japan Information and Culture Center (1155 21 St., NW) called “The World of Modern Ukiyo-e,” which runs through June 8. Here, artist Mari Mihashi does not use the traditional woodblock printing method that made Ukiyo-e prints world renowned—instead painstakingly crafting each of her pieces with brush, paint and ink to recreate the essence of the Ukiyo-e “floating world.” Like the contemporary prints in “Cutting Edge,” it’s another clever modern twist to a traditional Japanese art form that continues to evolve and impress.
On the Cutting Edge: Contemporary Japanese Prints through June 30 Thomas Jefferson Building of the Library of Congress 10 1st St., SE For more information, please call (202) 707-3822 or visit www.loc.gov.
About the Author
Heather Mueller is a contributing writer for The Washington Diplomat.