Everyone’s seen that picture of the wave with Mt. Fuji in the background. The color woodblock impression—The Great Wave Off Kanagawa, from the series “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji” by Katsushika Hokusai—is an example of Edo period printmaking that has permeated Western consciousness. The famous breaker and 89 other examples of classic Ukiyo-e imagery from Japan’s Edo period (1615–1868) are juxtaposed with 30 works by ten contemporary artists, demonstrating the continued influence of this striking art form.
Ukiyo-e, sometimes called “pictures of the floating world,” were produced during a remarkably peaceful and prosperous period in Japan, characterized by an expanding market for art and entertainment that included geishas as we’ve come to know them. The subject of beauty, then, is often addressed in works such as Kitagawa Utamaro’s Fickle Type (1792), one of a typology of portraits that describe tempting, available women. It is matched by a mural from Japanese-born Brooklyn graffiti artist Aiko, who takes over the exhibition’s entrance with his view of a disrobed female whose back is covered by a tattoo of an entangled couple staring at Hokusai’s Wave. Hawaii artist Masami Teraoka is the star of the exhibition, with works such as his AIDS Series/Geisha in Bath (2008), a boldly designed print of a woman, rising above steamy suds, ripping open a condom wrapper with her teeth.
Still, few of the contemporary artists presented here are able to match the utter beauty and dynamic compositions of the classical works. Utagawa Hiroshige’s 1833 scene of a man chasing his windblown hat is pure delight, while the haunting specter in Hokusai’s Kohada Kohei (1831) could almost have come from the horror movie The Ring.—Barbara Pollack