Saturday, November 9, 2013

Modern Japanese Prints and Old Friends Meet at the Toledo Museum of Art

TMA's Monroe Street entrance features the gate sculpted by Louise Nevelson.
Entrance to Modern Japanese Prints above it,
contemporary paintings and sculptures around it.

The Toledo Museum of Art (TMA) is not only full of beautiful art of every medium, variety, and era, it is also a great meeting place.  I went with my friend Teddy to see the modern Japanese woodblock exhibit "Fresh Impressions," which was lovely, and it turned into "old home week."  We bumped into several friends, including three friends who had also lived in the Old West End (OWE) in the 1970s and 80s. We had raised our children in the Victorian neighborhood and, now grown, they are friends to this day; many of them share an OWE facebook page, chatting frequently from all around the world.  It's a special bond.  We parents have it, too.

Since coming back to Toledo in 2011, I am gradually connecting with dear friends I haven't seen since I left in 1985. What better place to meet than at the TMA,  surrounded by beauty, soft jazz playing in the gift shop, great food and camaraderie in the café. We had once shared so many things, including a love of art and music, the varied architecture of our neighborhood and the distinctive personalities of our neighbors, the goal of preservation and restoration, the talent and creativity that abounded, ideas about gardening and plants, and some progressive politics. 

Here we are, I thought, almost thirty years later, older, wiser perhaps, lots of different experiences under our belts. So much to talk about, so much catching up to do.  

We chatted about the exhibit, about the art, craft and techniques of woodblock prints, the subjects and bold colors of the modern prints, as well as the artifacts on display around them. We all enjoyed the prints of women in various dress and attitude, the kabuki actors, and the scenes of Mount Fuji, cherry trees and other familiar landscapes.

The prints taken together compose what's called the Shin Hanga movement, which revived the well-known Edo printmaking tradition (1615-1862), but with a modern perspective.  Shin hanga prints, created mostly between 1919 and the 1940s, appealed as much to new markets in Europe and America as to Japanese collectors, the exhibit brochure tells us.

The amazing thing is that the ten artists featured in this show were first exhibited at the TMA in 1930.  Imagine!  An exhibit called "Modern Japanese Prints" in 1930!  These same artists, the brochure notes, "continue to be the most revered artists of the shin hanga movement."

How extraordinary, given those decades of world-wide change, depression, and chaos--the volatile mixture that accompanied the rise of a vicious nationalism and finally erupted into another world war. I think it's a wonder the shin hanga movement existed at all, and especially through World War II and its devastating aftermath.  

Art soars above bleak landscapes and human violence, I thought.  The Shin hanga movement exemplifies this, as well as art's power to draw in like-minded spirits and to bring together friends. We friends didn't have a lot more time to talk, but we agreed we'd get together again soon and take up where we left off, maybe back at the Toledo Museum of Art in the Old West End, our common ground.
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