Thursday, July 18, 2019

Discovery of rare prints leads to Landscapes of Edo

May 15, 2019 by Katy Weicker, staff writer

Landscapes of Edo: Ukiyo-e features an abundance of Japanese prints from artists such as Utagawa Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai that were pulled together from The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria’s extensive collection. For curator Haema Sivanesan, the process of putting this collection of ukiyo-e—a style of Japanese art that depicts the life of the common people through block prints and paintings, with a focus on a wide range of subjects ranging from sumo wrestlers to landscapes—together entirely from the gallery’s archives was a bit of a whirlwind experience.

“We were going through a process of reviewing what was in our collection—at the same time we’re working very quickly at the art gallery right now in terms of our exhibition generation and turnaround—and we just realized there was an opportunity there in the collection to do an exhibition that showcased some of the key works in ukiyo-e prints in our collection,” says Sivanesan.

In order to pull this collection of approximately 200 pieces together, Sivanesan—who only had six months to create it—worked with fellow curator Su Yen Chong, a recent MA graduate from University of Victoria who had done some research with Sivanesan while doing her master’s studies. Sivanesan says the time crunch the two found themselves under was the biggest challenge for them—in addition to matting and framing several of the pieces, there was also an abundance of research and consultations required for the exhibition.

“It’s kind of a massive undertaking to do any exhibition,” she says. “And, when you’re working with historical materials it’s kind of another level of, you know, wanting to check and make sure that what you’re showing is of the highest quality, and you’re checking other museums to see what’s unique and what’s not unique, so it makes a huge difference working with a collaborator who had the background and the interest for her to take on some of that research.”

Utagawa Ando Hiroshige’s Yoshiwara: Mount Fuji on the Left (photo courtesy of the Fred and Isabel Poward collection).

The exhibition is running juxtaposed with Fiona Tan: Ascent and Quiet Nature: The Woodblock Prints of Walter J. Phillips, showcases that demonstrate the lasting impact ukiyo-e has had on landscape work. Landscapes of Edo: Ukiyo-e also features a complete set of Utagawa Hiroshige II’s Forty-Eight Famous Views of Edo, a collectionwhich Sivanesan says they didn’t realize they had in its entirety until they pieced it all together.

“That’s a very rare set,” she explains. “It’s very rare to find a complete set of prints like that. There are very, very few museums in the world that have it, so it was really wonderful to find that in our collection. So that was the starting point, and we kind of built out the exhibition from there.”

As stressful as the preparation of the exhibit was, Sivanesan says that now that it’s open for viewing the public response has been positive.

“People love it,” she says. “I think there are a lot of people who really love Japanese art. And [the pieces] are obviously very beautiful to look at. But they’re also very interesting for all of the references that are within them, because they had such a big impact in Japan and on Western art history.”

Landscapes of Edo: Ukiyo-e
Until Monday, May 27
The Art Gallery of Greater Victoria

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