artscape Japan
artscape Japanese site
Monthly Mail Contact Us
HOME FOCUS  PICKS MUSEUM DB ABOUT
image
image
image HOME > FOCUS > Woodblock Prints in a Postmodern Edifice: The Sumida Hokusai Museum
image
Focus: More Focus
image
image

Focus features two in-depth reviews each month of fine art, architecture and design exhibitions and events at art museums, galleries and alternative spaces around Japan. The contributors are non-Japanese art critics living in Japan.

image
image image Woodblock Prints in a Postmodern Edifice: The Sumida Hokusai Museum
Michael Pronko
image
image

The building's angles form a striking contrast with its surroundings, yet blend in, too, providing a focal point and open space not far from the Sumida River and the Kokugikan sumo arena.

Down a typical shitamachi street on the east side of Tokyo, an odd-angled metallic structure rises above the office buildings, neat houses and small shops of the neighborhood. The shiny silver panels are the outer face of the impressive -- and greatly needed -- new Sumida Hokusai Museum, dedicated to the life and work of painter and ukiyo-e woodblock print master Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849). Perhaps the most recognized of Japanese art images, Hokusai's "blue wave" and "red Fuji" are iconic works that influenced such artists as Vincent van Gogh and Edgar Degas.

image

The interior spaces are designed to protect the collection as well as to provide sufficient room to stop and contemplate each of the pieces.

The permanent exhibit at the museum showcases the finest examples of Hokusai's work and includes national treasures and culturally important pieces. On exhibit is a solid selection of comical themes, famous scenic spots, and ghosts and monsters, as well as several erotic works, though not his most graphic. The ukiyo-e prints are particularly outstanding for the preservation of color and the sharpness of printing. Hokusai was always pressing to find ways to make a waterfall flow, birds fly, and people pause in the middle of their lives, and these prints clearly attest to his achievements.

image

The museum's attention to lighting allows one to see the fine detail in prints such as this one from the permanent collection: The Falling Mist Waterfall at Mount Kurokami In Shimotsuke Province from the series A Tour of Waterfalls in Various Provinces.

The exhibits go into both his work and his life, but without overwhelming visitors with too much or too arcane detail. Those who already know of Hokusai, but want to know more, can focus on his notebooks about techniques or his journeys. They can also view examples of his novels, since Hokusai penned several satires. Younger visitors, as well as older ones, can learn more through the engaging interactive displays that explain printmaking or reveal the hidden meanings in the works. Others will enjoy following Hokusai's evolving technique, as his woodblock prints became increasingly expressive and complex over time.

image

The exhibits include interactive screens, videos, maps and diagrams that offer a wealth of detail to enhance one's understanding of Hokusai's art, life and times.

The museum is effectively divided into different sections. The first area on the recommended route through the facility's several floors introduces his apprentice years, the next his hand-painted works, followed by several sections that focus on his printmaking. Videos in the open areas outside the display rooms are instructive about Hokusai's life in Edo, and about how nishiki-e multicolored prints were made and for whom and what purposes. These videos are set up perfectly in spaces where visitors can wait for others in their group, or just sit down for a few minutes to relax and contemplate it all.

image

One of Hokusai's most celebrated images, Under the Wave off Kanagawa from the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, helps draw in museumgoers, but his lesser-known works are equally enthralling. The best-known pieces are represented by particularly well-preserved prints.

A diorama of Hokusai with his daughter attending nearby may surprise serious artgoers, but it helps us envision the humble room where he ended up at the age of 90, working to the very end. As with everything at the museum, the presentation is done with taste, balance, and a nod to expanding the idea of how a museum can engage all types of people, from touring groups of high school students to ukiyo-e aficionados. The Sumida Hokusai displays its subject's artistic accomplishments with impressive completeness and justifiable pride.

image

The ground floor boasts a unique design for its entrance, exit, bookstore and gift shop, giving a fresh spin to the typical museum experience.

The building's postmodern design is stunning in its own right. It is well worth standing in the small surrounding park to view the multiple-V-shaped structure from different angles and distances, and take in how the bright aluminum panels reflect their environs. The museum is a welcome addition to a neighborhood that already boasts the Ryogoku Kokugikan sumo arena and the Edo-Tokyo Museum, as well as several temples, traditional shops, and a dock for the Sumida River boat line.

image

Section 3 highlights famous works, but the museum also provides examples that expand one's knowledge of the less prominent aspects of Hokusai's prolific career.

The Sumida Hokusai's upcoming exhibitions will continue to draw on its permanent collection, built around the collection of Peter Morse (1935-93), an American whose family wanted to keep his superb assemblage of Hokusai work together in one place, and will also include masterpieces borrowed from other ukiyo-e collections around the world. Those future shows will offer further reasons to keep returning to this gem of a museum for a broader sense of the art, life and milieu of one of Japan's most important artists.

All images are courtesy of and property of the Sumida Hokusai Museum.

image
The Sumida Hokusai Museum
2-7-2 Kamezawa, Sumida-ku, Tokyo
Phone: 03-5777-8600
Open 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (last entry 5 p.m.)
Closed Mondays and over the New Year (and some other holidays)
Access: 9-minute walk from JR Sobu Line Ryogoku Station or a 5-minute walk from Toei Oedo Line Ryogoku Station
image
image
Michael Pronko
Michael Pronko teaches American literature, film, art and music at Meiji Gakuin University. He has appeared on NHK, Sekai Ichiban Uketai Jugyo, and other TV programs. His publications include several textbooks and three collections of essays about Tokyo. He writes regular columns for Newsweek Japan, ST Shukan, The Japan Times, and for his own websites, Jazz in Japan and Essays on English in Japan.
image
More Focus
image
image
image
Recent Articles
FOCUS
Other Realms: Four Contemporary Artists in Ashiya
Christopher Stephens
1 March 2013
FOCUS
Spirited Stones at Chichibu Chinsekikan, the Hall of Curious Rocks
Susan Rogers Chikuba
1 March 2017
HERE/THERE
Netsuke: An Impish Marriage of Form and Function
Alan Gleason
1 March 2017
PICKS
Tokujin Yoshioka: Spectrum
1 March 2017
FOCUS
Swimming Against the Tide: Ken and Julia Yonetani
Lucy Birmingham
1 February 2017
FOCUS
Masato Otaka and his Philosophy of PAU
James Lambiasi
1 February 2017
HERE/THERE
The Roppongi Vortex: Contemporary Art Galleries Reunite in Complex665
Alan Gleason
1 February 2017
PICKS
endless: The Paintings of Yamada Masaaki
1 February 2017
>> Back Issues
image
image
ggg ddd CCGA LOUVRE-DNP MUSEUM LAB English LOUVRE-DNP MUSEUM LAB Francais Maison des Musées du Monde
DNP Art Communications ©1996- DAI NIPPON PRINTING Co., Ltd.
artscape is the registered trademark of DAI NIPPON PRINTING Co., Ltd.