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"A New Way Forward: Japanese Hanga in the 20th Century" opens at the USC Pacific Asia Museum
ITŌ Shinsui (1898–1972), Rouge from the Series “Twelve Figures of Modern Beauty,” 1922, Ink, color and mica on paper, Gift of Margaret Moore, 2008.9.4 © USC Pacific Asia Museum.

PASADENA, CA.- The last quarter of the 19th century brought profound changes to Japan. In one generation, a feudal society became a modern nation. Japanese art, too, underwent important transformations. Publications, exhibitions and artists’ travels introduced new theories. These approaches often clashed with “traditional” artistic concepts, practices and styles. The woodblock print medium exemplifies many of these tensions in Japanese society and art.

As old ukiyo - e (pictures of the floating world) stagnated, in the new century artists and publishers sought to reinvigorate printmaking as an artistic expression and viable business. There emerged two camps with dramatically different attitudes. Artists in the shin hanga (new prints) movement continued the tradition of creating collaboratively—working with carver and printer under direction of the publisher. They sought to combine traditional print techniques and subjects, however, with a style derived from Western academic drawing. Shin hanga first captivated American consumers in the 1920s and 1930s, then again after World War II. Artists in the s ō saku hanga (creative prints) movement embraced the European idea of the artist as heroic creator—carving and printing their own designs. In the manner of the avant-garde, they treated form and color abstractly. S ō saku hanga flourished in the post-war period, thanks in large part to American patronage.

A New Way Forward presents shin hanga and s ō saku hanga through “case study” comparisons of perennially popular subjects such as bijin (beauties), urban space, religious icons, village life and Japan’s colonial empire. These comparisons elucidate how the artists imagined modern Japan within the dictates of their respective print movements. The exhibition presents major shin hanga artists including Kawase Hasui and Ito Shinsui, and Kiyoshi Saito and Munakata Shiko, pillars of sōsaku hanga, in complete six-month rotations.

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