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Exhibition spotlights dramatic Japanese prints in innovative installation
Bairin, artist (active 1894), and Hori Yata (active 1894), block carver: The Great Naval Battle of Haiyang Island, 1894; triptych of color woodblock prints (nishiki-e). Ackland Art Museum, The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, The Gene and Susan Roberts Collection, 2014.40.52a-c.

CHAPEL HILL, NC.- This fall, the Ackland Art Museum presents Flash of Light, Fog of War: Japanese Military Prints, 1894-1905, an expansive exhibition showcasing 75 Japanese prints of battle scenes from the First Sino-Japanese War and the Russo-Japanese War at the turn of the 20th century.

Drawing from a recent, major gift to the Ackland of over 240 Japanese prints from Gene and Susan Roberts, Flash of Light, Fog of War presents these military scenes in an unprecedented manner: rather than being arranged chronologically, the dramatic atmospheric and luminescent effects depicted in the prints organize the exhibition. Starting with prints featuring moonlight, the exhibition moves through scenes that include electric searchlights, pyrotechnic explosions, and the fog and smoke of the aftermath of battle.

The show’s emphasis on technique provides a unique opportunity to examine how late 19th-century Japanese printmakers adapted to the realities of rapidly modernizing warfare. By tweaking the centuries-old tradition of ukiyo-e (woodblock printing), printmakers achieved altogether new atmospheric and light effects that were part reportage and part dazzling artistic display.

A major feature of Flash of Light, Fog of War is its stunning installation, which utilizes not only elegant colors to bring out visual features of the works on view, but also subtle electrical effects—including very occasional projected explosions—that underscore the thematic content. “This is a show that really must be seen and experienced,” commented Ackland Director Katie Ziglar. “We are enormously proud of our innovative and fresh installations, and Flash of Light, Fog of War represents a high point in these efforts.”

Of his final exhibition as the Ackland’s Associate Curator of Asian Art, Bradley M. Bailey noted, “The inspiration for the exhibition comes from the vivid imagery and descriptions of a Japanese soldier, Tadayoshi Sakurai, whose memoir of the Russo-Japanese War, Human Bullets (Nikudan), was published to wide acclaim and success in 1904.”

Within the exhibition, the prints are supplemented with new acquisitions and loans of Japanese textiles and ceramics from the collection of Jacqueline M. and Edward G. Atkins.

Flash of Light, Fog of War, on view through Sunday, January 7, 2018, has been made possible by the Henry Luce Foundation and the Ackland’s Ruth and Sherman Lee Fund for Asian Art. Support for the exhibition catalogue was provided by Gene and Susan Roberts.

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