Exhibition | Painting the Floating World

Posted in books, catalogues, exhibitions by Editor on January 2, 2019

Utagawa Toyokuni, One Hundred Looks of Various Women, 1816
(Roger Weston Collection)

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Press release (4 October 2018) for the exhibition:

Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection
Art Institute of Chicago, 4 November 2018 — 27 January 2019

Curated by Janice Katz

The Art Institute of Chicago presents Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection, a collection formed by Roger Weston over the last twenty-five years which captures compellingly the beginning, major developments, and final flowering of ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) painting. Encompassing folding screens, hanging scrolls, handscrolls, and albums, these works are technically accomplished masterpieces by the most famous artists in Edo (present-day Tokyo) and beyond. Ukiyo-e comprises both paintings and prints, so it is especially meaningful that such a complete collection of paintings can be shown at a museum known for its significant holdings of prints.

Chobunsai Eishi, Woman Writing a Poem on a Fan, 1789/1801 (Roger Weston Collection).

The floating world (ukiyo) flourished in the bustling urban centers of Kamigata (Kyoto, Osaka) and Edo from the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries. People of all ranks shared in metropolitan amusements, including the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters and the kabuki theater. The extraordinary paintings in the exhibition, which focus almost exclusively on the beautiful people (bijinga) who were the celebrities of this milieu, offer a privileged, intimate view of the floating world and its many attractions. Ukiyo-e paintings were commissioned works executed by well-known artists, among them Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and Kitagawa Utamaro (1753–1806). Lavish, one-of-a-kind objects, the paintings display the makers’ extraordinary technical skill and address a wide range of subjects, including actors, courtesans, geisha, musicians, and scenes of everyday life in Edo.

“When visitors walk away from this show, we want them to have an understanding that the floating world is full of individuals looking to forge a unique identity for themselves as urban, sophisticated, fashionable and trendy, just as we do in our modern-day society,” said Janice Katz, the Roger L. Weston Associate Curator of Japanese Art.

The exhibition, staged in the museum’s Regenstein Hall, will be the largest exhibition exclusively of ukiyo-e paintings in the U.S. With approximately 160 pieces of art on display, the sheer size of the exhibition is spectacular. Visitors can find parallels between ukiyo-e and present day culture—the exploration of fashion and celebrity, the desire to seek out unique experiences—as well as a thread of influence that can be traced though to the fantasy worlds of Japanese anime and manga.

The paintings are organized in chronological order throughout eight rooms, charting the birth of ukiyo-e and key moments in its evolution. To give visitors the ability to observe the skill of the artists up close, the glass cases housing the works will have a depth of just eight inches. The experience of the exhibition is further enhanced with dynamic maps of the city, educational videos, and digital tablets.

The Art Institute of Chicago will be the exclusive venue for this exhibition. A one-day international symposium will be held on November 15, 2018. In addition, a complementary exhibition in the Weston Wing and Japanese Art Galleries featuring prints and paintings from the Art Institute’s collection will be on view from October 6, 2018 to February 10, 2019. Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection is generously sponsored by Roger L. and Pamela Weston.

Janice Katz and Mami Hatayama, eds., Painting the Floating World: Ukiyo-e Masterpieces from the Weston Collection (Chicago: Art Institute of Chicago, 2018), 350 pages, ISBN: 978-0300236910, $65.

From the seventeenth through the nineteenth century, artists in Kyoto and Edo (now Tokyo) captured the metropolitan amusements of the floating world (ukiyo in Japanese) through depictions of subjects such as the beautiful women of the Yoshiwara pleasure quarters and performers of the kabuki theater. In contrast to ukiyo-e prints by artists such as Katsushika Hokusai, which were widely circulated, ukiyo-e paintings were specially commissioned, unique objects that displayed the maker’s technical skill and individual artistic sensibility. Featuring more than 150 works from the celebrated Weston Collection, the most comprehensive of its kind in private hands and published here for the first time in English, this lavishly illustrated and meticulously researched volume addresses the genre of ukiyo-e painting in all its complexity. Individual essays explore topics such as shunga (erotica), mitate-e (images that parody or transform a well-known story or legend), and poetic inscriptions, revealing the crucial role that ukiyo-e painting played in a sophisticated urban culture.

Janice Katz is Roger L. Weston Associate Curator of Japanese Art at the Art Institute of Chicago. Mami Hatayama is curator of the Weston Collection.


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