Human | Nature
150 Years of Japanese Landscape Prints
Dec 3, 2022 – May 7, 2023
Selected from the Portland Art Museum’s permanent collection, this exhibition explores Japan’s journey with and through nature during the 19th century and into the modern age through the lens of landscape prints, revealing the at once reverential and playful spirit in which people held the trees, mountains, and rivers around them.
World-renowned print artists Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) mirrored and molded people’s relationship with nature, inviting them to roam remote mountain passes interspersed with vertiginous waterfalls, or reflect on the lyrical beauty of legendary meisho (famous places). These artists show us how nature can awe and inspire, as in Hokusai’s magisterial tribute to Japan’s most revered peak, the Thirty-six Views of Mt. Fuji. Hiroshige’s snapshots of urban flora and fauna in the series One Hundred Famous Views of Edo also capture how nature charms and surprises as it insinuates itself into city life.
Later woodblock prints reveal that landscape continued to play a pivotal role in the lives and identity of Japanese people into the 20th century. Nature wreaked havoc on human life in the Great Kantō Earthquake of 1923, as dramatically visualized in prints by Nishizawa Tekiho (1889–1965) and his colleagues, but it also offered sites of enduring cultural memory and solace in a hectic modern age. This exhibition visualizes just some of the many ways in which the human-nature relationship has unfolded in Japan.
A selection of prints by American and Japanese artists working in the Pacific Northwest, including Gordon Gilkey (1912–2000) and Sekino Jun’ichirō (1914–1988), are also showcased in this exhibition, suggesting how the human affinity for nature transcends time and place and resonates with us here and now in Portland.
Organized by the Portland Art Museum and curated by Helen Swift, The Japan Foundation Assistant Curator of Japanese Art. Support provided by the Japan Foundation.
IN THE NEWS
The Wall Street Journal: Exploring Nature in Japanese Prints — “A new exhibition at Oregon’s Portland Art Museum shows how a cheap, popular art form produced enduring masterpieces.”