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A Century of Asian Art at Oberlin: Japanese Prints

Oberlin’s Allen Memorial Art Museum closes out its year-long celebration of Asian art with an exhibition of beautiful prints.

After hundreds of years of war, the Japanese Edo period between 1603 and 1868 saw the island nation cut off from the outside world but also curious about it. During the more than 150-year timespan, the nation turned inward, which led to the rise of arts and culture.

A strong sense of individual consumerism and contribution to the arts drove the craft of woodblock printmaking, from books to advertisements, and many were sold in shops for the same price as a bowl of noodles.

“These prints are about and by and they are for the regular people of the period,” says Kevin Greenwood, curator of Asian art at Oberlin College’s Allen Memorial Art Museum.

In celebration of the Allen Memorial Art Museum’s 2017 centennial, “Japanese Prints” is the last of four segments within a series of “A Century of Asian Art at Oberlin” exhibitions. Forty-three of the 105 prints on display in this final installment hail from the Edo period. Each piece included in the exhibition is from the museum’s permanent collection of more than 2,000 artworks.

One of the prints on display is “Hokkaido in the Rain,” a 1965 piece by Sekino Junichiro depicting a woman walking across an empty street on a rainy day, umbrella in hand. The buildings in the background slope downward, muted by dull colors against the backdrop of a stormy day.

“This is not an artist who is trying to make this photo-realistic image,” explains Greenwood. “He was trying to express a moment in time and did it through these gestural lines and shapes.”

Other prints include picturesque landscapes, abstract designs beautiful women, nautical scenes and urban settings. The exhibition is arranged chronologically, which further illustrates the progression of cultural changes within Japanese society between the 18th and late 20th centuries.

“As you walk around, we arranged things in a very particular way so that you can have a physical experience of moving through history,” Greenwood says, “and [to be able to see] around the corner the dramatic changes that happened from one decade to the next.”  

“A Century of Asian Art at Oberlin: Japanese Prints” runs through July 1. For more information, hours and the museum address, visit oberlin.edu/amam.

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