During the past semester, students from Alison J. Miller’s course, “Japanese Print Culture,” had the opportunity to curate an exhibition about postwar “creative prints,” also known as sōsaku-hanga.
Students engaged in close looking sessions in the Zuckert seminar room with works drawn from the Museum’s collection of historic and modern Japanese prints. They were intrigued to observe transformations in print techniques and materials over a time span of three centuries. “The activities surrounding the exhibition,” Miller notes, “from research to design, label writing to gallery talks, provided a great opportunity for students to apply their classroom knowledge and to actively engage with objects in the Museum’s collection.”
The class worked with Ellen Tani, the Museum’s Andrew W. Mellon postdoctoral curatorial fellow, to identify a group of works that were connected to the broader themes of the current exhibition Art & Resolution, 1900 to Today. The selection of sōsaku-hanga was a logical choice; abstract and individually produced, these prints brought a new wave of Japanese art to international acclaim and enhanced cross-cultural relations in the postwar period. This print style gained popularity among both Japanese and American collectors after earning critical acclaim at the Sao Paolo Biennale in 1951.
The creation of sōsaku-hanga at the hands of one artist rather than a workshop of skilled artisans signaled a departure from the way Japanese prints had been made for centuries, but they also paid homage to a legacy of techniques, materials, and subject matter. The prints on view show well-known landmarks, architectural spaces and figures, from centuries-old city gates to contemporary poets, in unconventional ways, frequently through methods of abstraction inspired by these artists’ responses to the complexities of their time.
Sōsaku-hanga: Twentieth Century Japanese Creative Prints is on view at the Bowdoin College Museum of Art from January 10, 2017, through April 16, 2017 as part of Art & Resolution, 1900 to Today.