In 'Edo Pop' Contemporary Art Magnifies the Artistic Force of Ukiyo-e Masterworks

Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints


March 9–June 9, 2013, at Japan Society Gallery

New York, NY — Japan Society Gallery explores the continuing generative power of Japanese popular culture in Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints (March 9–June 9, 2013), an exhibition juxtaposing contemporary works of art with nearly 100 historic ukiyo-e woodblock prints drawn from one of the world’s great collections of “pictures of the floating world” at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA).

In showcasing approximately 30 works by ten international artists who either draw inspiration from the ukiyo-e artists’ style, technique, or engagement in popular culture, Miwako Tezuka, the newly appointed Director of Japan Society Gallery, has recast the exhibition, which comes to New York from the MIA, where it originated earlier this year. Dr. Tezuka will feature different contemporary artists than those shown in Minneapolis, as well as the iconic ukiyo-e prints.

True to the chic, playful aesthetic of culture in the Edo period (1615–1868), Japan Society Gallery is commissioning AIKO, a graffiti artist based in Brooklyn, to create at the entry to the exhibition a wall-size mural that pushes her tough, urban, pop sensibility while referencing traditional ukiyo-e motifs. Other present-day artists selected to participate are Emily Allchurch (London), Paul Binnie (London), Hatakeyama Naoya (Tokyo), Ishii Tōru (Saitama prefecture), Kazama Sachiko (Tokyo), Tomokazu Matsuyama (New York), Narahashi Asako (Tokyo), Jimmy Robert (Brussels), and Masami Teraoka (Hawaii).

The Edo period was a time of great change as both artists and printers in the city (now called Tokyo) labored to satisfy the appetite for the new among a rising class of townspeople. Although color woodblock prints became affordable enough for almost everyone, low cost alone did not account for their immense popularity. Rather, as artists experimented with dramatic compositions, they also began to introduce audacious subject matter. “The subversive quality of ukiyo-e made these prints absolutely irresistible,” says Tezuka. “I see the contemporary artists we are focusing on as descendants of Hokusai, Hiroshige, Utamaro, and more of the great ukiyo-e masters represented in the exhibition.”

One of Edo Pop’s themes is images of Beauty, which is explored in juxtapositions suggesting that the role of provocateur was as familiar to ukiyo-e practitioners as it is to artists today. At the beginning of the exhibition, AIKO’s pert, liberated ‘grrls’ and a number of other images of women will be placed in close dialogue with sensual and fashionable ukiyo-e depictions of female entertainers and denizens of brothels—including Kitagawa Utamaro’s Love for a Farmer’s Wife (1775–96), in which a languorous beauty with a swan-like neck very discreetly allows her kimono to fall open at the breast. A stencil print created by the London-based artist Paul Binnie in 1994 will also appear in this section, through which the viewers will gaze upon the beauty of the male physique. Binnie’s noir-ish print will be placed near a vertical woodblock created more than a century and a half earlier by Utagawa Kuniyoshi. Kuniyoshi’s masterful rendition of a carp (koi) swimming upstream in a waterfall reappears as a carp tattooed onto the arm of a muscled young man in the contemporary print and enhances the erotic aura of the subject.

A section about the realm beyond the ordinary includes ghosts, demons, mythological figures, and legendary heroes often played by Actors—ukiyo-e artists delighted in animating all these subjects, narratives, and more. The Brussels-based artist and choreographer Jimmy Robert has created an installation in the form of a table with scattered photographs that appropriates a theatrical quality of ukiyo-e images and actor prints’ intense focus on the actors’ gestures. Referencing the theatrical composition of Jeff Wall’s A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai), Robert carefully positions sheets of photographs on and around the table as if blown in wind. Each photograph depicts a moment when his collaborating Butoh dancer twists her body as if reacting to the sudden gust of wind.

Further into Edo Pop, a section devoted to the Joy of Life highlights how the latest fashions, makeup, lacquers, ceramics, clocks, and pipes, as well as rare flowers, fish, and even pets figure in the worldview of ukiyo-e. Just as Edo-period artists cast their curious eyes on everyday life, contemporary artists are bringing a comparable visual inventiveness to their attempts to capture the vitality of life today, especially as manifested in the street and youth cultures of neighborhoods like Williamsburg or Bushwick in Brooklyn. The Brooklyn-based artist Tomokazu Matsuyama, whose neon bright, super-charged pop paintings will be featured in the exhibition, is among these emerging talents.

In the 19th century, as the government loosened restrictions on travel, prompting city dwellers to take to the road in search of adventure and exotic pleasures, Landscapes, too, became an important sub-genre of ukiyo-e. In Edo Pop, the British photographer Emily Allchurch will be represented by a series of photographs mounted on light boxes, each referring to a framing technique of the ukiyo-e artist Utagawa Hiroshige. By engaging with the 19th-century master’s innovations in picturing landscape, Allchurch follows such modern artists as Van Gogh and Whistler, who were also inspired by Hiroshige’s dynamic compositions. But while Allchurch’s delicate, pastel-hued scenes appear at first to chronicle the beautiful remains of old Edo, on closer inspection hints of globalization, commercialization, and urbanization intrude, along with their darker sides, including pollution and homelessness. Kazama Sachiko, a printmaker who today lives and works in Tokyo, will also contribute to this section in a large-scale black and white engraving that demonstrates how virtuosic technical mastery can be effectively placed in the service of a dyspeptic view of a warlike, violent world.

The historic prints on view in Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints are all masterworks, selected to convey the great breadth of ukiyo-e production and the variety of expressions of 21 of its masters. The legacy of ukiyo-e, so well represented here, is inspiration for Ishii Tōru, a 31-year-old artist based in Japan. More than any other of the featured contemporary artists, Ishii, who creates pop paintings not on canvas but on silk using a method of dyeing called yuzen, has challenged himself to reinterpret the spirit of Hokusai and other ukiyo-e artists in the visual language of today.

Exhibition Organization

The contemporary portion of the New York presentation is organized by Miwako Tezuka, PhD, who assumed the position of director of Japan Society Gallery in July 2012. Dr. Tezuka is an internationally recognized curator and expert in modern and contemporary Japanese art who has contributed greatly to the field through her scholarly and curatorial work. Prior to her appointment, Tezuka was associate curator at Asia Society, New York, where she was responsible for Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool (2010) and Mariko Mori: Kumano (2010), among other notable exhibitions.

The original iteration of Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints was curated by Dr. Matthew Welch, deputy director and chief curator and curator of Japanese and Korean art at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. The MIA has produced a major catalogue of the top 300 ukiyo-e prints in its extensive collection, nearly 100 of which will be featured in Japan Society’s presentation. Worldly Pleasures, Earthly Delights: Japanese Prints from the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (Minneapolis: 2011) is available through MIA museum shop at: (hardcover; 375 pages; full color; $49.95 plus shipping and handling).


Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints  is generously supported by Chris A. Wachenheim, Tsuneko and Shoji Sadao, Blakemore Foundation, Peggy and Dick Danziger, Sebastian and Mieko Izzard, Joan B. Mirviss, Ronin Gallery NYC, and Satoko Miyake and Aaron Nir. Media sponsorship is provided by WNYC. Transportation assistance is provided by Japan Airlines. Exhibitions at Japan Society are made possible in part by the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Endowment Fund and the Friends of the Gallery.

Related Programs
All events at Japan Society unless otherwise noted.

Special Display: Trailblazer: The Art of Shinoda Toko
March 9-31, 2013

Japan Society honors the centennial of the granddame of Japanese art Shinoda Toko with this special A-Level exhibit. Hailed as a “trailblazer” by TIME magazine, Shinoda broke the boundaries of old and new, word and image, and East and West. Admission: Free.

Panel Discussion: Edo Pop Contemporary Artists Panel
Saturday, March 9, 1:00-3:00 pm

Edo Pop artists AIKO, Tomokazu Matsuyama and Ishii Tōru discuss with Japan Society Gallery Director Dr. Miwako Tezuka the ways in which ukiyo-e artists’ style, technique and engagement in popular culture informed and inspired their respective artistic practices. Tickets: $12/$8 Japan Society members, seniors & students (includes exhibition admission).

Film Screening: Utamaro and His Five Women
Saturday, March 9, 6:00 pm

Based on the life and work of Kitagawa Utamaro (one of the traditional ukiyo-e artists whose work is featured in Edo Pop), this 1946 cinematic masterpiece shows an artist caught between fierce dedication to his art and a fiery storm of love and intrigue. Tickets: $12/$9 Japan Society members.

Commemorative Film, Concert & Lecture: Hope, Struggle & Rebirth in the Shadow of 3/11
Sunday-Tuesday, March 10-12

Japan Society marks the two-year anniversary Japan’s March 11, 2011 earthquake, with a suite of events that explore the impact and aftermath of 3/11 as seen through the eyes of an award-winning film director, an acclaimed pianist and visual artist, and a leading scholar on Japan. Ticket holders to any of these events receive compleimatry admission to Edo Pop.

Edo Pop DJ Dance Party
Sunday, March 10, 9:00 pm-3:00 am

OFFSITE: Le Bain at The Standard Highline, 444 W 13th Street, NYC Nouveau York and Japan Society Gallery present acclaimed DJs Satoshi Tomiie and Alex from Tokyo celebrating Japan Society Gallery's spring exhibition Edo Pop, featuring artwork by Le Bain favorites AIKO and Tomokazu Matsuyama. Sponsored by the Standard.

Lecture: Popping Out of Time & Space in Ukiyo-e Prints
Tuesday, April 2, 6:30-8:00 pm

Henry D. Smith II, Columbia University’s Professor Emeritus of Japanese History, expounds on the subtleties of Edo Pop. Tickets: $12/$8 Japan Society members, seniors and students (includes exhibition admission). Note: the gallery will extend its hours to 6:30 pm for this event.

Workshop: Edo Pop Floral Design
Saturday, April 6, 1:00-3:00 pm

Leading artist-turned florist Emily Thompson, whose winter wreath graced the December 2012 cover of Martha Stewart Living, returns to Japan Society to lead a workshop inspired by the colorful, complex compositions in Edo Pop. Co-sponsored by FlowerSchool New York. Tickets: $300/$280 Japan Society members (includes materials and exhibition admission). For more information call 212-715-1224.

Discussion & Fashion Show: Fashion Fast Forward: Japanese Art Goes POP
Friday, April 26, 6:30-9:00 pm

An insider’s look into contemporary fashion, design and street culture inspired by Japanese art through the millennia. Tokyo-based fashion editor and author of Style Deficit Disorder: Harajuku Street Fashion—Tokyo, Tiffany Godoy, interviews international designers and presents a live fashion show, followed by a DJ dance party. Tickets: $20/$15 Japan Society members (includes exhibition admission).

Book Club: Japanese Fiction from Edo Pop(ulism) to Incipient Modernism
Sundays, May 12, 11:30am-1:30pm, and May 19, 1:00-4:00 pm

Participants sip sake and enjoy light Japanese snacks while exploring two Edo period works of literature, The Life of an Amorous Woman and Japan's First Modern Novel: Ukigumo under the guidance of independent scholar and author Dr. John K. Gillespie. Tickets: $75/$70 Japan Society members (includes exhibition admission); email for pre-meeting information.

Family Program: Edo Pop Art Cart
Sunday, May 12, 2:00-4:00 pm

A master printmaker leads this family-friendly workshop, discussing composition, materials and techniques of select works featured in Edo Pop, followed by hands-on printmaking. Recommended for children 8-12 years old. Tickets: $12/$5 Japan Society members; children ages 2 or under free.

Workshop: Art for Artists: Japanese Woodblock Printmaking Class
Saturdays & Sundays, June 8 & 9 and 15 & 16, 1:00-5:00 pm

In this 4-part printmaking class, participants learn woodcutting techniques practiced by ukiyo-e masters. Yasuyuki Shibata, Master Printmaker at Pace Editions, teaches how to sharpen and use carving tools, prepare and carve wood blocks, and the hand printing process. Tickets: $460/$450 Japan Society members, seniors and students (includes all materials and exhibition admission); email for pre-course instructions.

About Japan Society Gallery

Japan Society Gallery is among the premier institutions in the U.S. for the exhibition of Japanese art. Extending in scope from prehistory to the present, the Gallery’s exhibitions since 1971 have covered topics as diverse as classical Buddhist sculpture and calligraphy, contemporary photography and ceramics, samurai swords, export porcelain, and masterpieces of painting from the thirteenth to the twentieth century. Each exhibition, with its related catalogue and public programs, is a unique cultural event that illuminates familiar and unfamiliar fields of art.

Founded in 1907, Japan Society is a world-class, multidisciplinary hub for global leaders, artists, scholars, educators, and English and Japanese-speaking audiences. At the Society, more than 100 events each year feature sophisticated, topically relevant presentations of Japanese art and culture as well as open and critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. An American nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, the Society cultivates a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan.

Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second Avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and M subway at Lexington Avenue). The public may call 212-832-1155 or visit for more information.

Japan Society Gallery hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 11:00 am-6:00 pm; Friday, 11:00 am-9:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 am-5:00 pm; the Gallery is closed on Mondays and major holidays. Admission: $12/$10 students and seniors/FREE Japan Society members and children under 16. Admission is free to all on Friday nights, 6:00-9:00 pm. Docent tours are available free with admission Tuesdays-Sundays at 12:30 pm (English), and Fridays at 6:00 pm (Japanese); no reservations are necessary.

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Amanda de Beaufort, Anne Edgar Associates,, 646-336-7230

Shannon Jowett, Japan Society,, 212-715-1205

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