Utamaro, Hokusai, Hiroshige. Geishe, samurai e la civiltà del piacere

  • When:   February 23, 2023 - June 25, 2023
  • this event is ended

Japanese paintingArt Exhibitions in Torino

Utamaro, Hokusai, Hiroshige. Geishe, samurai e la civiltà del piacere
Imao Keinen, Uccello dalla testa blu e ragnatela, dalla serie “Immagini di uccelli e fiori di Keinen”, vol.12, n.5, stampa xilografica, 1892

For four months, Turin will be dressed in the lights, colors and suggestions of the rising sun. From 23 February to 25 June 2023, the Società Promotrice delle Belle Arti di Torino hosts the exhibition Utamaro, Hokusai, Hiroshige. Geishas, samurai and the civilization of pleasure.

The exhibition, curated by Francesco Paolo Campione, director of MUSEC – Museum of Cultures of Lugano, produced by Skira, in collaboration with MUSEC and with the Turin Fine Arts Promoting Society, under the patronage of the Municipality of Turin, analyzes the Japanese universe through a thematic itinerary, divided into nine sections, with over 300 masterpieces, some of which have never been presented in Italy: prints by the major masters of ukiyo-e, such as Hokusai, Hiroshige, Utamaro, Kuniyoshi, Yoshitoshi, Sharaku, as well as samurai armor, kimonos, theatrical masks, rare printing matrices, precious female ornaments, stone sculptures, banners, from the collections of the MUSEC in Lugano, the Museum of Oriental Art in Venice, the Museum of Oriental Art in Turin, the Civico Museum of Oriental Art of Trieste, the Fondation Baur Musée des Arts d'Extrême-Orient of Geneva and important private collections.

The exhibition is proposed as an original reconstruction, in all its aspects, of the "civilization of pleasure", a peculiar historical-artistic season of Japan - the Edo period (1603-1868) - in which the country, pacified within the own borders and strict in a policy of isolation from the rest of the world (sakoku), led the rich class of merchants (chōnin), unable to buy landed goods, to devote themselves to the pleasures of existence, such as kabuki shows, attending geishas in tea houses and the purchase of extraordinary works of art.

“Skira returns to Turin - underlines Massimo Vitta Zelman, President of Skira Editore -, one of the key squares of its intense exhibition activity, and it does so with a new, great tribute to Japanese art and universe.

Images of the "floating world", nature in its most scenic aspect, the civilization of pleasure: a new, extraordinary opportunity for the Italian public and for tourists who fortunately return to crowd our country to immerse themselves in the magic of the Japanese universe and of that iconographic culture which has also exerted so much fascination on Western art. An opportunity that, we are sure, will not be lost".

The exhibition itinerary opens with the "images of the floating world" (ukiyo-e), woodcut prints made on wooden matrices that became synonymous with "modern", fashionable, and ended up expressing a sort of philosophy centered on the taste of a pleasant existence and, as far as possible, satisfying personal desires, interpreted by artists such as Hiroshige, Utamaro, Kuniyoshi, Hokusai; of the latter, the review presents the fifteen volumes of Manga, a true encyclopedia of drawing, in which the Japanese artist portrays everything he has seen or that his mind has conceived, from landscapes to natural and supernatural elements, from everyday life to humans and gods, from flora to fauna.

The exhibition continues with the surveys on typical Japanese art subjects, such as that of nature seen both in its more landscaped aspect, interpreted for example by Hiroshige's prints, and in what was recognized as a real pictorial genre of "flowers and birds” (kachōga) which, in their symbolic juxtapositions, also act as signs of the seasons. Sparrows with winter camellias flowering in the snow symbolize the incipient spring which in the traditional calendar fell between January and February; cherry blossoms (sakura) are typical of late spring; peonies (botan) and irises signal summer; finally, the bluebells (kikyō) are characteristic of autumn.

Ephemeral pleasures were also among the most documented subjects in Japanese prints; like that of kabuki theatre, the popular show par excellence. In Turin it will be possible to admire the prints depicting the actors of these performances. They are works with elegant and refined traits which, over time, underwent a peculiar evolution: from the "primitive" works of the XVII and XVIII century aimed above all at outlining the physiognomy of the actors and their stage accessories, to the very colourful, rich and hyper- expressive multi-sheet compositions of the end of the Edo period, in which the artists try to reproduce all the scenic richness.

In this section you will also find an official program from 1890 illustrated and printed in black with a woodblock matrix, a banner (nobori hata) from the mid-19th century in hand-painted fabric, used as an advertising sign for kabuki theater performances, as well as to more than 30 popular masks from nō theater and kyōgen theater.

Particularly interesting is the figure of the artist Sharaku, on whose identity there is a lot of speculation; there are those who think he was an actor, those who favor a pseudonym used by a group of highly innovative artists and those who argue that Hokusai is hidden behind his name. Beyond all conjectures, the faces of the kabuki theater actors portrayed in Sharaku's works allowed to interpret the psychology of the characters brought on stage and revealed a temporary emotion raised to a spiritual level and, sometimes, the very essence of a personality.

Even the female universe was deeply investigated; while on the one hand the aspects of the daily life of women of various eras, of different ages and social backgrounds were explored, as in the prints by Tsukioka Yoshitoshi or in the triptychs by Miyagawa Shuntei which portrayed women engaged in typical activities side by side with plant elements to recall the various months of the year, on the other hand, woodcuts with erotic subjects (shunga) established themselves as a genre of primary importance; they were made by the most important artists of the time. In their works we find a direct testimony and a personal emotional participation in the representation of the pleasures of sexuality, enriched by the knowledge and by the quotation, sometimes even philological, of a literary production full of sensuality.

The exhibition continues with the section documenting the prints depicting warriors and heroes of the Japanese tradition (musha-e). These owe their typical appearance to the work of Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798-1861) who, starting from 1827, devoted much of his attention to them. His characters are dressed in splendid clothes and portrayed as they fight or perform heroic gestures, facing enemies and monstrous beings represented with extraordinary detail, in a lively landscape rich in descriptive details.

The so-called warrior books of Hokusai will also be exhibited, true drawing masterpieces in which the artist moves between nature and the supernatural, placing the action of the hero at the center of his figurative research.

The review closes with a room dedicated to the iconographic and stylistic legacy of ukiyo-e, with a spectacular immersive installation that introduces the vision of Hokusai's Great Wave which, on the one hand, summarizes in an image the sense of transience and temporariness of human life in the face of the unstoppable force of nature and history, on the other hand, expresses the desire not to heroically oppose the facts of life, but to let oneself go, guided by an existential philosophy based on pleasure.

Title: Utamaro, Hokusai, Hiroshige. Geishe, samurai e la civiltà del piacere

Opening: February 23, 2023

Ending: June 25, 2023

Organization: Skira

Curator: Francesco Paolo Campione

Place: Torino, Società Promotrice delle Belle Arti

Address: viale Diego Balsamo Crivelli, 11 - Torino

More info on this website: https://hokusaitorino.it/

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