‹ Past Exhibitions

Encountering the Floating World: Ukiyo-e and the West

Encountering the Floating World: Ukiyo-e and the West

This exhibition explores the relationship of Japanese prints to modern and contemporary fine and decorative art, and how these important confluences transformed Western art-making practice. Drawn from the Johnson Museum’s collection, artists on view include Hiroshige, Hokusai, Kuniyoshi, Tiffany, Whistler, and many others, exploring a fascination with ukiyo-e, pictures of the “Floating World,” which refers to the enjoyment to be found in kabuki theater, the world of geishas, and, in general, the pursuit of personal pleasure.

In the middle of the nineteenth century, after Commodore Matthew Perry opened Japan to the West, Europeans and Americans were attracted to the exquisite arts and crafts of Japan, particularly as seen in the great international expositions: Paris in 1867, Philadelphia in 1876, and Chicago in 1893. Westerners were in many ways bedazzled by Japanese culture, and they quickly became avid consumers of the art and artifacts that were flowing from the East to the West.

There are many reasons why this occurred. Partly it was exotic appeal, the yen toward “the other”—but, critically, it was a compulsion to seek new aesthetics that would change the way Westerners looked at art. Ukiyo-e prints, shown at the Paris 1867 Exposition, exposed artists to a new way of seeing, using a different perspective, a different color palette, and, ultimately, a different technique of producing the prints themselves in America. So many art movements were profoundly affected by their encounters with Japan—impressionism, arts and crafts, aestheticism, and art nouveau—and Japan’s influence still reverberates today.

This exhibition celebrates the collaborative process that unwittingly happened between these cultures, leading to a new and important diplomatic relationship. It also pays homage to a collaborative process that has occurred in the creation of this exhibition. This past spring I cotaught a seminar with An-yi Pan, associate professor of art history, and Daniel McKee, adjunct assistant professor and Japanese bibliographer in Kroch Library. Nine undergraduate students, dividing themselves into three groups, composed themes, chose the objects, and wrote the labels for the exhibition in the wing gallery.

The introductory exhibition, examining the origins of the Japanese “craze,” was developed in the same way by an equally dedicated group of students from a summer course at Cornell’s Adult University. With only a short week to compose their efforts, they, too, chose works, wrote labels, and laid out their portion of the exhibition.

Nancy E. Green
The Gale and Ira Drukier Curator of European and American Art, Prints and Drawings, 1800–1945

Exhibition Seminar (ARTH 4818), Spring 2013
Catherine Jung ’13
Molly Messersmith ’13        
Laura Miller ’13
Margo Cohen Ristorucci ’13
Aaron Sage ’13          
Katya Savelieva ’14
Rachel Schimmoller ’14
Valencia Washington ’13
Melinda Zoephel ’13

Cornell’s Adult University, Summer 2013
Alice Katz Berglas ’66
Vanne Cowie ’57
Susan Futterman
Sally Grubb
Bonnie Hill
Claudette Jones ’75
Katherine Murphy