Ukiyo-e at the Asian Art Museum

grabhornLast week, a new show of wood block prints, scrolls and artifacts from Japan’s “floating world” opened at the Asian Art Museum. The wood block prints are from a collection donated to the museum by the widow of Robert Grabhorn, who first with his brother Edwin and later with Andrew Hoyem, ran  Grabhorn Press, the iconic letterpress print shop. This press exists now as Arion Press and the Grabhorn Institute.

In any case, the prints are worth a long, leisurely look. There are some videos of the process, too. It’s an intense, collaborative effort.  The artist draws the image, and the woodblock cutter makes a block for each color.  The papermaker makes the paper, and the printer prints a single run for each color. The blocks must match exactly to provide the perfect registration of each color into the whole.

If you can’t make it, here’s a taste. The text accompanying the prints is comprehensive, and it noted in the bathhouse image below, there are shadows of the objects on the wall, probably influenced by Western engravings:


I had never noticed that these prints are generally shadowless.IMG_2096IMG_2093








One of the more disturbing things about the exhibit though, was the detailed exposition of the life of the girls and women who became the courtesans of this world. Indentured servitude and prostitution from a very young age was the rule.








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