Woodcuts and more: Hokusai show opens in Berlin

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Posted: Aug 25, 2011 9:59 AM
Woodcuts and more: Hokusai show opens in Berlin

A retrospective spanning the 70-year career of Katsushika Hokusai, the master of the Japanese woodcut print best known for his series of views of Mount Fuji, is going on show in Berlin.

The exhibition charts the artist's work from its beginnings in 1779 through his many phases and multiple pseudonyms. From the sublime to the ridiculous, from Fuji to frogs, there's a bit of everything.

The centerpiece is the acclaimed "36 Views of Mount Fuji" series, complete with the artist's signature image, "The Great Wave off the Coast of Kanagawa," in which a huge wave towers over fishing boats in front Fuji's distinctive cone.

That hangs next to "South Wind at Clear Dawn," showing Fuji glowing red in the morning light; and an image in which the mountain is surrounded by rain clouds.

Those pictures, however, come well into the visitor's tour of the exhibition at the German capital's Martin Gropius Bau museum, which traces Hokusai's work chronologically from his beginnings as a student of woodcut printmaker Katuswaka Shunsho.

"When Hokusai painted these famous Fuji paintings, he was over 70," curator Seiji Nagata said Thursday. "He had a great creative period over 70 years, and nevertheless he is known in Japan and Europe only for works that he produced in five years."

"So I didn't want just to show these five years here in Berlin, but also the other 65 years ... to present the true significance of Hokusai," he added. Hokusai later influenced the impressionist movement.

Hokusai's early portraits of actors and depictions of subjects such as children's games give way to his "Sori" period, in which he portrayed "bijin," or beautiful women with elongated faces and slim figures.

There are hanging scrolls and decorated fans, stylized landscapes and "manga"-style illustrated books. And there are playful pieces such as "Sake for a Hangover," showing a man demanding rice wine from his wife to ease the morning after.

Works from Hokusai's final years show him moving away from woodcuts toward painting.

The exhibition features more than 400 works. All came from Japanese collections and archives apart from 11 held in Europe, Nagata said.

The exhibition opens to the public Friday and runs through Oct. 24.

It has been kept relatively short because of conservation concerns over the works being exposed to light for too long, said Gereon Sievernich, the Martin Gropius Bau's director.

"Ten weeks was the limit," he said.

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Online:

Exhibition details: http://tinyurl.com/44eto4k