Fleeting Beauty: Japanese Woodblock Prints

Commodore Perry is nowhere to be seen in the 60-plus images collected in Fleeting Beauty: Japanese Woodblock Prints, essentially because his U.S. warships put an end to Japan's isolation, and the arts that flourished during that isolation, in 1853. During the prior two centuries of Edo Period seclusion, these ukiyo-e prints grew ever more colorful and technically refined. Yet this exquisite art is remarkably conservative and inward-looking; there’s no sense of progress at all, no trace of outside influence or creeping modernity. Perhaps that’s why the geishas, courtesans, actors, peasant scenes, cherry blossoms, snowscapes, and multiple views of Mt. Fuji today seem so iconic and quintessentially Japanese. There’s a beautiful stasis to them, a denial of history, an unwavering mirror held up to a nation as it wants to imagine itself—and imagines that reflection will never change. In the famous waves of Hokusai and gardens of Hiroshige and teahouses of Utamaro, dating from circa 1740-1850, we see an idealized vision of a strict feudal society. (Never mind the cruelty, hunger, and unfairness—leave that to the historians.) The prints have been announced as future gifts from local collectors Mary and Allan Kollar, one of SAAM’s best bequests—and exhibitions—in years. BRIAN MILLER

Thursdays, 10 a.m.-9 p.m.; Wednesdays, Fridays-Sundays, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Starts: April 1. Continues through July 4, 2010

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