Philadelphia, PA (July 10, 2002) -- A retrospective exhibition devoted to Munakata Shikō (1903-1975), who was known to his Japanese contemporaries as an iconoclast and is often considered the 20th century's most influential artist of the woodblock print, will debut at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from July 27 through November 10, 2002. Celebrating the centennial of the artist's birth with more than 100 prints and a selection of his paintings, calligraphy, and ceramics, Munakata Shikō: Japanese Master of the Modern Print is the first comprehensive retrospective to be shown outside his native country.
The exhibition surveys the artist's development from his early efforts in black-and-white woodcuts through his experimentations with color to the monumental works of his last years. It explores his evocations of nature, history, Buddhism, Japanese folk tales, contemporary poetry, and themes from Western literature, and examines how, over the course of some 40 years, the artist drew upon these sources to produce a remarkably varied body of work. A majority of the woodcuts, calligraphies, paintings, and ceramics in the exhibition have been borrowed from the Munakata Museum in Kamakura, Japan, the foundation established in the artist's residence and studio following his death in 1975.
"It is deeply satisfying to open this exhibition in Philadelphia, one of the first American cities to have shown Munakata's work, and a city whose artists welcomed him warmly during one astonishingly productive week in 1959," said Anne d'Harnoncourt, Director and CEO of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. "This Philadelphia story, the subject of a fascinating essay by Dr. Felice Fischer in the catalogue, was one remarkable moment in a long and eventful career that brought printmaking to new heights, to an extent that can only now be fully appreciated."
Dr. Felice Fischer, the Luther W. Brady Curator of Japanese Art and Curator of East Asian Art at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, added: "Munakata's work communicates a deep sense of joy and vitality while cutting across numerous Eastern and Western pictorial traditions. He was a modern artist who found continuity with Japanese art of the past. He believed that the Japanese woodcut print was the equal of Western painting and invested in it a new energy and scale."
Munakata is credited with revolutionizing the woodcut, or hanga, in Japan. He liberated it from the small-scale ukiyo-e format typified by such woodcut masters as Hokusai (1760-1849) and Hiroshige (1797-1858), and employed it to create folding screens and wall murals. The son of a blacksmith, Munakata was born in the northern prefecture of Aomori in 1903. A self-taught artist, he left home in 1924 for Tokyo to pursue a career in art. In his early printmaking, Munakata produced simple black and white woodcuts with concise, straightforward techniques. By 1939, when he began the Two Bodhisattva and Ten Great Disciples of Sakyamuni, a project that took nearly a decade to complete and brought him wide praise, Munakata had expanded the scale of his prints. His technical experimentation and highly personal style led to innovative use of the chisel, integrating intaglio with relief carving, and the application of colors to the back of prints on thin paper through which they glow softly.
Although Munakata was skilled as a painter in oils and sumi ink, he gained international acclaim through his woodcuts. They were first shown in New York in 1952, and in Philadelphia at the Art Alliance in the next year. After becoming the first Japanese artist to win major prizes at the São Paulo Biennale in 1955 and the Venice Biennale of 1956, he drew much notice in the American press, with Time Magazine placing "the wild man of Japanese hanga artists" at the forefront of a major printmaking revival (July 23, 1956). Life magazine heralded his arrival in New York --to which he was invited by the Japan Society and the Rockefeller Foundation in 1959--with a pictorial devoted to "the spry gentleman from Japan whose woodcuts are prized around the world for their fanciful, boisterous images (September 21, 1959)."
Under the aegis of the Japan Society, Munakata's visit to the U.S. in 1959 included one week in Philadelphia where he came to work at Temple University's Tyler School of Fine Arts. Collaborating with the printmaker and lithographer Arthur Flory (1914-1972), Munakata produced his first series of lithographs, including images of Buddhist figures, owls, a calligraphy and a large apple tree seen outside Flory's studio. These works, which are among a group of lithographs given by Munakata to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, will be shown in Philadelphia only. A number of ink paintings and calligraphic works done by Munakata in Philadelphia at the same time will also be on view.
Owing to the light sensitivity of many of the works, the exhibition will be installed in rotations, the first from July 27 through September 29, and the second from October 1 through November 10, 2002. More than 70 works will remain on view throughout the course of the exhibition. Among the highlights are the woodcuts Two Bodhisattva and Ten Great Disciples of the Sakyamuni and In Praise of Great Joy: On Beethoven's Ninth Symphony (1952), which helped to ensure his winning the grand prize in printmaking in the 28th Venice Biennale. Also featured is a series of woodcuts inspired by a volume of poems about Mt. Fuji by Kusano Shinpei (1903-1988), along with watercolors, ceramics, and oil paintings of the same subject executed over several decades. Another group of works reflect Munakata's fascination with Western poetry, including Leaves of Grass, images inspired by his visit to Walt Whitman's home on Long Island in 1959. Perfections, one of a few examples in which Munakata employs the Western alphabet with the energy of calligraphic gesture, contains Whitman's phrase: "Perfections/Only themselves/ Understand themselves and the like of/Themselves/As souls only understand souls."
The exhibition concludes with the monumental prints of his last fifteen years and several oil paintings in which the artist revisited his early fascination with Van Gogh. During this period, Munakata continued to focus intensively on Japanese themes, embracing folklore, poetry, images of women, flowers and birds, and scenes of nature, as well as subjects relating to Buddhism and indigenous deities. In Abundance and Richness (1972) made up of seventeen monochromatic prints and inspired by a trip to India with poet Kusano Shinpei, Munakata created a summary statement about his major preoccupations. The eight-panel screen, measuring 5 ft. 8 in. x 23 ft. 8 in., contains images expressing both joy and sexuality, with ecstatic references to India, Japan, and the artist's native Aomori, as well as to Van Gogh and Beethoven.
Munakata Shikō: Japanese Master of the Modern Print was organized by the Munakata Museum, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. In-kind support was provided by Japan Airlines. In Philadelphia, the exhibition was made possible through the generous support of the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation and The Hollis-Baldeck Fund. The exhibition is accompanied by a major scholarly catalogue, published by the Munakata Museum.
At the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the exhibition is coordinated and installed by Dr. Felice Fischer and John Ittmann, Curator of Prints. It is on view in two sections, in The Muriel and Philip Berman Gallery, The Alfred Stieglitz Center Gallery, ground floor, and the Japanese Galleries (241, 242 and 243) on the second floor.
After its presentation in Philadelphia, the retrospective will travel to the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (December 5, 2002 - March 2, 2003). It will then be seen in Japan at the Miyagi Museum of Art (April 5 - June 15, 2003); the Aomori Prefecture Museum (August 2-September 15, 2003); Nara Prefectural Museum of Art (September 27- November 16, 2003); The Bunkamura Museum of Art in Tokyo (November 29-February 2, 2004); and the Ehime Prefecture Museum of Art (February 14-March 28, 2004).