Published: October 10, 2006
“Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan,” a visually spectacular, in-depth historical and thematic look at Japanese illustrated books, will be on view at The New York Public Library from October 20 through February 4. The free exhibition — the largest display of Japanese book art ever seen, drawn exclusively from the collections of The New York Public Library — encompasses 1,200 years of history and includes Buddhist sutras, painted manuscripts, portraits, landscapes, calligraphic verse and photographic books, with related drawings and woodblock prints.
Precursors of present-day anime and works by internationally known artists such as Hiroshi Sugimoto and Takashi Murakami are also included. An emphasis on materials, techniques and an extreme range of visual styles gives additional depth to the survey.
“Ehon” is a Japanese word meaning “picture book,” although the books frequently contain essays, poems and other calligraphic text. The books featured in “Ehon” span from the Eighth Century to the Twenty-First including contemporary books created in the last few years.
Among the highlights are Kitagawa Utamaro’s Eighteenth Century spectacularly colored shells in Gifts of The Ebb Tide (The Shell Book), accompanied by poetry floating above the exquisitely drawn and printed pictures. Kamisaka Sekka’s early Twentieth Century album Flowers of a Hundred Worlds is an extraordinary renewal of the Japanese decorative tradition with brilliantly colored minimalist prints of humanity and nature.
“Ehon” have much in common with what are now called artists’ books in the West. Made by hand throughout most of their long tradition, they are striking in their aesthetic and vision, although often intended for a wide audience. Curated by Roger S. Keyes, visiting scholar in East Asian Studies at Brown University, the exhibition consists of more than 200 items from the library’s collections, drawn primarily from the Spencer Collection, which includes 1,500 printed books and 300 manuscripts from Japan, and the print collection.
An elegantly designed companion volume, Ehon: The Artist and the Book in Japan traces the history and evolution of these books through 250 color images and descriptions of 70 of the key items displayed in the exhibition. Written by exhibition curator Keyes, it will be co-published in October by The New York Public Library and the University of Washington Press, hardcover, 320 pages, 9 by 12 inches, $50.
“The Artist and the Book” will be on view in the D. Samuel and Jeane H. Gottesman Exhibition Hall and the Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III Gallery at the NYPL’s Library’s Humanities and Social Sciences Library, Fifth Avenue and 42nd Street. Admission is free. For information, www.nypl.org or 212-869-8089.
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