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  • Writer's pictureAnthony Wu

Ukiyo-e at the Allen Memorial Art Museum

Just got back from Cleveland Ohio! Cleveland was always one of the cities I wanted to visit in the USA and I finally had the opportunity from January 19th to January 23rd. It was fairly easy driving, and I I made the trip from Toronto in just under 5 hours.

Not only is Cleveland known for one of the best Asian Art Collections at the Cleveland Museum of Art, but the city has amazing Early 20th Century American architecture throughout the downtown core.

Here is a great night time photo of the Victorian-era Cleveland arcade, built in 1890 and renovated in 1939:

The main purpose of this trip was to give a lecture at Jackson School for the Arts in Massillon Ohio (about 45 minutes south of Cleveland by Canton). My friend is a dance teacher there and was hoping I can talk to her students about possible career choices in art history. We were only expecting 20-30 students for the 7:40 am (!!!) lecture but over 100 students showed up!

To fill out my schedule, I ended up visiting clients and friends, and spent a whole day at the Cleveland Museum where I took close to 700 photos of their Asian Art collection. I will do a more in-depth review of these works in a future blog, but for now you can see some of my highlights through my Instagram feed @anthonywuart.

I was also introduced to the Allen Memorial Art Museum in Oberlin Ohio. The museum is part of Oberlin College, and admittedly, I never heard of them until two weeks ago. When I went on their website though, I was shocked by the importance and quality of some of the artwork they house there. The museum is a quick 40 minute drive west of Cleveland.

The art museum was founded in 1917 to store the hundreds of pieces already in the college's collection. Today, they are most known for their collection of 20th Century American and European paintings including 'Nude with Coral Necklace' (1917) by Amedeo Modigliani (1884-1920) and 'Self-Portrait as a Soldier' (1915) by Ernst Ludwig Kirchner (1880-1938). The latter is one of the most iconic works produced by the German Expressionists, and one that I incorporated into many papers while I was studying this subject during my M.A. days at the University of Toronto.

In addition to modern paintings, the Allen Museum feature a wealth of Asian Art including one of the most important American collections of Japanese woodblock prints. The majority of these come from the collection of Mary A. Ainsworth, an Oberlin College alumni who upon visiting Japan in 1906, fell in love with this medium and ammassed over 1500 works. These were donated to the museum upon her death in 1950.

The Ainsworth collection is heavily based on ukiyo-e prints by famous artists including Utamaro (1753-1806), Hokusai (1760-1849), and Hiroshige (1797-1858). Later prints are featured too including works by Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), Yoshitoshi (1839-1892), and the shin hanga (new wave) master Kawase Hasui (1883-1957).

At the moment, a selection of the museum's woodblock prints are used for three co-current exhibitions throughout the galleries:

1. Marking Time: Seasonal Imagery in Japanese Prints, July 26, 2016 — June 12, 2017

2. Exploring Reciprocity: The Power of Animals in Non-Western Art, January 24–May 21, 2017

3. Lines of Descent: Masters and Students in the Utagawa School, January 24–May 21, 2017

I've attached images of three woodblock prints that I particularly enjoyed viewing in the Allen Museum Galleries:

1. Kunisada (1786-1865)

Memorial Portrait of Hiroshige, 1858

In this iconic image, the student pays homage to his master, the great Hiroshige, with a posthumous portrait and prose.

2. Nishimura Shigenobu (active 1729-1739)

Death of Buddha, circa 1720's to 1730's

An early woodblock print depicting the historical Buddha on his death bed, with numerous deities, guardians and animals in mourning. All the major figures have been identified.

3. Hirokage (active 1860's)

Fox Fires at Oji, #16 from the series Comic Events at Famous Places in Edo, circa 1860

A whimsical scene of supernatural foxes parading through a district of Edo (modern day Tokyo). One of the foxes was enlarged and used as a 'wall-sticker' for the exhibition.

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