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Following the “opening” of Japan to the Western world in the 1850s, European and American artists rushed to collect Japanese prints and to include many of the stylistic elements–flat areas of strong color, off-center compositions, dramatic cropping–in their own work. Inspired by Japanese prints, some artists pictured street scenes and local landscapes and even controversial elements of society like prostitutes and actors. (A selection of work by 19th-century French artists influenced by Japanese prints is on view in the museum’s Cargill Gallery, on the first floor.)
The impact of Japanese woodblock prints on artists of today is evident in the second part of this exhibition. Work by twelve contemporary artists, both Japanese and Western, demonstrates the enduring artistic and conceptual appeal of themes associated with Japan’s storied “floating world” and aspects of Edo-period society, such as hedonism, decadence, urbanism, sensuality, consumerism, and escapism. Individually sardonic, alien, dreamlike, vibrant, or evocative, taken as a whole these images appropriate past art in a way that reveals our own reality anew.