August 5, 2009
Cantor exhibition spotlights Asian acquisitions from Zhou dynasty to modern East Asia
He was the last great master of a style of Japanese woodblock printing called ukiyo-e, "pictures of the floating world." As Japan moved into the modern era, however, the innovative artist Tsukioka Yoshitoshi (1839-1892) found himself in a losing battle with time and technology, as photography and mass production displaced traditional woodblock prints.
One of Yoshitoshi's final works is a highpoint of the current exhibition at the Cantor Center for Visual Arts, "From the Bronze Age of China to Japan's Floating World," which continues through Oct. 18.
By the 1890s, Yoshitoshi was a very sick man. Poverty had been a regular companion - at one point, he and his mistress burned the floorboards to fight off the cold. Depression had dogged him all his life, and he had had at least one breakdown. At the end of his life, his eyesight was failing, his health was poor and he was mentally ill as well. In early 1891, he invited friends to a gathering of artists - but there was no gathering. It was one of the artist's delusions. He was committed to a mental institution that year.
Yet he was producing his best work: In the year of his death, he made a vivid color woodblock, "Minamoto no Yorimitsu Striking at the Ground Spider." The print depicts an ailing samurai preparing to strike one of the ghosts who plague his febrile dreams. The work is taken from Yoshitoshi's final and most splendid series, New Forms of Thirty-Six Ghosts.
The stunning print is part of the exhibition, which presents a decade of some of the museum's Asian acquisitions, including bronzes, ceramics, woodcut prints, calligraphy, sculpture and paintings. The exhibition comprises about 50 works, ranging in period from China's Zhou dynasty, which ruled between the 11th and 3rd centuries B.C., to the 1800s in Edo, Japan, and to 20th-century East Asia.
Highlights include a bronze vessel from the Western Zhou dynasty, dated between 1045 and 771 B.C. The food container, used during rituals, is decorated with animal mask motifs. A 17th-century hand scroll painting, Dream Journey, by the Chinese painter and calligrapher Zha Shibiao, presents a sketchy, dry-brush rendition of an imaginary tour by the leading figure of the Xin'an school.
The Cantor Arts Center is open Wednesday through Sunday, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday until 8 p.m. Admission is free.
High-resolution photos are available at Cantor Arts Center FTP site, http://www.stanford.edu/dept/suma/news_room/documents/photos. For questions about the FTP site, contact Anna Koster.