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On Exhibit: Japanese woodcuts at The Hyde

On Exhibit: Japanese woodcuts at The Hyde

Museum resolved climate control issues
On Exhibit: Japanese woodcuts at The Hyde
Yelsen, Woman Standing in Landscape, left, and Vincent Van Gogh's Orchard with Arles in the Background.
Photographer: Syracuse Univ. Art Collection; right: Bequest of Charlotte Pruyn Hyde

“Ukiyo-e to Shin Hanga,” the latest exhibition to come to the Hyde Collectio,n had two opening days. 

The first was on November 4, when visitors got to glimpse the stunning Japanese woodcuts from the Syracuse University Art Collection as well as some rarely seen pieces from the Hyde’s Collection. 

The second was on Wednesday when all the works were put back on display. 

In between, the museum was dealing with major climate control issues, as the main humidity system failed just a few days after the exhibit’s opening reception. The woodcuts and prints date back to the 17th century and are delicate, so the museum has to maintain very specific climate conditions. 

“For museum exhibits, you look for 70-degree temperatures, but 40 [to] 50 percent humidity,” Jonathan Canning, the director of curatorial affairs and programs at the Hyde. 

When the system first broke, museum staff used portable humidifiers to maintain the conditions. However, “Ukiyo-e to Shin Hanga,” and is a large exhibition, with over 40 Japanese woodcut prints and around 30 pieces from the Hyde’s Collection. Since there was no way for museum staff to continually monitor the portable humidifiers at night, mounting and taking down over 70 pieces of valuable artwork each day was just not possible, museum staff decided to take down the show.  

It wasn’t as much of a problem for the Hyde’s other exhibit, “Making History: The Nuremberg and Augsburg Chronicles,” which displayed a page from a Gutenberg Bible along with other rare books. With portable humidifiers located around the exhibit and the historical books under cases, the Hyde was able to control the environment. Canning transferred the pieces to a climate controlled storage area at the end of the day. 

However, with their climate control system up and running again, Canning is doing a lot less running around and the books and artwork can stay where they belong: on exhibit. 

The 70-plus works from the Syracuse University Art Collection and from the Hyde’s Collection are up and talking to one another, artistically that is. The Japanese woodcut prints are placed in conjunction with Western works and the combination helps viewers trace influences of various artists of both regions. 

According to Canning, the Hyde was overdue for an Eastern art exhibition, as the last time there was an exhibition that focused on Eastern art was two decades ago. But Canning was looking to broaden the range of the exhibition and show how important the woodcut prints were both artistically and socially. 

“I realized that Ukiyo-e art influenced modern Western art.” Artists in the 19th century, especially those working in Paris, started to see the forms and shading of Ukiyo-e era art and incorporated it into their own work, which is explored in “West Meets East” which runs alongside the “Ukiyo-e” exhibition. 

Artists like Edgar Degas collected these sorts of woodcuts and prints. Vincent van Gogh actually collected over 400 of these prints, said Canning. In some works, the artist used a reed pen to try and imitate the style. It’s seen in his “Orchard with Arles in the Background,” which the Hyde brought out for the exhibition. Between the sketched lines and the cropped composition, it’s easy to see the influence of artists like Kobayashi Kiyochika, especially in “Cherry Trees in Blossom Along Water’s Edge.” Though the print contains pastel colors, there’s an undeniable similarity in the composition.

The ukiyo-e (or “pictures of the floating world”) style art was mostly appreciated by the merchant or lower class in Japan during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. Prints from this era tended to depict fashions of the time, the female figure, theater, and epic heroes or gods. 

The Shin-Hanga genre, which was created in the 20th century, was similar in content to the ukiyo-e, but it integrated some elements of Western art styles. It’s a back and forth that’s seen throughout the exhibition. 

[Kitagawa Utamaro] developed a certain feminine aesthetic,” Canning said. The figures in his prints tend to have long and thin faces, as seen in “Woman Looking at her Face in a Mirror.”

Other artists, like Kawanabe Kyosai, depicted more dramatic scenes like spiritual forces fighting, as in “Battle of Demons.” Then, on a more tranquil note, there are several landscapes that feel at once adventurous and peaceful. There are mountainous prints by Katsushika Hokusai and peaceful snowy scenes by Tsuchiya Koitsu. 

These woodcut prints were relatively cheap because they could be reproduced. Keeping that in mind, the “Making History,” exhibit makes sense to run alongside it. 

A page from a Gutenberg Bible sits beneath a glass case, joining other rare books encased throughout the exhibit, like “The Nuremberg Chronicle.”

According to Canning, there were only 180 Gutenberg Bibles printed, using a moving type production method in the mid-1400s. The page looks delicate, yet ornate, with the first letter of each sentence marked with a red detail. According to Canning, after the bibles were printed, those red details had to be added in by hand, along with the other more ornate details found in the book. 

“The Nuremberg Chronicle,” which is a history of the world dating back to the 1490s was the most complex publication of its time. The commissioners Sebald Schreyer and Sebastian Kammermeister used the latest moving type technology to disseminate their view of history. 

It was printed in Latin and German and was richly illustrated using woodcut images by Michael Wolgemut and Wilhelm Pleydenwurff. The Hyde has a copy of the edition that was printed in Latin, which features hand-tinted woodcut illustrations, making the illustrations seem like the more expensive illuminated manuscripts. 

“The Hyde’s copy is one of the rarer hand-tinted volumes. It has been described by scholars as one of the finest examples of the ‘Chronicle’ in the country,” Canning said. 

It’s thanks to the museum’s founders, Louis and Charlotte Hyde that the books and pages are a part of the collection today. Louis loved reading and carefully collected many rare books over the years. He first purchased the hand-tinted "Chronicle," in 1933, over 400 years after it was printed. 

Because of the age of these books and pages, they are rarely exhibited. “Making History,” will be on exhibit until December 30, as will “Ukiyo-e to Shin Hanga: Japanese Woodcuts from the Syracuse University Art Collection.” 

If you go
From 1 to 4 p.m. on Sunday, Marilyn McCabe will lead “Writing Workshop: Seeing the Words,” which will focus on the “Ukiyo-e to Shin Hanga” exhibition. The workshop is $25 for members and $35 for non-members. 

Then, starting at 9 a.m. on Saturday, December 15, yoga instructor Kate Patterson will lead Art and Yoga, which will take place in the “Ukiyo-e to Shin Hanga” exhibit. The yoga session is $10 for members and $12 for non-members. Also on December 15, Jenny Hutchinson, a museum educator and artist, will lead Open Studio: Bookmaking, where attendees can learn how to make a decorative artist book. The session is open to all experience levels and is $10 for members and $12 for non-members. 

RSVP to these events by calling 518-792-1761 ext. 310 or emailing [email protected] For more information visit hydecollection.org

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