Post #572 • July 5, 2005, 12:04 PM • 29 Comments
Ken Johnson for the New York Times: How a Japanese Master Enlightened the West.
Now an exhibition at the Phillips Collection here illustrates the influence of Japanese prints on early European and American Modernists. "East Meets West: Hiroshige at the Phillips Collection" interweaves the print series that made Hiroshige famous - "The Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido" - with paintings from the museum's collection by famous artists like Cézanne, Whistler and Braque, as well as by artists of less sturdy repute like Augustus Tack, Ernest Lawson and Maurice Prendergast.
It is not a great show as a whole because many of the European and American paintings are of indifferent quality, especially seen next to Hiroshige's work. But it is, nevertheless, an instructive and illuminating one.
Johnson doesn't realize how lucky he is to refer to anything in the Phillips Collection as "indifferent." Is there a Bonnard within Miami city limits at the moment?
Here's a nice observation:
In a sense East and West met as they were going in opposite directions: the East toward greater naturalism and the West toward greater abstraction.
This got me thinking - artists have been borrowing cross-culturally since the Greeks, at least, but until contemporary times regions have developed recognizable styles. That doesn't happen in the age of pluralism; a work of art could hail from Chicago or Shanghai with equal likelihood if it adopted contemporary methods without pulling from the artist's culture. Artists typically want to hook up with the movement with the most cultural wind in its sails. (That wind doesn't necesssarily correspond to aesthetic power - I'm talking about historical energy.) Right now, that wind belongs to a subset of contemporary art promoted by a handful of magazines printed in America and Europe, and its influence spreads worldwide.
But nature hates monoculture. Monoculture creates horrendous environmental problems because the envrionment would prefer to create mutants on a regular basis. Those mutants, if they don't die, find places in the landscape to reproduce, and result in a regional species. I'm wondering, what would a contemporary regionalism look like?