Popping Out of Time & Space in Ukiyo-e Prints

April 2, 2013
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Henry D. Smith II, Professor Emeritus of Japanese History, Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures; Columbia University presents a lecture entitled: “Popping Out of Time & Space in Ukiyo-e Prints.”

Henry Smith takes the idea of “Edo Pop” in a different direction, to emphasize their power to “pop out” of established convention. The canonical tastes of modern collectors have favored prints that are flat and decorous. Smith proposes rather that the most important trends in Edo prints were towards increased three-dimensional visual depth, frame-breaking two-dimensional composition, and persistent play with a changing past and evolving present. In the end, Edo color woodblock prints were not flat but deep, not decorous but radical, reflecting a society in a state of rapid change, constantly breaking social boundaries. The physical surface of a multi-colored nishiki-e print itself “pops out,” deep and tactile. Text elements of great variety float about within the images, offering alternative angles and supplementary data. Complex types of framing challenged the very idea of fixed pictorial space, precisely at the time that the dramatic manipulation of Western linear perspective seen in uki-e “pop-out” prints led to the spatial design revolutions of Hokusai and Hiroshige. On top of all this, in the realm of time, the displacements of “mitate” parodies brought the classical past into provocative tension with the present, sometimes delicately, at others more satirically. Ukiyo-e prints did not “float”: they popped out.  

 Relevant writings by Henry Smith:

1. Hiroshige, One Hundred Famous Views of Edo. New York: George Braziller, Inc., 1986. For map and index of places depicted, click here. 

2. "World Without Walls: Kuwagata Keisai’s Panoramic Vision of Japan." In Gail Bernstein and Haruhiro Fukui, eds., Japan and the World–Essays on Japanese History and Politics in Honour of Ishida Takeshi (The Macmillan Press, London, 1988), pp. 3-19. PDF version

3. "The Floating World in Its Edo Locale, 1750-1850." In Donald Jenkins, ed., The Floating World Revisited (Portland, OR: Portland Art Museum, 1993), pp. 25-45. PDF version

4. "Hiroshige in History." In Matthi Forrer, ed., Hiroshige: Prints and Drawings (London: Royal Academy of the Arts, and Munich and New York: Prestel, 1997), pp. 33-45. PDF version

5. “‘He Frames a Shot!’: Cinematic Vision in Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.” Orientations, 31:1 (March 2000), pp. 90-96. PDF version

6. "Hokusai and the Blue Revolution in Edo Prints." In John T. Carpenter, ed., Hokusai and His Age: Ukiyo-e Painting, Printmaking, and Book Illustration in Late Edo Japan (Amsterdam: Hotei Publishing, 2005), pp.  234-69. PDF version

7. "Hiroshige’s Last Landscapes: A World Turned on End." In Utagawa Hiroshige: The Moon Reflected, catalog for exhibition at Ikon Gallery, Birmingham, UK, Nov. 2007—Jan. 2008, pp. 9-14. PDF version

[For all of Smith’s major publications, see http://www.columbia.edu/~hds2/CV.htm]


$12/$8 Japan Society members, seniors & students (includes exhibition admission).

Please note: The gallery closes at 6:30 pm.

This program is generously supported by the International Fine Print Dealers Association.

Image: Utagawa Kunisada (1786–1864) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858), Ejiri (detail), from the series Fifty-three Stations by Two Brushes, 1854. Color woodblock print (nishiki-e). 17 ½ x 21 11/16 in. Courtesy Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Gift of Louis W. Hill, Jr. P.75.51.303.

  • Tuesday, April 2, 2013
  • 6:30 pm