Yokohama in the spotlights in Frankfurt

yokohama_americanThis week the exhibition Yokohama 1868-1912: When Pictures Learned to Shine opened at the Museum für Angewandte Kunst in Frankfurt. On display are woodblock prints and photographs of the Meiji period (1868-1912) depicting Yokohama and its inhabitants.

After the opening of the Japanese borders for foreign trade in the mid-19th century, Yokohama became the center for international trade in Japan. American, French, Russian, British and Dutch traders were among the many foreigners who settled in the harbor city near Tokyo.

Those foreigners are depicted in Yokohama-e or ‘pictures of Yokohama’, a separate genre within the art of woodblock prints. At the same time photography studios were established in Yokohama, by European and Japanese photographers.

The exhibition in Frankfurt centers around these two media for reproduction, the ‘old’ woodblock print medium and the ‘new’ medium of photography and they are juxtaposed to each other as the medium in decline and the medium on the rise. One can wonder whether decline for the woodblock print medium is a fitting term as artists have continuously produced woodblock prints throughout the Meiji period including innovative elements such as new subject matter or new materials. And at the end of the Meiji period, in the beginning of the 20th century, two new movements in woodblock printmaking emerged: shin hanga and sōsaku hanga.
That the world of ukiyo-e prints was coming to an end in these years in the Meiji period, that was true, as well as that woodblock artists suffered competition from new media such as photography and lithography.

exh-frankfurt_kusakabe-kinbei-tattooAmong the European photographers in Japan were men like the Italian Felice Beato (1832-1909) and the Austrian Baron Raimund von Stillfried (1839-1911, about whom Luke Gartlan recently wrote the interesting monograph A Career of Japan). Work of both photographers is included in the exhibition as are photographs by Kusakabe Kinbei (1841-1932) and Ogawa Kazumasa (1860-1929).

In short, the exhibition illuminates the developments of the two media of woodblock printing and photography and at the same time presents a vivid picture of a city and country in change, trying to accommodate to modern times.

The exhibition is curated by Stephan von der Schulenburg and is based on two German private collections and the collection of the Museum für Angewandte Kunst itself. A catalogue in German/English/Japanese accompanies the exhibition.

Until 29 January 2017. For more information visit the museum website.