Location: 235A–B Japanese Kelvin and Eleanor Smith Foundation Japanese Art Galleries
About The Exhibition
A significant share of paintings, prints, and decorative arts made in Japan from the mid-1700s to mid-1800s captured artists’ responses to urban sex and entertainment districts unofficially known as the ukiyo (浮世), or “floating world.” Ukiyo-e (浮世絵), or “pictures of the floating world,” inspired by these exceptional spaces and their occupants, eschewed the grim realities of sex work, instead marketing beauty, celebrity, pleasure, and fashion, often in combination with allusions to famous literature or historical episodes. The term “ukiyo” was repurposed in the late 1600s from its much older use in Buddhism, where it described human frailty in the face of constant change. The new floating world, designed as an escape from the constraints of daily life for male government servants, thrived on ephemeral experiences and suggested a kaleidoscope of enjoyable possibilities. In addition to paintings, prints of courtesans and musicians vie with those of Kabuki actors and a sumo wrestler for attention in the spring installation (April 8–July 10), while prints of boating parties on the Sumida River feature in the summer installation (July 12–October 9). The exhibition also presents a feminist work by Oda Mayumi (b. 1941) rooted in the ukiyo-e tradition.