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Season of Four Exhibitions, “Landscapes of Longing: Journeys Through Memory and Place,” on view at UMMA January 21 Through April 2

53 Stages of the Tôkaidô: Kameyama, Clearing after Snowfall

Andô Hiroshige (Japanese, 1797?-1858)
53 Stages of the Tôkaidô: Kambara, Night Snow
1831-34
Color woodblock print
Allentown Art Museum, Gift of Mr. and Mrs. Fowler Merle-Smith

This glorious cluster of exhibitions, Landscapes of Longing: Journeys Through Memory and Place, thematically explores how an artist’s personal vision of landscape can become part of shared, communal memory—memory that defines not only a particular place but also a cultural identity, for both insiders and outsiders, across time and national boundaries. The thematically linked exhibitions contained in this season are Andô Hiroshige’s 53 Stages of the Tôkaidô, Hiroshi Sugimoto: Time Exposed, The Idyllic Retreat in Chinese Landscape Painting, and Passage to Angkor: Photographs by Kenro Izu, With subjects as disparate as life along the highways of early modern Japan, the great stone temples of Cambodia’s ancient royal city of Angkor, scholars’ retreats among the soaring mountains of China, and meditatively abstract seascapes by one of our great contemporary photographers, the extraordinary images in this suite of exhibitions will challenge us to think about the role images play in constructing our response to the landscape, the seascape, and the world around us—and the meanings we impute to them. The four exhibitions will be on view January 21 through April 2, 2006.

“This provocative suite of exhibitions is truly greater than the sum of its parts,” said UMMA Director James Steward. “Cumulatively these master artists challenge us to think about how we know what we think we know about the physical world around us, and thus about the basic power of art. Thanks to major sponsorship from the Ford Motor Company Fund and from our other generous funders, we are able to present these renowned artists in provocative new company.”

Pubished in the 1830s, Andô Hiroshige’s famous series of woodblock prints of the Tôkaidô—Japan’s great coastal road—views the Japanese countryside through an idyllic lens. No trace is visible of what was then already a century of urbanization, of the effects of severe grain shortages that led to peasant riots, or of the impending threats of imperialist powers. This print series won immediate popularity among armchair travelers, and modern viewers in Japan and the West have seized upon Hiroshige’s countryside vignettes as emblematic of an enduring, “essential” Japan. Complete sets of the original series of 53 Stages of the Tôkaidô, are extremely rare. This exhibition brings to Ann Arbor one of the great treasures of the Allentown Art Museum, a suite of colored prints that has been publicly exhibited only once before.

“Time Exposed,” on loan from the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago, presents 50 of Hiroshi Sugimoto’s most elusive works—seascapes from around the world. Devoid of narrative content, these meditative views of sky and water contain no landmarks or other features to distract from the elegantly minimalist views. Sugimoto’s seascapes employ short exposure times to capture every wave and undulation of the sea’s surface. The resulting images reveal the effects of time of day, weather, and surface of the water. Woven into these images is the artist’s concept of time—timeless and yet ever changing; after we have seen these photographs we are haunted by them and by our own direct experiences of the sea. Sugimoto considers the seascape to be the most unchanging view available: “Ever since the first men and cultures appeared, they have been facing seas and scenes of nature. The landscape has changed over thousands, millions of years, man has cultivated the ground, built cultures and cities, skyscrapers. The seascapes, I thought, must be the least changed scene, the oldest vision that we can share with ancient peoples.” Sugimoto began working on the seascapes in 1980, thinking that the subject would yield interesting content for several years. However, he found the infinite variability presented by the sea and sky to be a source of continual discovery for him to explore for many years, “Using the same materials, water and air, I just amaze myself at how I see things differently and new. So I have to keep investigating.”

The works in The Idyllic Retreat in Chinese Landscape Painting by several artists of the Ming- and Qing-periods China (14th to early 20th centuries) represent landscapes of retreat—a time-honored theme associated with “the superior man” who found moral and spiritual cleansing when surrounded by lofty mountains or pure streams and lakes. It was the 11th-century court painter Guo Xi who first articulated in both his writings and his paintings the concept of a landscape through which the viewer could (virtually) wander, shedding the detritus of civilization. A few centuries later, this concept had so thoroughly shaped the Chinese landscape painting tradition that artists of all classes and political persuasions painted landscapes through an idealizing, nostalgic lens, free of all traces of contemporary life. All of the works in Landscapes of Retreat are from the collections of the University of Michigan Museum of Art, and many will be displayed for the first time.

The haunting photographs of Kenro Izu depict the monumental stone temple-mountains of the great Khmer empire of ancient Cambodia as they appear today, ravaged by centuries of neglect and the all-devouring jungle. As photographed by thousands of tourists, the temples of Angkor are a picturesque subject that readily fulfills our demand for something exotic yet safely in the past, part of the long-ago and far-away. Yet Izu’s lens is never the instrument of an Orientalist gaze: on the contrary, he draws our attention to the aesthetic and architectural genius of the ancient Khmer people, while compelling us to take responsibility for the current state of this extraordinary site—just as Angkor is being rediscovered and transformed into a symbol of national unity by the Cambodian people themselves. Kenro Izu is a Japanese photographer based in New York City. Passage to Angkor, one of his best-known series, has captivated audiences across the globe. This exhibition will be its first showing in Michigan.

Ford logo
This project is made possible by Ford Motor Company Fund.

Additional support for these exhibitions and related programming has been provided by the Blakemore Foundation, the University of Michigan’s Center for Japanese Studies, Center for Chinese Studies, Center for World Performance Studies, the 19th Annual MLK Symposium Planning Committee and the Office of Academic Multicultural Initiatives, and by the Friends of the Museum of Art.