A Visit to The Portland Art Museum's "Meiji Exhibition,"

"Splendors of Imperial Japan--Arts of the Meiji Period from the Khalili Collection" (June 1 to Sept 22, 2002)

The Portland Art Museum--Courtyard and Front Entrance

During this summer, Portland is very fortunate to be hosting the west coast's only showing of over 350 splendid masterpieces from the Dr. Nasser Khalili Collection of London--a traveling exhibition titled "Splendors of Imperial Japan--Arts of the Meiji Period from the Khalili Collection." Drawn from what is perhaps the world's largest and finest collection of exported Japanese Meiji Era decorative art objects, this exhibition features metalworks, lacquerworks, ceramics, enamel and porcelain--and is on display at the Portland Art Museum from June 1st until September 22, 2002. It's a chance-in-a-lifetime show that should not be missed if you're anywhere within reach of Portland.

The artworks in this unique show come to us from Japan's "Meiji Period," a period of time extending from 1868 until 1912. This Meiji period was a time of unparalleled change and modernization as the previously largely isolated Japanese nation rushed to modernize their country. At the same time, the levels of Japanese artistic craftsmanship and mastery achieved during this time period are truly extraordinary--so much so that the Western art world of that time was much impressed and strongly influenced by the Japanese artworks that found their way to Europe and to the United States. It is similarly virtually guaranteed that viewers will come away from this show awestruck by the craftsmanship they will observe.

The "Splendors of Imperial Japan--Arts of the Meiji Period from the Khalili Collection" (June 1 to Sept 22, 2002)

The "Side Show"-- The Portland Art Museum's "Meiji Woodblock Print Exhibition"

In addition to the splendid artworks of the Khalili Collection, of interest to collectors of Japanese woodblock prints will also be the Museum's accompanying "Meiji Woodblock Print Exhibition."

How this coinciding woodblock print show came to fruition is itself an interesting story. It seems that early in the planning stages for the hosting and showing of the “Khalili Exhibition,” Donald Jenkins (PAM's Curator of Asian Arts) expressed an interest in augmenting the show with a concurrent showing of Japanese woodblock prints. So Lynn Katsumoto (PAM's Japanese Research Assistant, and Japanese/English translator) then began researching the museum's collection for suitable prints to include. Somewhat later, Carol Isaak (PAM volunteer) became involved in this search for Meiji prints and decided to reach out to the local woodblock print collecting community for their print offerings and support as well.

That was why back in March I received an out-of-the-blue email from Carol (who I'd not then met) asking if I knew of the upcoming "Meiji show" and wondering if I was interested in contributing/loaning several woodblocks to this Meiji period woodblock show. Of course, I said "yes." Other individuals in the Portland area also eagerly loaned works from their own personal collections to help make this show possible. One such individual was website Shotei.com's Marc Kahn who loaned several unique woodblock-printed books as well. And the rest, as they say, is history....

Having gathered up a wide variety of Meiji woodblock prints, the month of June then saw Donald, Lynn, Carol and other members of PAM's staff who transformed the assemblage of these Meiji prints into a fine and educational show worthy of itself. Quoting from this "Meiji Woodblock Print Exhibit's" description:

Meiji in Print

In contrast to many of the objects from the Khalili Collection shown in
the adjoining galleries, Meiji-era prints were produced for a Japanese
audience. While the traditional printmaking system—in which a pub-
lisher commissioned the artist and hired the woodblock carvers and
printer—continued, the medium itself evolved with the availability of
new materials, techniques and ideas about representing the world.

Chief among the new material were imported aniline dyes, giving the
artist’s color palette new intensity. Vibrant red and purple in particular
--the “colors of progress”—became emblematic of the Meiji era, vividly
expressing the pursuit of “enlightenment and civilization,” the watch-
words of the Meiji leaders.

New stylistic techniques were adapted from European art. Meiji artists
introduced more painterly effects and more realistic ways of represent-
ing light and volume. They also showed greater interest in portraying
the external world accurately and objectively and in exploring individu-
alized expressions and moods. As Japan turned its attention outward to
the rest of the world and began rapidly industrializing, there were new
sights, new fashions, and new vistas to explore and depict.

Prints also began taking on a journalistic function, reporting scenes of
the nation-building that was in progress, the two international wars
that Japan fought and won, and the new structure of centralized gov-
ernment under the Emperor. At the same time, foreign concepts of self
and society found their way into the visual, literary and performing
arts, challenging established values and stirring debates about Japanese
identity. Viewed in prints, all of these developments signaled a depar-
ture from the past as Japan successfully transformed into a modern
nation in step with the Western world.

A View Inside and a Few Prints from the Portland Art Museum's accompanying "Meiji Woodblock Print Exhibit"

Seemingly in recognition of our (really rather minor) contributions to this woodblock show, Carol, Lynn and Donald then invited Marc and myself (along with our wives, Fay and Hisako) to Portland on July 25th to a personally guided tour of the Khalili Collection's works, as well as a little get together among our woodblock prints. For doing so, we thank them here for their generosity and hospitality.

(left to right) Author Thomas Crossland, Shotei.com's Marc Kahn, and Donald Jenkins (Portland Art Museum)

A delightful and delicious Japanese dinner then followed, rounding out what was, of course, a delightful and memorable evening.

After the Show--A Beautiful and Delicious Japanese Dinner Being Enjoyed by All

In retrospect, what really brought us all together was our mutual appreciation of and admiration for Japanese arts of all types. As I've said many times, we are truly blessed today by being allowed to enjoy the Japanese arts that have been left to us.

If you visit....

The Portland Art Museum is conveniently located in the heart of downtown Portland, easily reached by private car.

The Portland Art Museum
1219 SW Park Avenue
Portland, Oregon 97205

Gallery Hours:
Tuesday - Saturday 10:00 a.m.-5:00 p.m.
Open late every Thursday and Friday until 8:00 p.m.
Sundays 12:00 noon-5:00 p.m.

(Disclaimer--Please note that the Portland Art Museum is in no way associated with Ukiyoe-Gallery, and therefore does not warrant any other information provided by this website. We do appreciate their efforts in bringing together Japanese woodblock prints from various local collections for public display and enjoyment.)

(c) Thomas Crossland, August 2002

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