August 9, 2001 Japanese Art of Wood-Block Print to be Featured in New Library Exhibition

"The Floating World of Ukiyo-e: Shadows, Dreams, and Substance" to Open on Sept. 27

Press Contact: Audrey Fischer (202) 707-0022
Public Contact: (202) 707-4604

A major exhibition of masterpieces from the Library's extensive collection of Japanese art and literature will be on display in the North and South Galleries of the Great Hall of the Library's Thomas Jefferson Building from Sept. 27, 2001, through Jan. 19, 2002. Hours for the exhibition are 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Monday-Saturday.

"The Floating World of Ukiyo-e: Shadows, Dreams, and Substance" will feature more than 100 rare and historically important woodcuts, drawings, and books. Items on display have been selected from some 2,000 prints in the Library's collection of Ukiyo-e and its collection of pre-19th century Japanese art books-one of the largest such book collections outside of Japan.

"The Library is pleased to present the first major exhibition and companion catalog featuring its collection of Japanese art and literature," said Librarian of Congress James H. Billington. "We thank Merrill Lynch for its generous support of both the exhibition and catalog."

The art of Ukiyo-e, commonly translated as "pictures of the floating world," or "the sorrowful, ephemeral world of fleeting things," arose from a confluence of social and political forces in early-17th century Japan. This art form has traditionally been viewed as "commoner" art - the invention of the middle and lower classes in the city of Edo (now Tokyo).

Much of the imagery of Ukiyo-e is concerned with the culture of the brothel and theater districts in Edo, known as the Yoshiwara. In addition to depicting beautiful courtesans and scenes from Kabuki theater, Ukiyo-e artists drew heavily on subjects from classical art and literature, historical figures and events, native folk themes, and the natural landscape. Most of the major Ukiyo-e artists will be represented, including Hokusai, Hiroshige, and Kuniyoshi.

Ukiyo-e art was disseminated largely through color wood-block prints and wood-block-printed books, both of which were easily distributed at low cost and in large quantities. Thus, Ukiyo-e art and literature were within reach of a highly literate, non-elite populace who were its creators as well as its consumers and connoisseurs.

The exhibition, which will be accessible on the library's Web site (, is in five sections: "Early Masters"; "Major Genres"; "Images and Literary Sources"; "Realia/Reportage"; and "Japan and the West." "Early Masters" (17th and 18th century) features many of the earliest and rarest examples of Ukiyo-e in the Library's collections. It demonstrates the technical progression from monochrome images to polychrome "brocade" color printing. "Major Genres" includes portraits of beautiful women, theatrical prints, and landscapes. "Images and Literary Sources" explores the rich interrelationships between Ukiyo-e images and literature. "Realia/Reportage" examines aspects of Ukiyo-e images that function as documents that report on the contemporary world of their creators and consumers. "Japan and the West" examines artistic cross-fertilization between Western and Japanese artists from 1853 to the present day.

With support from the United States-Japan Foundation, the prints and books in the exhibition are receiving conservation treatment to retain their original, vibrant splendor and to ensure their availability for future generations. This support is made possible through a special grant in commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of the San Francisco Peace Treaty. The United States-Japan Foundation was established in 1980 for the purpose of promoting stronger ties between Americans and Japanese by supporting projects that foster mutual knowledge and create effective channels of communications.

In conjunction with the exhibition, a symposium titled "From Cherry Block to Mulberry Paper: Japanese Ukiyo-e Prints and Picture Books" is planned for October at the Library of Congress and the University of Maryland.

A companion exhibition catalog, published by Harry N. Abrams Inc., in association with the Library of Congress, will be available in September. Sharing its title with the exhibition, the catalog conveys new scholarship about the art form of Ukiyo-e in essays by the Library's fine print curator Katherine Blood, University of Maryland professors Sandy Kita and James Douglas Farquhar, and University of Delaware professor Lawrence E. Marceau. Shùjù Honda, a former reference librarian in the Library's Asian Division, collaborated with Dr. Kita on the annotated bibliography. The catalog will be available for $49.50 in major bookstores and in the Library's Sales Shop. For credit card orders, call (202) 707-0204.

This exhibition, catalog, and related programming were made possible by the generous support of Merrill Lynch. Merrill Lynch recognizes the value of investing in the preservation and development of cultural and educational resources around the globe. Through its Global Sponsorships Group, Merrill Lynch partners with many of the world's leading cultural organizations to provide greater public access to innovative cultural programming for diverse audiences and to encourage a broader perspective on contemporary issues. In conjunction with these partnerships, Merrill Lynch supports a wide range of educational projects in communities around the world.

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PR 01-095
ISSN 0731-3527