January 13, 2013

Art Review: Spirited away by a 'Fantastic' exhibition at Bowdoin

By DANIEL KANY

(Continued from page 1)

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“The Cat Witch” by Utagawa Kunisada, 1861, color woodblocks.

Images courtesy of Bowdoin College Museum of Art

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"The Dream of O-Iwa, a Normal Woman in a Disfigured World” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, circa 1830s, color woodblocks.

Additional Photos Below

ART REVIEW

"FANTASTIC STORIES: THE SUPERNATURAL IN NINETEENTH-CENTURY JAPANESE PRINTS"

WHERE: Bowdoin College Museum of Art, 9400 College Station, Brunswick

WHEN: Through March 3

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday to Saturday (until 8:30 p.m. Thursday); 1 to 5 p.m. Sunday

HOW MUCH: Free

INFO: 725-3275; bowdoin.edu/art-museum

Another critical connection between Western art and Japanese prints comes through cartoons and animation -- from black-line cartoons for children to the surprisingly long and deep history of Japanese/American animation collaboration.

My young sons' favorite filmmaker is Hayao Miyazaki (born 1941), whose animated films such as "Ponyo" (2008), "Kiki's Delivery Service" (1989) and "Howl's Moving Castle" (2004) are on my short list as well. We particularly like "My Neighbor Totero" (1988) -- the story of a professor's two young daughters' friendship with a silent but kind wood spirit while their mom recovers from cancer in a nearby hospital.

What is striking is the relationship of these rather typical postwar Japanese characters to their supernatural world. Totero may look like a giant stuffed magical hamster with googly eyes, but he is their neighbor, friend and -- in time of need -- their hero.

These films and prints reveal that the Japanese relationship to the supernatural is very different from ours. While my dust bunnies are simply proof that I don't vacuum enough, Miyazaki introduces us to sweet little soot sprites who can open the door to a world that has never been ours before.

This show is amazing particularly because it reveals extraordinary psychological depth in its sophisticated presentation of Japanese morality and popular culture. But it is no less excellent as an exhibition of visual art. With so many strong print shows around Maine, "Fascinating Stories" is not to be missed.

Freelance writer Daniel Kany is an art historian who lives in Cumberland. He can be contacted at:

dankany@gmail.com

 

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Additional Photos

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“Tamahime Attempts to Escape from the Sea Dragon and its Minions” by Utagawa Kuniyoshi, 1853, color woodblocks.

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“Manifestation of the Tengu” by Utagawa Kunisada, 1852, color woodblocks.

 


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