West to East to West

Attention those of you in the Philadelphia area (or those of you with large travel budgets):  The Philadelphia Museum of Art has a show that sounds positively engrossing.  “Picturing the West” is a collection of Japanese works from the seaside village of Yokohama dating from the 1860s.  Yokohama was a popular port for Europeans such as Frenhmen and Russians.  The prints combine Japanese woodblocking techniques with a fascinating perspective on the West.  Writes the Wall Street Journal:

Drawn from the museum’s permanent collection, its 97 works express little of Japan’s mistrust of foreigners—only excitement and curiosity. Typical of the genre, the prints are in turn amusing, beautiful, revealing and puzzling in their efforts to inform, entertain and sell.

The show is divided up into the themes of the port of Yokohama, the life of Westerners in Yokohama, and leisure found there by both natives and foreigners.  It’s always interesting to see what curators (in this case Shelley R. Langdale) do with their own collections, and more so how they present pieces of art they are very familiar with in new and exciting ways.  Not only does the history behind the show and the curatorial decisions sound excellent, but the art itself has some fascinating details:

While the Caucasian men are depicted sporting racial markers like facial hair, roundish eyes and broad gestures, the women invariably have Asian features..Ms. Langdale speculates that Japanese artists were more interested in the women’s clothing and accessories, and simply filled in their faces with familiar, stock features.

One of the most compelling reasons this show seems so interesting is that in the same time period in Europe, artists were inspired by the East and Orientalism was a growing trend in painting and decorating.  It’s great to get the opposite point of view!

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