Highfield Hall & Gardens exhibits “Kanreki: A 60 Year Journey,” a colorful collection of Japanese prints
An exhibition of world-class contemporary Japanese prints may seem like an odd fit for the local art scene, and conversely, a cultural center on Cape Cod might seem an unusual venue for a Japanese print exhibition. But Cape Cod has two parallel artistic traditions: the homegrown and the imported. Considering that artists of all persuasions have been traveling over the bridges for decades to introduce their work to new audiences, “Kanreki: A 60 Year Journey,” on view at Highfield Hall & Gardens in Falmouth through this fall, fits nicely within that century-old tradition.
This special exhibition marks milestones for both host organizations: College Women’s Association of Japan (CWAJ) and Highfield Hall & Gardens. Kanreki refers to the 60th birthday, an honored occasion in Japan, and this exhibit is the 60th one for CWAJ. This year also marks 10 years since Highfield Hall & Gardens opened as a cultural center celebrating the arts. “For our 10th anniversary we were hoping to find an extraordinary exhibition,” says Annie Dean, Highfield’s director of programs and exhibitions. “The CWAJ show does not travel often. This was a remarkable opportunity, and I embraced it.”
The exhibition has garnered a reputation as a celebration of cutting-edge printmaking styles and techniques. “This internationally renowned exhibition of contemporary Japanese printmakers travels overseas to major cultural centers every 10 years—the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. 10 years ago, and 20 years ago, the British Museum in London,” explains Peter Franklin, executive director at Highfield. First shown in Tokyo and later in Kobe, Japan, Kanreki showcases the work of nearly 200 emerging and established printmakers, many of whom live in Japan.
Most impressive is the range in virtually every facet of the exhibited works, from technique to content. “The diversity of the techniques used and the technical skill exhibited by these printmakers is thrilling,” says Dean. Even the size range of the prints is extensive, with the smallest being letter-sized and the largest approaching five feet. The exhibit features woodcuts, lithographs, intaglio (etchings and engravings), stencils and screen prints, and digital processes, with many printmakers combining several methods in one print.
Those familiar with traditional Japanese woodcuts such as ukiyo-e may be surprised by the variety in style and substance of the works on view. Many of the artists pay tribute to traditional, familiar motifs such as kabuki characters, nature, architecture, and interior scenes, while injecting them with a modern sensibility and their own artistic point of view. Often, they explicitly play with those traditional ideas, as if nodding or winking at the past. A perennial theme in Japanese art, nature can be found portrayed as a cartoony fantasy, as in Kumiko Hattori’s “My Relationship with the Forest II,” or as an Escher-like mosaic of repeated birds, as in Azusa Takahashi’s “Sparrows in One Spot.”
The exhibition represents a significant step in Highfield’s evolution, as the organization seeks to broaden its outreach and name recognition, says Franklin. “Bringing world-class cultural events to Highfield Hall & Gardens supports our strategy to make Falmouth and Cape Cod a regional leader in arts and culture in Massachusetts,” he adds.
For members of CWAJ, Highfield was an ideal location. “Over the last few years, the quality of exhibitions and programming at Highfield Hall & Gardens has been impressive,” says Joanne Fallon, CWAJ exhibition co-chair. “Interestingly, Highfield serves a very diverse audience, as it attracts Cape residents, as well as regional and international summer guests. My Tokyo-based co-chair, Motoko Inoue, and I feel Highfield is an excellent venue for introducing contemporary Japanese prints and the work of CWAJ.”
The College Women’s Association of Japan was founded in Tokyo in the aftermath of World War II by a group of Japanese and American alumnae of Mount Holyoke College and Wellesley College. Educational opportunities for Japanese students were greatly limited by the war, and the CWAJ’s early mission was to provide funds for students to travel to the United States for college. Over the ensuing decades, the Japan-based organization assembled a membership of American women (ex-pats and those with ties to Japan) and Japanese women who studied in the U.S. It has grown and expanded beyond its original scope, now offering scholarships and programs for both Japanese and foreign scholars to continue their research and education, either in Japan or abroad.
The annual print show is one of the organization’s most popular and lucrative fundraisers. Earnings go directly to support a wide-ranging slate of programs and services, including Fukushima earthquake relief, traveling scholarships, English classes for children, and programs for the visually impaired.
For the first print show in Tokyo in 1956, the members of CWAJ collaborated with American art critic Oliver Statler, who, through his book Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn, was one of the first international critics to give serious consideration to contemporary Japanese printmaking. The artists included in that first exhibition were proponents of the “creative print” movement in Japan, known as sosaku hanga. These artists combined centuries-old printmaking techniques with individuality and freedom of expression. This was in sharp contrast to the production of ukiyo-e in the 19th century, when artists were often limited by the desires and directives of their publishers. CWAJ used the earnings from this first show to fund its nascent travel grant program.
What started out as a small event in the 1950s has grown, according to Dean, into one of the most respected international print exhibitions. Works by established master printmakers—Toko Shinoda, Tadashi Nakayama, Tadanori Yokoo, Reika Iwami, and Michiko Hoshino, to name a few—are juxtaposed with pieces by emerging artists such as Sohee Kim and Satomi Tanaka.
The kanreki is known in Japan as a rebirth, providing a moment to reflect on past history and achievements—a fitting theme for Highfield’s anniversary celebration. Indeed the exhibition is a framework for much of Highfield’s programming throughout the 2016 season, including a farm-to-table cooking series with Japanese flair; bonsai and ikebana demonstrations; a bento box workshop; and a children’s program focused on Japanese crafts and culture.
Dean says the show, which opened in June, appeals to a wide audience. “Because of the diversity of style and subject matter in the prints, there is literally something for everyone to fall in love with,” she says. “If you’re planning a visit, come and spend the day at Highfield. The show is extensive; our grounds are perfect for a picnic, the woods for a stroll, and the gardens and outdoor sculptures for contemplation.”