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The Martin-Gropius-Bau To Present A Major Hokusai Retrospective

artwork: Hokusai - "Kajikazawa in the Kai Province", circa 1831 - Woodblock print. Courtesy Sumida City. On view at the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin in a major retrospective of Hokusai's work from August 26th to October 24th.

Berlin.- The Martin-Gropius-Bau is please to present a major retrospective featuring the works of Hokusai. Organized as part of a series of events to mark “150 Years of German-Japanese Friendship”, this marks the first tima a major retrospective is to be devoted to the world-famous Japanese artist Hokusai (1760-1849) in Germany. Perhaps his best-known picture is the woodcut: “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” from the series: “Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji” (1826-33). Over 350 loans, which with few exceptions come from Japan, will be on display in the exhibition in Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau. NAGATA Seiji, the leading Japanese authority on Hokusai and his work, will be curating the exhibition, which is to be seen exclusively in Berlin from August 26th through October 24th.

Works from all periods of the artist’s career – woodcuts and drawings, illustrated books, and paintings – will be shown. In 2000 Life Magazine ran a survey to find out who were the most significant artists in world history. Hokusai came 17th, ahead of Pablo Picasso. The exhibition – which covers the entire span of Hokusai’s creative activity, extending well over 70 years – offers convincing evidence of the genius of this great artist. In the course of his life he used over thirty pseudonyms. Today he is known to the world under just one of these names: Hokusai. His full name was Hokusai Katsushika. Hokusai was born in Honjo, a district of Edo, in 1760. Today Honjo is part of the Sumida district in Tokyo, as Edo was renamed after the Meiji restoration of 1868.

artwork: Hokusai - "Onikojima Yatarô and Saihôin Akabôzu", circa 1830-34 Woodblock print. - Courtesy of Martin-Gropius-Bau, & Katsushika Hokusai Museum of Art The municipal authorities in Sumida are planning to devote a new museum to the world-renowned artist who spent most of his life in Edo. Some items of the collection intended for the museum will now be on view for a few weeks in Berlin. Many of the works have never been seen outside Japan. Hokusai and Ukiyo-e (pictures of the transient world) Hokusai’s father came from Uraga, near Edo. It was off the coast of Uraga that the American Commodore Perry was to appear with his “black ships” in July 1853, four years after Hokusai’s death, in order to put a forcible end to Japan’s isolation policy (sakoku) which had been in existence since 1635. Hokusai was temporarily adopted by his uncle, a mirror-maker at the court of the Shogun. At six he was able to draw. By the age of twelve he was working in one of the many libraries in Edo that lent out printed books. By the time he was eighteen he was already a master of the art of the woodcut. The multi-coloured woodcut had been practised in Japan since the 1740s and achieved a preliminary apogee in the 1790s, a process in which Hokusai played a major part. At that time there were some artists who would use up to 70 colour plates for a single woodcut print. Yet at the age of 22 years Hokusai was more inclined to be a draughtsman than a woodcut artist.  The Japanese paper manufacturers and publishers had wisely agreed on the production of only two paper formats (oban and chuban) – a rationalization measure that permitted high print runs at ever lower prices. Bijin-ga, or pictures of beautiful women (Yoshiwara, the famous amusement district, was in Honjo-Sumida); pictures of Sumo wrestlers, or sumo-e, whose arenas were located in Honjo-Sumida; pictures of Kabuki actors, whose theatre was also in HonjoSumida – all those were ukiyo-e, pictures of the fleeting, transient entertainment) world, which the woodcut artists produced in large numbers. Flying dealers sold them all over Japan. Most of their customers were middle class.

The term ukiyo also means an impermanent world in the Buddhist sense, as Buddha also taught the transience of all things. But they also included illustrations of flowers and plants drawn with scientific precision, illustrations for novels – by about 1780 650 novels a year were being printed – or classical texts, such as the scenes from the life of Prince Genji, were part of the repertoire of a draughtsman and woodcut artist at that time. Hokusai himself produced over 1,000 illustrations for novels in that period. A certain, albeit minor, European influence manifested itself about 1770 with the appearance on the Japanese market of the zograscope, an “optical diagonal machine” for viewing prints, which had been delighting the European public for some time. The Dutch imported the devices through Nagasaki, with the result that the Japanese artists learned to draw from a central perspective. Most of the scenes chosen by the artists to depict from a central perspective – views of Holland for example – were alien to the Japanese eye.

artwork: Hokusai - "Kakuban Surimono: Fisherman Seated on a Rock", circa 1818-1830 - Woodblock print. Courtesy Sumida City. The Japanese tradition of showing perspective was a different one and went back to much older painting traditions. The zograscope images, with their scenes taken from all areas of the then known world, gave the beholder the feeling of being at the centre of the action. It was a kind of global television for the 18th century. Hokusai also designed zograscope images and took an intense interest in the central perspective. By about 1700 Edo already had 1.2 million inhabitants. It was a rich and freely spending public that Hokusai grew up among: merchants and samurai, daimyo (princes) and courtiers. Books could easily be published in print runs of 13,000 copies. From one wooden plate one could make many hundreds of proofs. Millions of the colour prints were sold. Hokusai was praised far and wide for the versatility of his style.

Although he did not invent “Manga”, his woodcut “Hokusai Manga” is a household name even today and always available as a reprint. And yet it is “only” a painting manual that arose as a woodcut print in several volumes from 1814 onwards on the basis of about 4,000 drawings done by Hokusai himself. Looked at today, it seems like a portrayal of life in Japan, providing both a wealth of information and tremendous subtlety of design. It is said that Hokusai painted about 150 pictures, though not all have survived. Some – including a self-portrait – will be on view in Berlin.  Hokusai lived to be almost 90, and his productive period lasted well over 70 years. Even in old age he continued to be active. Towards the end of his life he would rather be seen as a painter than as a woodcut artist or draughtsman. In his epilogue to an 1834 edition of the work “One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji” he wrote: “Ever since I was six years old I have drawn things I saw about me. Since my 50th birthday I have published many works. Yet all the works I did before my 70th birthday were insignificant. It was only when I was 73 that I understood a little of the anatomy of animals and the life of plants. If I make the effort I shall have made further progress by the time I am 80, and at 90 I shall be able to uncover the final secrets. And when I am a hundred years old, the individual strokes and dots will come to life all on their own. May the god of longevity ensure that this conviction of mine does not remain an empty phrase.” The response of 19th century Europe to the work of Hokusai was overwhelming. The Dutch, with whom Hokusai could deal directly despite strict controls, brought colour woodcuts and paintings to Europe in his lifetime.

artwork: Hokusai - "Ôji', circa 1801-04 - Woodblock print. - Courtesy Katsushika Hokusai Museum of Art. At the Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin in a retrospective of Hokusai from August 26th to October 24th.

The Martin Gropius Bau (Martin Gropius building, or MGB) is considered one of Berlin’s most magnificent buildings with its combined classical and Renaissance features. A short walk from Potsdamer Platz, it doubles as one of Europe’s top international exhibition and event venues. With a constant flow of half a million visitors per year and over 20 large art photography and cultural exhibitions, the MGB is an established Berlin cultural institution. First inaugurated in 1881 as a Museum for the Applied Arts, the building was designed by Martin Gropius, great uncle of Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus movement and Heino Schmieden. After World War I, the building housed the Museum of Pre and Early History and the East Asian Art Collection. Damaged, like most Berlin buildings during World War II and not deemed worthy of preservation, the building was almost demolished to make way for an urban motorway were it not for the intervention of Walter Gropius. Given protected heritage site status in 1966, its reconstruction and restoration only began in 1978 when it was also renamed Martin Gropius Bau. After reconstruction of the exterior by Winnetou Kampmann, it reopened in 1981 as an exhibition venue, remaining directly adjacent to the Berlin Wall until 1990 and accessible only via a rear entrance as the main doorway remained unusuable because of its proximity to the Wall. After German reunification and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, a further spate of restoration and alteration was necessary and the Federal Government commissioned architects Hilmer, Sattler and Albrecht to carry out the work. Completed in 2000, the works included air conditioning and the redesigning of the north entrance as the main entrance to the building. Today the Martin Gropius Bau building is the central venue for the Berliner Festspiele and its partners – the 50 year old umbrella cultural institution which runs many of Berlin’s international festivals and cultural events including the Musikfest Berlin, the International Literature Festival and JazzFest Berlin. The Gropius Bau hosts over 20 large art, photography and cultural exhibitions every year. Among the building’s special features are its vast exhibition and reception spaces. These include the 300m north vestibule with a glass dome, the 600m Atrium on the ground floor with a surrounding gallery where vast functions for up to 750 guests can be held. Other facilities are conference rooms and a 200-seat cinema. Just off the central Foyer area on the ground floor are the Café and Bookshop. In the high-ceilinged café meals and refreshments are available and in the warmer months food is served in the garden at the back of the building. Visit the MGB website at …