- Waves of Renewal: Modern Japanese Prints, 1900 to 1960: Selections from the Nihon no Hanga Collection, Amsterdam ed. by Chris Uhlenbeck, Amy Reigle Newland, and Maureen de Vries
The aptly named Nihon no hanga collection is one of the finest repositories of Japanese prints in Europe, and this stunning volume capitalizes on the quality and scope of that collection. The well-documented catalogue provides an almost completely comprehensive survey of Japanese prints from the first six decades of the twentieth century, augmented with ten essays on [End Page 442] various aspects of modern printmaking. Produced in large format and brilliant color by Hotei Publishing, a press that has set the highest standards for English-language works on Japanese art over the last two decades, Waves of Renewal is both a beautiful "coffee table book" and a resource that scholars in this area will rely upon for many years to come.
The book represents the culmination of 25 years of collecting and ten exhibitions of works from the Nihon no hanga collection, which is directed by Elise Wessels and curated by the primary author of the first essay in the volume, Chris Uhlenbeck. His collaborator on that essay is Amy Reigle Newland, a superb editor with whom Uhlenbeck and other authors have been working for three decades. Indeed, Ukiyo-e to Shin Hanga (1990), coedited by Newland and Uhlenbeck, was a pioneering effort in bringing modern Japanese printmaking to academic attention alongside their more studied ukiyoe precursors of the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, and Waves of Renewal is equally ambitious in its survey of modern prints. The third coeditor here is Maureen de Vries, assistant curator of the Nihon no hanga collection.
The ten essays are bookended with historical overviews, beginning with Uhlenbeck and Newland's survey of early twentieth-century Japanese prints and concluding with de Vries's overview of printmaking in the decades during and after World War II. These histories reveal little that a specialist might not already know about twentieth-century printmaking, but they are cogent and thorough renditions of that complex history and compare favorably with similar catalogue histories,1 although they do not entirely supersede monograph surveys.2 Predictably, the opening essay outlines the two main categories into which modern Japanese prints are typically divided, namely, shin hanga and sōsaku hanga. Shin hanga, literally "new woodblock prints," were produced using the traditional methods developed for ukiyoe printmaking in previous centuries, with professional block cutters and printers employed by a publisher to work with various print designers. Sōsaku hanga, or "creative printmaking," placed more attention on the designer as an independent, self-sufficient artist, and many of the sōsaku hanga printmakers proudly labeled their work jiga jikoku jizuri (self-drawn [End Page 443] self-cut self-printed) to emphasize their personal touch. Unfortunately, the typology does not always work, and a few artists fall between the two broad categories; one who is as a result missing from this survey and exhibition is Saitō Kiyoshi (1907–97).
The intervening eight essays cover specific aspects ranging from subject matter to distribution systems and reveal many details that have previously been explored only by Japanese-language authors, if at all. The second essay, for example, is an interview conducted by Uhlenbeck of Watanabe Shōichirō, grandson of the shin hanga publisher Watanabe Shōzaburō (1885–1962) and current president of Watanabe Publishing Company. Wata nabe ShMichirō has been interviewed before, but Uhlenbeck's sensitivity to the issues is remarkable. For example, his questions about technical details such as paper sizes and prices are particularly revealing. Watanabe Shōzaburō and his role in the development of printmaker Itō Shinsui (1898–1972) are the topics of the third essay, by Setsuko Abe; while that essay provides insightful details of the relationship between publisher and artist, it takes a lamentably conservative approach by not calling into question the gaze of the male artist—and the primarily male...