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The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg exhibits Japanese paintings and prints
Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), The Temple Honganji at Asakusa in Edo (from the series "36 Views of Mount Fuji"), 1830–31, woodblock print, 25 x 37,4 cm, Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg, Public Domain.

HAMBURG.- In Japanese culture, repetition and copying are regarded as the basis for artistic creation. Far removed from the paradigm of originality in European modernism, in Japanese art imitation and duplication are a matter of course. These acts are understood as paying homage to early masters and are openly practiced as age-old pictorial traditions. The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg is fortunate to have an outstanding collection of Japanese painting and prints, which allows viewers to “peer over the shoulders” of these artists. In the exhibition Copy & Paste. Repetition in Japanese Imagery, about 100 sketches, color woodcuts, hanging scrolls, books and folding screens from the East Asian Collection provide insights into the foundations of Japanese visual culture in the late Edo (1603–1868) and Meiji (1868–1912) periods. Based on these works, the show traces the creation, further development, distribution, and adaptation of pictorial motifs in Japanese culture to this day. Featured are outstanding Japanese woodblock print masters such as Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900) and Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798–1861), along with important nineteenth-century painters including Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831–1889) and Suzuki Kiitsu (1796–1858). The works of these artists were a seminal influence for European painters around 1900 and still inspire artists worldwide today. A prime example is Hokusai’s Under the Wave off Kanagawa (1830–31), which is better known under the title The Great Wave and has been adapted artistically countless times and reproduced on a massive scale on postcards, mugs and T-shirts. Works by such diverse artists as Higuchi Akihiro (b. 1969), Yokoo Tadanori (b. 1936) and Horst Janssen (1929–1995) on view in the exhibition demonstrate the enduring impact of famous Japanese woodblock prints and paintings.

From Image to Image – The Creative Process
Rather than focusing on the singular painting as an original, the exhibition explores the motif and the process of its invention as part of an artistic process that can be traced onward through a sequence of images in different media and in different creative phases of one or more artists. On view are woodblock prints together with their respective preparatory drawings, which sometimes show overpaintings that have been glued-on or display different colors. Test prints, which show only the contours of an image, can also be compared in the show with the final printed sheets. Variants of the same print with different tonal values reveal changes in the commercially successful image in the course of many reprints. The show also presents illustrated woodblock printed books such as the 15-volume Hokusai Manga (Random Sketches by Hokusai, 1814–1878), which can be understood both as painting manual and as catalogues of works by individual artists or painting schools. The printed model books strikingly show how artistic training and marketing efforts by artists went hand in hand. Visitors can pursue individual motifs through various media, from drawings and woodblock prints to printed model books and image adaptations by other artists. Here, the images recount an art history told visually rather than through texts. The repetition and copying of the images stimulates reflection on supposedly outmoded but in fact extremely persistent paradigms of European art history, such as originality and individuality.

The Copied Image – Artistic Spin-Offs
Images can unfold a wide-ranging impact that extends well beyond the actual work itself to include reproductions, adaptations and copies, unleashing long after the creation of the original a great deal of potential for artistic production. An outstanding instance of the inspirational power of Japanese woodblock prints long after the European Japonisme trend around 1900 is Hokusai’s Under the Wave off Kanazawa (1830-31), which is better known as The Great Wave and grew to become a global icon. In addition to the actual woodblock print, selected variations on Hokusai’s Great Wave will be on display in the show in order to demonstrate the immense potential of this unique composition, together with examples of diverse commercial and artistic applications of the image today. It is not only individual woodblock prints, however, but nineteenth-century Japanese imagery as a whole that is still an important point of reference for many artists working primarily in Japan but also elsewhere. Examples of works by Japanese artists, such as painted moths by Higuchi Akihiro (b. 1969) and screen prints by Yokoo Tadanori (b. 1936), show how contemporary artists are adapting pre-modernist Japanese motifs in their own way. Some of the preliminary drawings and graphics on display were of great importance especially for the northern German artist Horst Janssen (1929–1995). By tracing Japanese prints in the 1970s, Janssen developed a unique appreciation for the copy as an artistic device.

Collecting Images – Gerhard Schack
In this context, the exhibition also illuminates the Hamburg collector Gerhard Schack (1929–2007). Schack was active on the Hamburg art scene as an art historian, publisher and patron from the 1970s until his death, and he was a frequent guest at the Hamburger Kunsthalle in particular. In 2007, he bequeathed to MKG over 2,700 preliminary drawings, sketches, woodblock prints, hanging scrolls and illustrated woodblock printed books. The collection reveals Schack’s keen interest in the creative process leading to the images and his fascination with the potency of the sketchy brushstroke. He infected Horst Janssen with his passion for Japanese imagery and then went on to amass a comprehensive collection of Janssen’s art, which is now housed in the Hamburger Kunsthalle. In preparation for the exhibition, the Gerhard Schack Collection at MKG will be indexed and digitalized in order to make it permanently accessible to the public in the MKG Collection Online. Gerhard Schack and his very personal viewpoint on copying are presented in the exhibition based on artistically designed letters he wrote to companions in the art scene.

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