As of this post, the Minneapolis Institute of Arts (MIA) is currently holding an exhibition displaying its best Japanese woodblock prints, of which they have quite a number of. Worldly Pleasures Earthly Delights is the catalogue associated with the exhibit titled Edo Pop: The Graphic Impact of Japanese Prints Having the good fortune to see the exhibit, I can attest that every one of the 160 prints on display, and quite a few more can be found within this lovingly bound book.
Taking a moment, this book breaks what I generally consider my golden rule, 'an art book shouldn't have more words than pictures'. But let me say, in this instance, I am only too happy that it does!
Each page displays one print, or one series, and gives such information as the artist, the publisher, the title, the date, the censorship seal, the type of print, and the lifespan of the artist. But it also supplies interesting information poignant to that particular print. For example, if it is an actor print, it tells you how you can identify which actor it is, and which role they are playing in which play, how you can recognize which play it is, and then gives a brief synopsis of the play in question. For a calendar print, the information will tell you which month is represented based on which flower is in bloom on the kimono, or how the characters are interacting with their environment.
An ideal cross between an art book and a coffee table book, the catalogue allows you to view it systematically, or stop and read at your leisure as an image catches your fancy.
Certainly one of the most beautiful things about Japanese prints have to be their ability to mix the bold with the delicate. The patterns are exquisite. Not displayed here (because you can only really observe it in person) but several of the prints took advantage of embossing to 'draw' white on white patterns.
The catalogue has a large number of Harunobu's prints, but also a good variety of well known, and lesser known artists. A convenient timeline is provided at the beginning, showing the active dates and lifespan of each artist in the book.
As censorship rules prevented ukiyo-e artists fro certain kinds of imagery, they quickly became clever in hiding the true meaning of their works in perverse subtlety. Works of this kind are particularly cheeky.
Also inside are 11 of the 36 views of Mt. Fuji, by Hokusai, including his most famous one of all, The Wave. The series itself is recognized as one of Hokusai's more innovative works.
Provided are miniatures of ever single image in Hiroshige's 'Fifty-Three stations of the Tokaido Road' series published by Takenouchi Magohachi.
I have always been particularly fond of Hokusai's Bird and Flower compositions
Pros: Well bound, highly knowledgeable, a wonderful presentation of information. A large and sturdy book with thick paper, it is sure to last and will always be a delight.
Cons: As is the nature of prints, color is sometimes questionable guesswork. Having seen the exhibit, I can say some of the colors in the catalogue are not as delicate as those in the actual prints. Still, I believe the book is highly worth its investment.
How to Buy: Go through the MIA here
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