The Art Institute of Chicago explores the traditional Japanese theater form of Kabuki in a stunning new exhibition of 18th century prints.
Katsukawa Shunsho, The Actor Ichikawa Danzo III as Shoki the Demon-Queller in the play “Date Moyo Kumo ni Imazuma” (“Dandyish Design: Lightning Amid Clouds”) (c. 1768), Frederick W. Gookin Collection, The Art Institute of Chicago
In 18th century Edo (now Tokyo), actors in the highly stylized stage form of Kabuki—featuring exaggerated makeup, facial expressions and hand gestures—were society’s biggest stars, and prints depicting them were in high demand. Now, in the new exhibition The Golden Age of Kabuki Prints, the Art Institute of Chicago digs into these compelling artworks with a selection from among the institution’s more than 700 prints from the highly regarded artists of the Katsukawa school. Why is this new show a must-see? “Prints of actors on the Kabuki stage represent the finest technical and artistic achievements of their age,” notes Janice Katz, the Art Institute’s Roger L. Weston Associate Curator of Japanese Art, Arts of Asia, “featuring bold colors, specialized printing techniques and a new interest in creating recognizable portraits of each actor for their fans.” For Katz, one particular item, a printed book, stands out. “Two artists collaborated to create A Picture Book of Stage Fans (Ehon Butai Ôgi) of 1770; the half-length portraits of actors on each page can be identified by their features, and I like seeing the resemblance to other prints with the same actor.” On view through April 10 and April 16-June 26, 111 S. Michigan Ave., artic.edu