Wednesday, July 26, 2023

Living Art: Art Eyewitness Tenth Anniversary

Living Art

Art Eyewitness Tenth Anniversary

By Ed Voves

Photos by Anne Lloyd

Ten years, by most standards of reckoning, is not a long time. In terms of recorded history, a decade represents less than a blink of the eye. Much less.

Yet, for most people, as they plant their footsteps on the path of life, ten years is a significant stretch of time. For art movements or literary journals, which often have remarkably brief life spans, to celebrate a tenth anniversary is a big deal.

All of this rumination is by way of announcing that Art Eyewitness is now ten years old. 

To find an appropriate "signature" picture to introduce our anniversary presented a bit of a quandary. How do you represent the progression of time by means of a single image? 

Classic Hollywood movies used to denote the passing years on film by showing short sequences of ocean waves washing ashore, autumn leaves whirling in the wind or grains of sand in an hour glass. A single still photo or illustration of this sort would not work at all in an anniversary "think" piece for Art Eyewitness.

Fortunately, my wife Anne provided a pair of pictures that suits the occasion perfectly. With her trusty "point and shoot" camera, Anne brilliantly evokes art's ability to freely traverse the corridors of time.

Anne Lloyd, (Photo 2022)
View of Leo Villereal's Multiverse, 2008, at the National Gallery of Art
During a recent trip to the National Gallery in Washington D.C., Anne snapped a couple of quick pictures of Multiverse. Installed in 2008, Leo Villereal's light "sculpture" uses 41,000 LED lights to transform the moving walkway in the concourse of the National Gallery into a portal to the Cosmos. Like stepping into Heraclitus' river, each venture through the Multiverse leads to unique experiences of art at the National Gallery. 

Anne Lloyd, (Photo 2022)
Gallery view of Sargent and Spain at the National Gallery of Art,
 showing John Singer Sargent's La Carmencita Dancing

The journey of Art Eyewitness over the past ten years has endeavored to explore the visual arts in a similar "moving" fashion. Art Eyewitness is a venture into a creative realm which is both ageless and ever-changing. The images and insights which fill our eyes and minds, Anne and I share with like-minded souls.

The images which we share are not entirely derived from visits to art museums and reviewing special exhibitions. Occasionally, we have included some exceptional examples of Anne's street photography and we plan to investigate this fascinating genre in the future.

Anne Lloyd, (Photo 2021)
Butterfly and Zinnia, 2021 

Originally, Art Eyewitness aimed to include classic films in its repertoire. Copyright fees, even for still photos from vintage movies, are way beyond the means of a "mom and pop" non-profit blog like ours. The same is true for pictures of works of modern and  contemporary art. 

Two factors have saved Art Eyewitness from being "stuck" in the past.

The greatly appreciated support of publishers, especially Thames and Hudson, has provided a stream of books for review and selected images on topics which, otherwise, we could never have addressed.

Modern Art in Detail, by Susie Hodge (Thames & Hudson, 2017)  

The second factor involves the person closest to my heart. It was my wife, Anne, who encouraged me to start Art Eyewitness. The wonderful internet journal I was writing for, the California Literary Review, ceased publication in the spring of 2013. Anne was immediate and inspiring in her response to the sad tidings.

"Start your own art blog!"

Rather hesitantly, I agreed. But what really got "the ball rolling" were the sensational gallery photos that Anne began to take in the summer of 2015. It is Anne's photos which put the "eyewitness" in Art Eyewitness! 

This was never more true than at the Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer exhibition and the press preview of the David Hockney retrospective, both from 2017 at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. 

Anne Lloyd, (Photo 2017)
   Gallery view of the Michelangelo exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum 

Anne Lloyd, (Photo 2017)
David Hockney at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, Nov. 20, 2017

Anne has certainly not rested on her photographic laurels since 2017. Almost every Art Eyewitness review includes "you are there" photos, placing you, the reader, in the exhibition gallery with us.

Anne Lloyd, (Photo 2023)
Gallery view of the Of God and Country exhibit at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, showing S.L Jones' Preacher and His Wife

It is vital to note that the Art Eyewitness "journey" has been facilitated by the incredible generosity of curators and public relations staff at the museums which Anne and I visit. 

The list is long - the National Gallery, the Metropolitan Museum, the Morgan Library & Museum, the Neue Gallerie, MOMA, the Jewish Museum of NY, the Phillips Collection, the Barnes Foundation, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and many more. 

To all of the wonderful people on the museum staffs who make Art Eyewitness possible, our gratitude is lasting and profound. 

Anne Lloyd, (Photo 2018)
From left: Nichole R. Myers, Dallas Museum of Art, Sylvie Patry, Musee d'Orsay and Cindy Kang of the Barnes Foundation 

I wish that I could include a survey of the photos which Anne has taken, over the years, of art curators and conservators at work. As that is impossible, I have chosen the above photo to illustrate this theme. The charm, intelligence and dedication of the curators of the 2018 Berthe Morisot exhibition at the Barnes Foundation stands for all.

Art Eyewitness launched its journey in July 2013. Our first essay was a review of Diaghilev and the Ballets Russes, 1909-1929, at the National Gallery. Before orchestrating the great dance series which exerted such a profound influence on modern art, Sergei Diaghilev had edited a journal dedicated to art history, Mir iskusstva, meaning "World of Art." 

The title was well-chosen. Diaghilev sincerely believed that art could affect society-at-large in new and inspiring ways. Working like a man possessed, Diaghilev devoted himself to translating vision into reality.

Jean Cocteau's Poster for the Ballets Russes, 1913

After several years of sensational success with the Ballets Russes, Diaghilev's hopes for a "world of art" were dashed by the outbreak of World War I. The Bolshevik Revolution and the Influenza Epidemic of 1918 followed in a chain of disaster which eventually led to even more, unspeakable, horrors. 

Today, as the world continues to grapple with the effects of the Covid-19 Pandemic and the outbreak of a major war in Europe, we seem to be reliving the experience of Diaghilev and his generation. Hopefully my fears are exaggerated, but there are many well-informed commentators writing in this vein, too.

Art and adversity are certainly no strangers. One needs to remember that - constantly.

Anne Lloyd, (Photo 2020)
The Rainbow Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I 
 Attributed to Marcus Gheeraerts the Younger, ca. 1602

Reflecting on my visits to the 2022 exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, The Tudors: Art and Majesty, I am reminded of the contrast between courtly splendor and actual living conditions. The final years of the reign of Elizabeth I, ca.1600, were a positively wretched time for many in England and throughout Europe. Yet Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Twelfth Night and Hamlet, Caravaggio's greatest paintings including The Calling of St. Matthew (1599-1600) and Supper at Emmaus (1601) and Cervantes' Don Quixote, Part I (published in 1605) all date to this tormented period.

The spring and summer months of 2020 brought a comparable time of suffering to our doorsteps. It is too early to dispassionately judge works of art or books created during the three years of the Covid-19 crisis and contrast them with those mentioned above from the turn of the seventeenth century. Spring Cannot be Cancelled by David Hockney and Martin Gayford is certainly a worthy response to the Covid crisis which deserves to be so considered. 

Time, the stern and capricious arbitrator of merit, will tell. But I believe that one judgment can be made - without hesitation. The art museum community rendered invaluable service as Covid-19 threatened the norms of cultural life and emotional well-being.

Anne Lloyd, (Photo 2020)
Empty gallery, Spring 2020, at the National Gallery of Art,
 showing paintings by Edgar Degas

As art institutions closed in mid-March 2020, a widespread network of museum staff members - museum directors, curators, IT and public relations specialists - responded to the crisis by providing "virtual" access to great works of art, historical archives, digital tours of museum galleries and much more. 

An Art Eyewitness essay I wrote at the time, focusing on the efforts of the Metropolitan Museum, gives a brief survey of the initiatives which shared a wide array of art resources with the public. This devotion to art lovers, everywhere, was undertaken when museum staff members had to deal with anxiety, sickness and privation in their own lives, too. 

The human toll of Covid-19 was "brought home" to me at the press preview of New York: 1962-1964. On a scorching day in July 2022, Anne and I traveled to the Jewish Museum of New York for the opening of this major exhibit. I was primed for a superb display of mid-century American art, but the unforgettable moment of the press event came during remarks by the director of the Jewish Museum, Claudia Gould.

Anne Lloyd, (Photo 2022)
Claudia Gould, Director of the Jewish Museum, July 20, 2022 

Ms. Gould seemed "out-or-sorts" as she came to the podium. During her remarks, her voice bespoke of sorrow and emotional distress. Ms. Gould described how the New York: 1962-1964 exhibition had been planned and organized by one of the great art scholars and curators of our contemporary era, Germano Celant.

Germano Celant, born in Italy in 1940, was a significant figure in the art world since the late 1960's. He was a major proponent of the Arte Povera movement and had been a curator for several years at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. His abundant talents and experience made Celant the perfect choice to lead the design of an exhibition devoted to the Manhattan art scene in the "Sixties."

As he worked on the New York: 1962-1964 exhibit, Celant contracted the Corona virus and died, aged 79. Celant's shocking death could well have derailed the entire project, but Gould and the curators at the Jewish Museum rose to the challenge. New York: 1962-1964 was truly an outstanding exhibition, an example of triumph arising from tragedy.

Anne Lloyd, (Photo 2022)
        Gallery view of New York: 1962-1964 at the Jewish Museum, showing Kenneth Noland's Tropical Zone, 1964.

As the Covid crisis abated and museums reopened, exhibitions which devoted curators had worked on during the "lockdown" began to go on display. One of the earliest and most significant was Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents. This exhibit appeared at the Met during the spring and summer of 2022, later travelling to the National Gallery in London.

Ed Voves, (Photo 2022)
        Gallery view of Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents at the Metropolitan Museum, showing Homer's The Gulf Stream, 1899.

The key painting of Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents was The Gulf Stream. This stunning work shows an African-American sailor in a battered schooner, menaced by sharks and an approaching storm. Will the crew of a ship in the distance see him and come to his rescue? However the viewer answers that question, there is no doubt that The Gulf Stream is a relevant painting for the travail of our time, as it was for Homer's.

Winslow Homer (1836-1910) first gained renown as an illustrator for Harper's Weekly. His experience recording the American Civil War led Homer to take  unexpected paths in his art. Many of his post-war paintings record the lives of melancholy young women who may have lost husbands or lovers in the Civil War, courageous seamen and their families, menaced by deadly storms, and African-Americans grappling with racial oppression. 

Homer's empathy for people confronting adversity is being carried on by the efforts of curators and art historians. A concerted effort is underway to present exhibitions of the work of artists - African-Americans, women, immigrants, "working-class" people - previously denied opportunity and fair treatment. 

Ed Voves, (Photo 2019)
    Gallery view of Augusta Savage: Renaissance Women at the New York Historical Society. Boy on a Stump, ca. 1930, in the foreground. 

Art Eyewitness has been pleased to review a number of these, including the much-needed reappraisal of Augusta Savage, whose brilliant sculptures are among the greatest works of art created during the Harlem Renaissance. This exhibition appeared at the New York Historical Society (NYHS) during 2019. 

The NYHS later mounted an exhibit devoted the German immigrant, Winold Reiss, an amazingly versatile artist whose sensitive portraits of the leaders and community figures of the Harlem Renaissance complemented Savage's sculptures to perfection. Both were superbly designed shows, worthy additions to the long list of outstanding exhibitions at the NYHS.

The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia deserves special recognition for its exhibitions devoted to self-taught artists - and a happy 100th birthday salute from Art Eyewitness.

Ed Voves, (Photo 2020)
        Elijah Pierce's Your Life is a Book, ca. 1940's, displayed at 
the Barnes Foundation's 2020 exhibition, Elijah Pierce's America

Among its recent, stellar exhibitions, the Barnes has documented the achievements of Elijah Pierce and William Edmundson. These African-American sculptors, working during the early decades of the twentieth century, not only blazed a trail for later generations but powerfully demonstrated the importance of religious beliefs and community values in the creation of meaningful art.

Trying to strike a balance in an appraisal of ten years of art exhibitions - and nearly three hundred reviews and essays - is not the easiest of endeavors. There is always the temptation to try and comment on this or that exhibit to make sure that the early years or a favorite artist receive their due. 

I am going to resist adding to the length of an already long anniversary essay. Instead, I will mention one more exhibit and call it a "wrap."

During the autumn of 2018, the Neue Gallerie in New York devoted a special exhibition to the German Expressionists, Franz Marc and August Macke. I had hoped for years that these artists, both killed in World War I, would be the subject of a thorough examination, especially one that enabled viewers to grasp the spiritual, almost mystical, elements of their art. The Neue Gallerie exhibition lived up to my hopes and then some.

Anne Lloyd, (Photo 2018)
Franz Marc's Deer in the Forest II, 1914

Franz Marc is famous for valuing animals as spiritual beings. His inseparable companion was a Siberian Shepherd dog named "Russi" whom he painted several times, including a "metaphysical" portrait entitled Hund vor der Welte or How a Dog Sees the World. 

Human beings see the world, partly through the prism of art. But animals and art museums are not a good fit. Or so I thought.

Recently, Anne and I were paying a return visit to Whistler's Mother now on special loan to the Philadelphia Museum of Art. To our very great surprise, we watched as a fellow patron calmly walk down the grand staircase, with a Golden Retriever in hand.

   Anne Lloyd, (Photo 2023)
Gallery views of Philadelphia Museum of Art, June 26, 2023

We were incredulous, but nobody else seemed to mind, including the several guards in the vicinity.  My guess is that the fellow with the dog trains service animals. It was all I could do to keep from asking, but I making it a rule never to intrude on someone else's art "moment."

Then the guy with the Golden Retriever ambled into the gallery to spend some quality time with Whistler's Mother


It was all so natural, so unscripted. They came. They saw. And, after a few moments of art appreciation, they went. 

Franz Marc would have loved this art moment. Russi would have loved it too. Anne and I certainly did.

I have the zany thought that Franz Marc would have painted a picture of the scene and called it Hund vor der Kunst! 

So how would a dog see "art"?

If this gentle, well behaved Golden is any indication, art would be regarded as a part of life, a daily ritual that is both a necessity and something to be enjoyed. See it, embrace the moment and move on.

So, instead of a quote from Kenneth Clark or Andre Malroux to bring this essay to a close, I'm serving-up these images of art as an element of everyday life. Anne and I have been doing this for ten years and aim to keep on for as long as we can make it up the art museum steps.

From Art Eyewitness, thanks for ten great years.


Text copyright of Ed Voves, all rights reserved                                           

Images copyright of Anne Lloyd, all rights reserved

Introductory image: Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) View of Leo Villereal's Multiverse, 2008, National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery view of the Sargent and Spain at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., showing John Singer Sargent's La Carmencita Dancing, 1890.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2021) Butterfly and Zinnia, 2021.

Modern Art in Detail: 75 Masterpieces by Susie Hodge, 2017 (cover) Image credit: Thames & Hudson

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2017) Gallery view of Michelangelo: Divine Draftsman and Designer, 2017, at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2017) David Hockney at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, November 20, 2017.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Gallery view of the Of God and Country exhibition at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, showing S.L. Jones' Preacher and Wife, date unknown.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Nichole R. Myers, Dallas Museum of Art, Sylvie Patry, Musee d'Orsay, and Cindy Kang of the Barnes Foundation, curators of the Berthe Morisot exhibition at the Barnes Foundation.

Jean Cocteau (French, 1889-1963) Poster advertising Nijinsky with the Ballet Russes, Theatre des Champs Elysees, Paris 1913. Printed poster: 189 cm x 129 cm. Collection of the Victoria and Albert Museum.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) The Rainbow Portrait of Queen Elizabeth I. Attributed to Marcus Gheerearts the Younger, Ca. 1602.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2020) Empty Gallery, Spring 2020, at the National Gallery of Art, Washington D.C., showing paintings by Edgar Degas.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Claudia Gould, Director of the Jewish Museum, New York, July 20, 2022.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery view of New York: 1962-1964, at the Jewish Museum, New York, showing Kenneth Noland's Tropical Zone, 1964.

Ed Voves, Photo (2022) Gallery view of Winslow Homer: Crosscurrents at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, showing Homer's The Gulf Stream, 1899.

Ed Voves, Photo (2019) Gallery view of Augusta Savage: Renaissance Woman at the New York Historical Society, showing Boy on a Stump, ca. 1930. 

Ed Voves, Photo (2020) Elijah Pierce's Your Life is a Book, ca. 1940's, displayed at the Barnes Foundation's 2020 exhibition, Elijah Pierce's America.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2018) Franz Marc's Deer in the Forest II, 1914, on view at the Neue Gallerie exhibition, Franz Marc and Auguste Macke, 1909-1914.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2022) Gallery views of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, June 26, 2023. Sequence of four photos.

Monday, July 17, 2023

Art Eyewitness Review: Kabuki Prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art

Scandal and Virtue: Staging Kabuki in Osaka Prints

Philadelphia Museum of Art
 On view until July 24, 2023

Reviewed by Ed Voves                                                                                

Original photography by Anne Lloyd

The word "Kabuki" refers to the hugely popular theater productions which flourished in Japan during the Edo period, 1615-1868. Kabuki plays continue to be highly regarded today, despite competition from films and television.

In contemporary Western usage, "Kabuki" has taken on an ironic meaning. People frequently use the word as synonym for political posturing and disingenuous election promises. Watch a presidential debate on television and it won't be long before the thought springs to mind or is ruefully uttered, "this is just kabuki."

The misappropriation of Kabuki is not just an instance of a word being "lost in translation." Rather, it is a fascinating case of how language and art change shape and appearance to fit the political and social circumstances of the times. In pre-modern Japan, Kabuki theater took on connotations and implied criticisms which the Shogun rulers of the nation looked on with disfavor - sometimes violently so. 

The Philadelphia Museum of Art has been mounting a very fine exhibition of the woodblock prints created to celebrate Kabuki productions and performers during the Edo period.  On view since April 2023, it has a couple of weeks left and is not to be missed.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) 
Detail of Osaka Woodcut Triptych Print by Konishi Hirosada (1851)

Kabuki plays were lavishly mounted productions, incorporating music, mime, colorful costumes and extravagant make-up. Both drama and comedy were incorporated into the plays and the public responded with passionate "fan" acclaim.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) 
Kabuki fan album showing Osaka Woodcut Prints of leading actors 

The most attentive observation of Kabuki theater, however, came not from the enthusiastic audience but from government agents and censors. The ruling military elite of Japan, the Tokugawa shoguns, regarded Kabuki theater as a menace to the established political order. Kabuki plays might be tolerated but never ignored.

The Tokugawa shogunate also closely monitored the production of woodcut prints celebrating Kabuki plays and actors. The Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) has one of the greatest collections of Kabuki prints outside of Japan. In 2008, a major donation of 525 Kabuki prints was made by Jack Shear in honor of Anne D'Harnoncourt, the beloved PMA director who died that year. Many of these are on view in the present exhibition. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) 
Detail of Nakamura Utaemon IV (right) as the farmer Yasuka; Mimasu Baisha I as Senzaki Yagoro (left) by Konishi Hirosada (1851)

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) 
Scene from a Kabuki Play by Utagawa Kunisada (1858).

These spectacular color prints, also called Osaka prints, were created in the Kamigata region of Japan, which centers on the city of Osaka. The Tokugawa shoguns ruled from Edo (modern-day Tokyo) and were vigilant in preventing these theatrical pictures from being printed in the capital. It was impossible to stop the wide-spread circulation of these Osaka prints but that did not stop the warlords of Japan from trying.

Why the shoguns were so vigilant in regards to Kabuki theater can only be briefly sketched here. When the Samurai warlord, Tokugawa Ieyasua gained victory in the civil wars of the early 1600's, he closed the port cities of Japan to foreign ships - except for one Dutch vessel per year - and foreign ideas. A similarly repressive, though not quite so drastic, code of conduct was instituted for the domestic society in the "home islands" of Japan.

In Japanese, the word Kabuki denoted "unorthodox" or "unusual" behavior. If there is one absolute of militaristic regimes around the world it is their suspicion of anything smacking of nonconformity.

The seriousness - and severity - of the Tokugawa shogunate toward the Kabuki theater was notably displayed in a mid-19th century incident. This cause celebre involved Ichikawa Danjuro VII (1791-1859), one of the greatest Kabuki actors of all time. 

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) 
Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Chichbu Shoji Shigetada 
 by Utagawa Kunisada (c. 1821)

A famous child actor in one of the leading theatrical families, Ichikawa Danjuro VII later specialized in playing epic hero roles. He helped to create the established repertoire of the eighteen greatest Kabuki plays or Kabuki Juhachiban. None of these achievements could save him from the fury of the Shogunate when he committed the major transgression of using real Samurai military gear and weapons (as opposed to stage props) in an 1842 play. He was arrested and exiled from the capital city of Edo. Furthermore, his mansion was destroyed as a warning to other actors.

There was no "kabuki" in the Shogun's policy toward the Kabuki theater.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) 
Onoe Kikugoro III as the Ascetic Priest Nakasaina & Ichikawa Ebizo V   as Nippon Daemon, by Konishi Hirosada (1848)

Kabuki theater is a fascinating, if extremely complicated, subject (at least to uninitiated Americans like myself). One of the factors which makes it difficult to grasp the details of Kabuki history is the influence of acting dynasties. These  played a dominant role, recycling the same or similar stage names for their members. 

An example is the Arashi “family” of actors, each bearing “Arashi” as part of their stage names, which were handed down across the generations as an almost sacred inheritance.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) 
A Kabuki actor of the Arashi dynasty, Arashi Kitsusaburo I

The Arashi actors included blood relations and unrelated disciples. Periodically, they would change part of their stage name, the form depending on theatrical conventions.  Arashi Kichisaburo II (1769-1821) was also known as Arashi Rikan. In March 1821, he changed his name to Arashi Kitsusaburo I.

How to keep the “cast” of Arashi actors straight? The hugely popular prints made in Osaka were just the ticket, especially since these prints were regarded as cherished collectables. Kabuki fans often bequeathed their prints to family members, much as acting families passed down stage names.

  Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) 
Arashi Kichisaburo II & Nakamura Utaemon III
by Shunkosai Hokushu (1820)

The above print shows Arashi Kichisaburo II (aka Kitsusaburo I) facing-off against his great acting rival, Nakamura Utaemon III. These two actors detested each other's acting style, with Arashi emphasizing realism in contrast to Utaemon's flashy technique. They refused to act together until their respective fan clubs arranged an elaborate dinner party in 1821. The two leading men agreed to share the stage in a joint production, but the long-anticipated event never occurred. Arashi Kitsusaburo I died suddenly in September 1821.

The manner in which the acting dynasties passed down their stage names - and, no doubt, acting tips - recalls the parallel lives of the Japanese landscape artists, the Kano school, which existed from the 1500's to the early twentieth century. Each painter was known by a variation of the Kano name, Kano Tan'yu (1602-1674), Kano Hogai (1828-1888), etc.

Japan, by holding the foreign world at bay through the Sakoku exclusion policy, created a very unusual social dynamic, of which Kabuki theater was part. But in one important respect, Kabuki reflected developments thousands of miles away in vastly different societies: namely in the narrowing sphere it gave to participation by women.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) 
Parody of Kurumabiki; Four Famous Beauties Enacting the
 Oxcart Scene by Kitagawa Utamaro (1793)

In the Western world, during the 1600's through the mid-1800's, the Scientific Revolution created many professional opportunities  - for men. Women, during the Middle Ages had traditionally acted as healers and mid-wives. As science and medicine became more institutionalized, women were marginalized.

So too, in Kabuki.  Incredibly, Kabuki theater was founded by a woman named Okuni early in the 1600's. Okuni was an attendant at the Shinto shrine at Izumo. She was most likely a dancer, hence her title as a miko, or shrine maiden.  

Okuni soon demonstrated organizational, as well as acting, skill. She recruited a female acting troup whose performances were heavily laced with eroticism. These were a big hit with the Japanese populace, reeling from the endless Samurai wars, but not with the shoguns.

In 1629, in one of its early repressive measures, the Tokugawa shogunate banished women actors from the stage. This decree was proclaimed for the sake of "public morality". But this was kabuki in the modern sense, as the Tokugawa shogunate was the major sponsor of Yoshiwari, the "red-light" sex-trade center. 

 Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) 
Detail of Yamashita Kinsaku IV as Yasuke's wife, Okayo
by Konishi Hirosada (1851)

When we look at the numerous woodblock prints of Kabuki "actresses" on the gallery walls of the Philadelphia Museum exhibit, what we see are pictures of onnagata, male actors who specialized in portraying women.

During the Mejii Restoration which modernized Japan during the late 1800's, women actresses were permitted back on the stage of Kabuki theater but few availed themselves of the opportunity. Kabuki acting today, for the most part, remains a male profession.

Scandal and Virtue: Staging Osaka Prints at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is a fantastic exhibition. It is the latest of many fine Asian art exhibits at the PMA. I have been to see these Kabuki prints at least three times, learning more each time and I hope to return for at least one more visit. 

Ironically, the great "lesson" that I have learned from repeatedly viewing these wonderful prints is to look at them primarily for their intrinsic human values, while reserving the details of style and composition for later consideration.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) 
Fifth Month: Ichikawa Ebizo V as Takechi Mitsuhide
 by Konishi Hirosada (1848)

There is something primal about Kabuki or Osaka prints, totally appealing on a basic emotional level. You don't have to "know" much about Japanese history or culture - though of course it helps - in order to appreciate these strange, yet compelling, people.  

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) 
Arashi Kichisaburo II as Yojiro, a Monkey Leader 
 by Urakusai Nagahide (1798)

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) 
 Nakamura Utaemon III as a Dancing Beggar (detail)
by Asayama Ashikuni (1817)

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) 
Jitsukawa Ensaburo as Sakuramaru by Konishi Hirosada (1851)

Just who is the fellow carrying a monkey on his shoulder? Who is the semi-clad man with a strand of rope around his hair? Who is the well-armed swordsman and why does he look so alarmed?

Answers to these questions can be found in the fascinating, complex history of Kabuki. But there is a simpler, more meaningful way to identify these amazing characters. Look closely at them and keep looking. You will see them before long as they really are - people like us.

Text: Copyright of Ed Voves. Original Photos: Copyright of Anne Lloyd

Introductory image: Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Onoe Tamizo II as Sasaki Takatasuna by Konishi Hirosada (1849) Color woodcut, center panel of triptych: 9 3/4 x 7 inches (24.8 x 17.8 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Detail of Osaka Woodcut Triptych Print by Konishi Hirosada (1851) Color woodcut triptych (left panel showing actors , Yamashita Kinsaku IV & Nakamura Daikichi I) 9 15/16 x 21 ½ inches (25.2 x 54.6 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Kabuki fan album showing Osaka Woodcut Prints of leading actors.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Detail of Nakamura Utaemon IV (right) as the farmer Yasuka; Mimasu Baisha I as Senzaki Yagoro (left) by Konishi Hirosada (1851) Color woodcut (overall) 9 ¾ x 21 inches (24.8 x 53.3 cm)

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Scene from a Kabuki Play by Utagawa Kunisada (1858). Color woodcut diptych: (each) 14 1/8 x 9 ¾ inches (35.9 x 24.8 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Ichikawa Danjuro VII as Chichbu Shoji Shigetada by Utagawa Kunisada (c. 1821). Color woodcut triptych (center panel): 14 15/16 x 10 1/8 inches (37.9 x 25.7 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Onoe Kikugoro III as the Ascetic Priest Nakasaina & Ichikawa Ebizo V as Nippon Daemon by Konishi Hirosada (1851). Color woodcut: 7 x 9 3/4 inches (17.8 x 24.8 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) A Kabuki actor of the Arashi dynasty, Arashi Kitsusaburo I (detail) by Saikotei Shibakuni (1821). Color woodcut: 14 9/16 x 10 ¼ inches (37 x 26 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Arashi Kichisaburo II and Nakamura Utaemon III by Shunkosai Hokushu (1820). Color woodcut: 15 9/16 x 10 inches (39.5 x 25.5 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Parody of Kurumbiki; Four Famous Beauties Enacting the Oxcart Scene by Kitagawa Utamaro (1793) Color woodcut: 13 x 16 7/8 inches (33 x 42.9 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Detail of Yamashita Kinsaku IV as Yasuke's Wife, Okayo by Konishi Hirosada (1851). For measurements see above: Nakamura Utaemon IV (right) as the farmer Yasuka and Mimasu Baisha I as Senzaki Yagoro. Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Fifth Month: Ichikawa Ebizo V as Takechi Mitsuhide by Konishi Hirosada (1848). Color woodcut: 9 3/4 x 7 inches (24.8 x 17.8 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Arashi Kichisaburo II as Yojiro, a Monkey Leader (Detail)  by Urakusai Nagahide (1798). Stencil colored woodcut: 13 5/8 inches (34.7 x 14.9 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Nakamura Utaemon III as a Dancing Begger (Detail) by Asayama Ashikuni (1817).  Color woodcut (part of sheet): 10 x 28 1/4 inches ( 25.4 x 71.8 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art.

Anne Lloyd, Photo (2023) Jitsukawa Ensaburo as Sakuramaru by Konishi Hirosada (1851). Left panel of color woodcut triptych: 9 15/16 x 22 inches ( 25.2 x 55.9 cm) Philadelphia Museum of Art