15 Aug 2017

Showdown! Kuniyoshi vs. Kunisada

Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

Reviewed by David Curcio

It's tempting to focus on the bloody feuding within old Edo, but the MFA pointlessly presses the viewer to referee a standoff between two ukiyo-e artists: Utagawa Kuniyoshi and Utagawa Kunisada. Despite their spirited, competitive natures and differences in style and subject, both were masters of their craft.

Kunisada's imagery captured the essence of tranquility of what has come to be known as The Floating World. Created in response to a public demand that publishers were all too happy to meet, his prints of Kabuki actors left him bereft of the artistic breadth of many of his contemporaries.

Kuniyoshi is darker in subject matter and frequently in palette. His scenes of battle, bloodshed, ghosts, and demons (all seen here) are the best-known of the genre. The gimmick of a make-believe slugfest between two contemporaneous but very different artists is a feeble distraction. Ignore it. Just enjoy the hundred prints that collude to make for a diverse and sublime showing.

Exhibition Showdown! Kuniyoshi vs. Kunisada link
Start date 11 Aug 2017
End date 10 Dec 2017 (in 18 days)
Presenter Museum of Fine Arts, Boston link
Venue 465 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA, USA map
Image Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Hayakawa Ayunosuke, from the series Eight Hundred Heroes of the Japanese Shuihuzhuan, about 1830 (Bunsei 13/Tenpō 1), woodblock print (nishiki-e), ink and color on paper, bequest of Maxim Karolik, photograph © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston
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