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The Gibbes Museum Celebrates Japanese Art with Two Special Exhibitions

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The Gibbes Museum of Art, home to one of the most significant collections of Japanese woodblock prints in the Southeast, will present two new exhibitions that reveal the complexity and importance of Japanese art and how its history collides with Charleston. The exhibitions, Lasting Impressions: Japanese Prints from the Read-Simms Collection and Japonisme in Charleston: Alice Smith and Her Circle, will be on view in galleries eight and nine from Friday, April 30 through Sunday, October 3. 

“We are thrilled to present two new special exhibitions that demonstrate the global significance of Japanese art,” says Angela Mack, executive director at the Gibbes Museum of Art. “Our visitors will have the opportunity to see world-class examples of Japanese woodblock prints from a collection that was formed in Charleston in the early decades of the 20th century. These images by luminaries like Sharaku, Hokusai, and Hiroshige had a tremendous impact on artists worldwide from Monet, Degas, and Van Gogh to artists working right here in Charleston. Thanks to the keen eyes of the original collectors the Gibbes is fortunate to have in its collection both exceptional examples of popular prints like Hokusai’s Red Fuji as well as several rare one-of-a-kind images.”

Lasting Impressions: Japanese Prints from the Read-Simms Collection

Lasting Impressions: Japanese Prints from the Read-Simms Collection will showcase 60 exceptional and rare prints amassed by Charleston collector Motte Alston Read and his sister, Mary Read Hume Simms of New Orleans, during the first decades of the 20th century, a period often referred to as the “Golden Age” of print collecting. The Read-Simms Collection was donated to the Gibbes in 1947 and reflects the full range of popular print subjects by master Ukiyo-e artists of the Edo period, from dramatic Kabuki theater actors, portrayed by Suzuki Harunobu and Tōshūsai Sharaku in the 18th century, to vibrant landscapes by Utagawa Hiroshige and Katsushika Hokusai in the 19th century.

The exhibition is accompanied by a beautiful, fully illustrated catalogue featuring entries by Japanese fine art specialist Sebastian Izzard and an in-depth essay on the collectors by Sara C. Arnold and Stephen G. Hoffius.

Japonisme in Charleston: Alice Smith and Her Circle

Japonisme is a French term coined to describe the craze for Japanese art and design that first gripped the West in the late nineteenth century. In a companion exhibition to Lasting Impressions, the wave of enthusiasm for the Japanese aesthetic in Charleston will be explored through the works of native artist Alice Ravenel Huger Smith who was one of many American artists to react to the western dissemination of Japanese prints. A close friend and neighbor of collector Motte Alston Read, Smith had unfettered access to Read’s growing library of Japanese prints and she studied them intently. A watercolor specialist and one of Charleston’s most prolific artists, Smith discovered a shared reverence for nature in the work of Japanese artists, which greatly impacted her artistic trajectory. Japonisme in Charleston: Alice Smith and her Circle will feature works by Smith and other Charleston artists who embraced the tenets and techniques of Japanese art.

To coincide with the opening of Lasting Impressions: Japanese Prints from the Read-Simms Collection and Japonisme in Charleston: Alice Smith and Her Circle, the Gibbes will host related programming:

Kayaking at Black River Cypress, April 17

Inspired by the sweeping landscapes of Lasting Impressions and Japonisme in Charleston, the Gibbes invites visitors to explore Black River Cypress Preserve. Designed for all levels, this event is an introduction to kayaking in the Lowcountry and all equipment will be provided.

Price: $125 members | $150 non-members

Lasting Impressions with Curator Sara Arnold, May 6

Visitors are invited to explore Lasting Impressions virtually with Gibbes Museum curator, Sara Arnold. The tour will be streamed through Facebook Live @theGibbesMuseum.

Price: Free

Charleston Renaissance Walking Tour, May 15

Inspired by Japonisme in Charleston, this walking tour allows participants to walk in the footsteps of Alice R. H. Smith and other artists of the Charleston Renaissance. Sue Bennett of Walk Charleston, LLC., will lead this tour beginning and ending at the Gibbes. Guests will see Smith’s work on display at the Gibbes, as well as explore the places and personal stories behind her practices.

Price: $50 members | $60 non-members

Relief Block Printmaking Workshop with Susan Vitali, May 15

The Gibbes in collaboration with Redux Contemporary Art Center is offering a special two-day workshop inspired by Lasting Impressions. Participants will have the full experience of relief block printmaking as well as a tour of the exhibition.

Price: $250 members | $300 non-members

For Which it Stands: Landscapes of the Japanese American Experience, May 22

This virtual town hall-style Zoom with local artists and community stakeholders will address questions of identity, community and the American experience. The work of artist Emily Hanako Momohara centers around issues of identity, immigration, and social justice. Her work probes her own family narrative, the transmission of cultural traditions, and allows participants to critically reflect on the diverse experience of immigrants to America.

Price: Free but requires advanced registration

Nexus: Music at the Crossroads of East and West, July 10 or July 11

This stunning chamber music performance in collaboration with New Muse Concerts is inspired by Lasting Impressions: Japanese Prints from the Read-Simms Collection. To allow for a safe experience, the Gibbes is offering two performances, both with limited seating.

Price: $30 Members | $40 Non-Member

For more information and a full listing of exhibitions and programming, visit www.gibbesmuseum.org.

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