Fine Cartoon Art

exaggerated, in a good way

Manga’s Great Great Great Granddaddy, on View through June

Posted by jtebeau on May 3, 2010

Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Mitsukuni Defies a Skeleton Specter (detail), 1845-46. Color woodblock print, 14 5/6 x 29 7/8 in. The British Museum, JA 1915.8-23.0915, 0916. Photo © Trustees of the British Museum.

“Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters” at the Japan Society Gallery (333 E. 47th St.) will blow your mind.

Utagawa Kuniyoshi‘s bold, vibrant prints look like they were made yesterday, though in fact they were printed by the ukiyo-e master over 150 years ago. (and a tip-o-the-hat to Joanna Hecker for that one) They’re cartoony and powerful, graphically detailed and visually arresting. They’re at once familiar and of another world, and you can see them till June 15 on New York’s east side.

Arthur R. Miller collected most of the pieces in this exhibition, and was originally drawn to Kuniyoshi’s depictions of powerful samurais and warriors. Subtle messages lurk behind these colorful scenes: the artist made an end-run around the official censors of the day using symbols and metaphor to criticize their policies. The bureaucrats missed the point, but viewers in the know got it. The power of subversive cartooning strikes again.

Mr. Miller, who taught civil procedure at Harvard Law School for 36 years, is donating his collection of 2,000 works to the British Museum, which promised to keep the collection in tact.

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