@MarDixon Passionate about culture internationally. Run remixing events, workshops, create solutions, and an international speaker. Over sharer and Mom who loses arguments to a teen. Projects created: @CultureThemes @lovetheatreday @AskaCurator @MuseumSelfieDay @TeensInMuseums @52museums
  • Guest Review: Hokusai Exhibition at @BritishMuseum by Matt White @soupdragon2000

    September 28th, 2021mardixonCulture

    If you think you’ve seen it all before, you’re wrong. 

    I was very excited to visit the new Hokusai exhibition at the British Museum but mostly to get out and about for the first time in ages rather than the exhibition itself. As a Londoner and former employee, I’ve visited the museum more times than I can count. The place has quite a few Hokusai items in the collection (1,038 from a quick search of collections online but probably more) over the years I felt I’d seen pretty much all of them. Surely, they’d wheeled most of them out in the 2017 Beyond Great Wave exhibition? Not reading up on the exhibition beforehand, I was expecting a lazy re-boot of previous successful exhibitions as a guaranteed way to bring in the visitors.

    As it happens, this couldn’t be further from the truth, although it still deserves to bring in the Hokusai fans (of which there are many). The prints in the exhibition are all new acquisitions so you’ve not seen them before and even if you had, they weren’t attributed to Hokusai! They’re also different style to the usual colourful images we’re used to seeing – there all black and white drawings. AMAZING black and white drawings.

    All these drawings were made in Hokusai’s later years for a picture book encyclopaedia that never happened. I’m not sure why it was never published as I was too busy darting between all the drawings to fully take in all the interpretation. I did take away the fact that the drawings probably wouldn’t still exist if the encyclopaedia had been published.

    The exhibition space is unremarkable and looking around, it’s a sea of identically postcard-sized drawings on a plain background. You have to get really close to the drawings to appreciate them and their fine detail. Fortunately, if you’re roughly ambulant adult height, it’s easy to do so. Shorter humans and those using wheelchairs may struggle more. I was glad I brought my reading glasses. 

    I thought it was interesting that the interpretation was ordered from right to left and bottom to top. Once I’d worked that out, it was much easier to match descriptions to what I was seeing as there no numbers next to the pictures themselves.

    There’s a massive variety of subjects from sea monsters and mer-people to mummified flesh-eating and aquatic birds. Anyone who wants to learn from an expert draftsperson need look no further.

    Asides from the excellent art on display, I loved the science-y stuff such as the excellent analysis of the Great Wave (yes, that’s there too) and the explanation of how a wood block is made.

    Despite its fairly small size, the exhibition is easily an hour’s visit and well worth it. It’s an absolute must for any student of design too. Highly recommend!

    Hokusai: The great picturebook of everything is showing at the British Museum from 30 September 2021 to 30 January 2022. Tickets from £9, members go free.

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