Sunday, April 6, 2014

Kiyochika: Master of the Night

Where: Sackler Gallery

When: through July 27, 2014

If you like nocturnes, views of a city by night, this is the exhibit for you.  Kiyochika chronicled the life of Tokyo, from 1874 (when he returned to the city after having been exiled during a change of political power) until the city was largely destroyed by fire in 1881.

I was reminded of Charles Marville and his photographs of a bygone Paris.  This exhibit is a trip back in time, to a city no longer available for us to visit.  I think the fact that Kiyochika's Tokyo is gone forever makes the night paintings particularly appropriate.  Although he didn't know it at the time, Kiyochika was painting the end of a day for Tokyo.

Several of the paintings show the difference between natural and man-made light - the moon and the gas lamps.  This is a show about the end of an era, and for all the advantages of modernity, it is a show about what is lost when progress has its way.  His people are largely in silhouette - the focus is not on them, but on the city, the light and the darkness.  One interpretation is that the people are in shadow because they are alienated by the changes in their environment.  That may be true, but perhaps it is also a way to make the viewer a part of the picture.  Rather than being distracted by a human face, you take your place with the silhouettes, watching the fireworks, or the reflection of the moon on the water.

Verdict: A show I liked very much.  Perfect, if you're in a reflective mood, and want art to match.

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