Japanese prints and ivories tell a story of collecting

Exhibition explores influence of industrialist H. J. Heinz and poet Sadakichi Hartmann

PITTSBURGH — An exhibition of two rarely seen Japanese collections from the early years of Carnegie Institute (now Museums of Art and Natural History) will capture the excitement and intrigue surrounding the museums’ first encounters with these exquisite objects. Opening in Gallery One at Carnegie Museum of Art, “Japan Is the Key…”: Collecting Prints and Ivories, 1900-1920 traces the development of these collections through the two larger-than-life men responsible for Carnegie Institute’s ambitious exhibitions of Japanese art in the first decade of the 20th century.

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By re-examining the museum of art’s masterwork prints, including pieces by Hiroshige, Hokusai and Utamaro, along with the museum of natural history’s delicate, dynamic ivories, this exhibition allows for exciting new collaborations in object research and conservation, as well as a new look into institutional history.

Sadakichi Hartmann and H.J. Heinz were vastly different men, united by a common fascination with Japan at the turn of the century. Hartmann was a poet and critic of 82-2webJapanese-German parentage. Flamboyant, waspishly brilliant and an exponent of modernism and japonisme, Hartmann seems to have masterminded the Carnegie Institute Department of Fine Arts controversial early exhibitions of Japanese prints and avant-garde photography.

Heinz, a pillar of industrial America, visited Japan through his business engagements, and his commitment to Christian ministry work resulted in loaning his rapidly growing collection of ivory carvings to Carnegie Institute in 1910. Both left a legacy in their collections of the Institute, now Carnegie Museums of Art and Natural History, and linked Pittsburgh to an international discourse on Japan’s rapidly growing cultural and economic impact.

As forward-thinking as these men were about the ways that Japanese art would shape modern art movements, their assessments of artworks were often just plain wrong. Hartmann approached his collecting activities with enthusiasm and high ideals, but he did not possess the specialist knowledge to acquire truly great examples of the art form. It was not until 1917 that the Institute learned this, when Kojiro Tomita, a Japan expert from the Boston Museum of Fine Arts visited the museum, and pointed out that a substantial amount of these purchases were second-rate re-strikes. Director of Fine Arts John Beatty destroyed these prints. He had already hired Edward Duff Balken as the museum’s first curator of prints and drawings, and Balken corrected course, purchasing dozens of important masterwork prints in 1916 and 1918.

“Japan is the Key…” will showcase the museums’ most beautiful objects from this period, and tell the story of Pittsburgh’s early encounters with a newly-opened Japan. The exhibition also presents an opportunity to research, conserve, and re-connect the print and ivory collections, now dispersed across the two museums, including a colossal ivory eagle, which was a visitor favorite for decades.

The exhibition opens March 30, 2013, in Gallery One of the museum’s Scaife Galleries, located at 4400 Forbes Avenue in the Oakland section of Pittsburgh.

For more information, visit http://web.cmoa.org/.

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