In Edo Period Japan (1615–1868), the phrase “floating world” evoked a pleasure-seeking way of life, free from everyday obligations. Ukiyo-e depicted the many public entertainments available to residents of Edo (present-day Tokyo), often focusing on the city’s Kabuki theaters and the Yoshiwara—Japan’s most famous pleasure quarter. The prints in The Printer’s Eye document the leisure activities, fashions and celebrities of the floating world, including prominent courtesans, actors and even a teahouse waitress known throughout the districts for her beauty. The exhibition unpacks these carefully orchestrated scenes—dense with up-to-date styles and tongue-in-cheek references to Edo popular culture—and provides an “insider look” at their coded meanings, as well as the techniques behind their beautiful and complex designs.
Unlike the paintings in Seduction: Japan’s Floating World
—a concurrent exhibition focusing on artwork generated largely for the upper class—the prints in The Printer’s Eye were mass-produced, and available for about the cost of a bowl of noodles. Today, however, they are priceless—many of the rare examples on display provide the only remaining evidence of a given design. The exhibition opens with 56 prints, and on March 30, 32 prints will be replaced by a fresh selection. Be sure to visit twice to view all 88 works.