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The Art Institute of Chicago
Michigan Avenue Entrance
111 South Michigan Avenue
Chicago, Illinois 60603

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  Members Only Public
Monday 10-11 a.m. 11 a.m.-6 p.m.
Tuesday-Wednesday Closed Closed
Thursday-Friday 10-11 a.m. 11 a.m.-9 p.m.
Saturday-Sunday 10-11 a.m. 11 a.m.-6 a.m.

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Monochromatic Japanese Prints

September 30-April 9, 2023

In its oldest and most basic form, a printed image consists of black ink indirectly applied to paper. In Japan, this method was developed by the 8th century and employed for commercial purposes beginning in the 17th century, with color printing becoming widespread in the 1760s. The early commercial monochromatic prints are known as sumizuri-e—literally, “pictures printed in ink.” Despite their limited palette, these works by designers such as Kaigetsudō Anchi and Okumura Masanobu, who are represented in this display, have a presence and immediacy rarely seen again in Japanese printmaking until the 20th century.

After the development of full-color printing in the mid-18th century, some publishers chose to save money by continuing to use black ink alone to produce illustrated books and single-sheet prints. Other publishers deployed black ink to make a statement about the skill of an artist or to imbue a print with a painterly quality: they produced complex images rendered mostly in shades of gray, as seen in works by Katsukawa Shunchō and Utagawa Hiroshige.

In the 20th century, print designers who recognized the potential of black ink on paper took up the challenge of making compelling images with only the fundamental materials. Artists including Munakata Shikō and Hiratsuka Un’ichi spent virtually their entire careers working almost exclusively in black ink, demonstrating the expressive power of mono-chromatic printing.

The striking works in this exhibition span nearly 250 years and are drawn entirely from the rich holdings of the Art Institute’s Japanese print collection. Monochromatic Japanese Prints is curated by Janice Katz, Roger L. Weston Associate Curator of Japanese Art, the Art Institute of Chicago.

Kingfisher Headdresses from China

May 21, 2022-May 21, 2023

Since ancient times, Chinese poets have praised the plumage of the kingfisher, a bird widely found in the tropical regions of Asia. The brilliant turquoise-blue is not a pigment but results from the way their transparent feathers refract light. By the Song dynasty (960–1278), portraits of empresses showed them wearing headdresses adorned with kingfisher ornaments. Few examples of this fragile artistry have survived, and the earliest ones come from the tomb of the Wanli Emperor (reigned 1572–1620), in which archaeologists found four elaborate kingfisher crowns worn by his empresses.

Museum Lectures

Embracing the Moon—Chinese Ceramic Art, Old and New

February 23, 2pm (CST)
Join the Art Institute’s Pritzker Chair of Arts of Asia and curator of Chinese art Tao Wang for an in person discussion of two newly acquired Chinese moon flasks.

Though created centuries apart, the Ming Dynasty Yongle Moon Flask (early 15th century) and Fu Yiyao’s The Essence of Light and the Cadence of Rhythm (2010) share striking similarities. Wang provides a closer look at both in this lecture, delving into the history and cultural significance of the moon flask.