Neo-Japonisme: Ukiyo-e, Afro-Ukiyo-e and Action-Ukiyo-e: 251 W 19th St

Installation Views

Ethan Cohen Gallery is pleased to present Neo-Japonisme | Ukiyo-e, Afro-Ukiyo-e, and Action-Ukiyo-e (1858-2021). This exhibition presents 19th century ukiyo-e prints, rare hanshita-e  (line block drawings) alongside contemporary works on paper inspired by the tradition of ukiyo-e by Japanese action artist Ushio Shinohara and African American artist Jeffrey Hargrave. Hargrave’s Afro-Ukiyo-e series reflects the artist’s fantasy of Japan, and uses powerful imagery that speaks to African American stereotypes throughout art history. Ukiyo-e prints sparked gallerist Ethan Cohen’s early interest more than 30 years ago in collecting and showcasing art.


Ukiyo-e means ‘pictures of the floating world’, and refers to the woodblock printing genre in Japan which began and flourished in the Edo period (1600–1867). Ukiyo-e reflected the freedom and hedonism of the time, and vividly captured the daily life of Japan, its people and modes of entertainment. This exhibition includes prints by Toyokuni III, Kunichika, and unsigned anonymous masterful ukiyo-e line paintings. These rare paintings, made on delicate rice paper, may be by the master Toyokuni or one of his followers. These ink paintings were given to the master wood carver, who would use them as a template to cut the wood blocks to create a final ukiyo-e print. As these paintings were glued to the wood blocks, they were destroyed in the process, leaving few surviving works.


Perhaps ironically, after the late second half of the 19th century, when ukiyo-e started to be seen as passé in Japan, it grew in immense popularity in Europe. The genre was embraced especially by Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists such as Van Gogh, Monet, and Toulouse- Lautrec who were hugely influenced by ukiyo-e, especially in the use of color, composition, and perspective. The wide  influence these prints had on the Western art circles was described as Japonisme. This exhibition aims to bring together works that speak to a neo-Japonisme – how the tradition has inspired two contemporary artists from diverse cultural backgrounds.


Ushio Shinohara’s energetic drawings inspired by courtesans, kabuki actors, and other tropes of the ukiyo-e world are a fresh interpretation of the tradition by an action artist. We see action in Shinohara’s line when he is depicting samurai and courtesans: in conflict, as well as in lovemaking.


Jeffrey Spencer Hargrave’s Afro-Ukiyo-e series are inspired by the floating world images from Japan. An artist who has never been to Japan, Hargrave developed the idea for this series over two years of discussions with Ethan Cohen and looking at ukiyo-e drawings from Cohen’s personal collection. Hargrave uses imagery that recalls and subverts depictions of African American imagery in art history and places them into an imaginary Japanese context, constructing scenes of fantasy, at times humorous and at times disturbing. Hargrave, who identifies as a gay black man, brings together autobiographical and historical imagery, his fantasy of Japan, and Japanese floating world scenes.