Munakata and the Disciples of Buddha

2 Mar — 29 Apr 2017 at the Ronin Gallery in New York, United States

22 MARCH 2017
Munakata and the Disciples of Buddha, Exhibition view. Courtesy of Ronin Gallery
Munakata and the Disciples of Buddha, Exhibition view. Courtesy of Ronin Gallery

Ronin Gallery is honored to present Munakata and the Disciples of Buddha during Asia Week 2017. This exhibition invites you to experience the woodblock prints of Shiko Munakata (1903 - 1975) and to discover the Buddhist roots of Japanese woodblock printing. Culminating in his iconic series Ten Great Disciples of the Buddha, the exhibition explores the vital interplay of artistic tradition and religious practice behind Munakata’s groundbreaking work. Starting with the origins of Japanese woodblock printing in the 12th century, to the ukiyo-e prints of the Edo and Meiji periods, the exhibition Munakata and the Disciples of Buddha places this innovative master of modern woodblock printmaking within centuries of tradition. Also on exhibit will be an exceptionally rare calligraphy kakejiku (scroll painting) by Munakata from the private collection of Munakata's granddaughter, Yoriko Ishii, as well as other important hand-colored works.

Shiko Munakata is internationally revered as Japan’s greatest modern print artist, renowned for his expressive lines, evocative use of monochrome, and the tangible spirit of his work. In the 1920s, he became active in the Sosaku Hanga or “creative print” community and the Mingei, or “folk art” movement, incorporating each ideology to create his own distinct style. The series Ten Disciples of Buddha not only marked a turning point in his career, earning first prize in international exhibitions held in Lugano (1952), Sao Paulo (1955) and grand prize at the 1956 Venice Biennale, but also conveys the inseparability of Munakata’s creativity and spirituality.

This connection between Buddhism and the woodblock print ties his work to the very origins of this medium. The influence of Buddhism courses through the history of the woodblock print. From the earliest ephemeral prints of Buddhist deities, to the vivid world of ukiyo-e, to the Munakata’s expressive, modern disciples, Munakata and the Disciples of Buddha considers a medium indivisible from its origin. As 12th century Buddhist monks printed as an act of devotion, Munakata engaged with his work on a spiritual level. A follower of Zen Buddhism, he embraced the practice of muga, or a spiritual state of selflessness, when he worked. As Munakata let the “mind go and the tool walk alone,” his work transcended basic stylistic and temporal characterization, connecting with centuries of woodblock printing to a pivotal moment in modern Japanese art. In his words, “others treat black as black ink…to me it is life itself.”