Little Japan

10 January 2024

In 2024, Kraków celebrates Japanese art – mainly its early emanations, but also contemporary works.

Dorota Dziunikowska
Kraków Culture

In 1831, the master of the Japanese woodblock printmaking technique ukiyo-e Katsushika Hokusai created the first item in the series Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, which captivated European artists and art lovers a few decades later. The Great Wave Off Kanagawa is an iconic example of Japanese art, recognisable the world over. Can we imagine present-day Kraków without the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology with its distinctive roof, inspired by the work and perfectly blending into its surroundings? Manggha celebrates its 30th anniversary in 2024!

In 1987, when the acclaimed Polish filmmaker Andrzej Wajda – fascinated by Japanese culture – was awarded the prestigious Kyoto Prize, he decided to dedicate it to building a new museum in Kraków. His aim was to provide a venue for the extraordinary collection of art of the Far East donated to the National Museum in Kraków by Feliks “Manggha” Jasieński in 1920. The contemporary building by the Vistula was opened on 30 November 1994, and over the next decade it served as the Manggha Centre of Japanese Art and Technology – Branch of the National Museum in Krakow. They name was intended as homage to one of the greatest donors to the museum and public art collections in Poland in general. Manggha has been functioning as an independent public cultural institution since 2005; it was granted museum status in 2007 and two years later it was bequeathed with the National Museum’s Collection of Art of the Far East.

The celebrations of the anniversary kicked off a year early with the launch of the monographic exhibition of works by Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858) – one of the last great artists of the ukiyo-e style. Kraków holds one of the largest collections of his works, including over 2,000 prints. The exhibition Hiroshige 2023. From the Collections of Feliks “Manggha” Jasieński, open until mid-2024, is centred around themes dominating Hiroshige’s works, such as nature, way and place; it is accompanied by motifs marking new paths in contemporary art: rain, manga, comics and shadow play. The great influence of Japanese woodblock printing on European art from Feliks Jasieński’s day is illustrated by juxtapositions of Japanese landscapes with those painted by artists representing the Young Poland movement, including Ferdynand Ruszczyc, Jan Stanisławski and Julian Fałat.

Utagawa Hiroshige,
The Great Sanjō Bridge over the Kamo River, from The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō cycle, ca. 1834

In spring, the exhibition will be supplemented by a multimedia presentation of the artist’s work held as part of the project Hiroshige. A Journey Deep into Woodcuts (25 April – 3 November 2024), with Kaja Mucha, Natalia Buchta Stochel, Wiktor Wiater and Klaudia Ptasińska-Wajda bringing their interpretations of the most famous works of the author of the cycles One Hundred Famous Views of Edo and The Fifty-three Stations of the Tōkaidō.

In autumn, we move to contemporary times: the exhibition Hommage à Akira Kurosaki (28 September – 11 November 2024), held as part of the Main Programme of the International Print Triennial in Kraków 2024, showcases this great master of woodcuts and frequent visitor to our city. Kurosaki,  who passed away five years ago, intertwined traditional Japanese techniques with their contemporary iterations.

Jasieński’s collection held at the Manggha Museum includes around 6,500 examples of Japanese art, including 4,600 woodcuts, around 1,000 militaria, paintings, sculptures, ceramics, fabrics, lacquer and enamel items and bronzes. To introduce this collection to the wider public, the museum’s permanent exhibition shows selected themes From the Japanese Collection of Feliks “Manggha” Jasieński; the presentation culminates with the opening of a major exhibition showcasing the most important Japanese and Far Eastern artworks, opening on the day of the museum’s 30th anniversary.

In 2024, we will also see an exhibition of contemporary Japanese art and presentations of bonsai, ikebana and suiseki, with an extensive programme of accompanying events such as workshops, competitions and conferences prepared jointly with academic centres in Poland and Japan.

Text published in the 4/2023 issue of the "Kraków Culture" quarterly.
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