Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Exhibition Catalogues and Books with Reproductions

Exhibition catalogues extended the life of the exhibition beyond its temporal frame and site. Taiwan Government-General Library had in its collection all the annual catalogues of the official salon in Tokyo, the Ministry of Education Fine Arts Exhibition and its successor, the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts Exhibition. Also, the library acquired a copy of the Dai 13 kai Chōsen bijutsu tenrankai zuroku (Thirteenth Korea Fine Arts Exhibition catalogue, 1934), bringing the colonized Korean art world closer to the art interested readers in Taiwan.

Similarly, books with reproductions (gashū) served as reference material for aspiring artists. One such important source available at the Taiwan Government-General Library was the twenty-volume set of Shinbi taikan (Selected relics of Japanese art), published between 1899-1908 by Shinbi shoin. A true tour de force of printing skills, this extensive oversize publication featured black and white photographs (collotypes) of highest quality by Ogawa Kazumasa as well as multi-color woodblock print reproductions of selected artworks in Japanese temples and private collections from the earliest times until the Tokugawa period. Each reproduced artwork was accompanied by a one-page explanatory text of iconographic analysis in Japanese and in English. The series laid the foundations for research on Japanese art and its success depended on collaboration between the private and the government sector facilitated through its founder, Tajima Shiichi (1868-1924) (Satō 2011, 159).

Somewhat contrary to the title, the selection included also Chinese artworks. The English preface to the first volume was penned by an American art historian of Japanese art Ernest Fenollosa (1853-1908). In this text, he compares Japanese art to Italian art and by focusing on artworks held by Buddhist temples makes an argument for the importance of Japanese art to a Western readership. Also, he suggests that Japan was a custodian “of ancient masterpieces of Oriental art.” This idea was promoted by the writings of Okakura Kakuzō (also known as Tenshin, 1863-1913), an influential scholar and curator of Japanese art, and would be taken up after his death by cultural nationalists in the 1930s.

Shinbi taikan's high quality of printing cannot be overstated. Yes, it is true that books with reproductions were only imperfect vehicles. Books distorted the sense of scale and could only approximate the true color and texture of artworks. The publishers of Shinbi taikan dealt with these issues by using the new technology of the collotype to their advantage when reproducing three dimensional works and ink painting. Then, they utilized the existing expertise of woodblock print makers to recreate colored paintings through woodblock printing, recreating color effects of the golden leaf and all details such as stains or minor damage to the painting surface. While a careful observer will recognize the flat-like quality of color applied characteristic of a woodblock print, the quality of each reproduction was astonishing. (On the use of printing technology in reproducing artwork in China see: Liu 2014.) Moreover, the practice itself recalled earlier painting manuals from the Tokugawa period, which were also printed through woodblocks and widely used by artists.

Books served as vehicles and the library as an infrastructure, connecting the art world of Taiwan to that in the Japan. The advancements of photography and the high quality of woodblock printing helped facilitate circulation of images and the making of artistic canons. As there was no art school established in Taiwan, options for aspiring artists were limited. The library provided artistic knowledge in book form and the opportunity view quality reproductions of artworks. ;At the same time, its selection of books prioritized Japanese language publications and its categorization schema centered art canons made in Japan.

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