In Japanese culture, repetition and copying are regarded as the basis for artistic creation. Far removed from the paradigm of originality in European modernism, in Japanese art imitation and duplication are a matter of course. These acts are understood as paying homage to early masters and are openly practiced as age-old pictorial traditions. The Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe Hamburg (MKG) is fortunate to have an outstanding collection of Japanese paint-ing and prints, which allows viewers to “peer over the shoulders” of these artists.
In the exhibition Copy & Paste. Repetition in Japanese Imagery, about 100 sketches, color woodcuts, hanging scrolls, books and folding screens from the East Asian Collection provide insights into the foundations of Japanese visual culture in the late Edo (1603–1868) and Meiji (1868–1912) periods. Based on these works, the show traces the creation, further development, distribution, and adaptation of pictorial motifs in Japanese culture to this day. Featured are outstanding Japanese woodblock print masters such as Katsushika Hokusai (1760–1849), Toyohara Kunichika (1835–1900) and Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1798–1861), along with important nineteenth-century painters including Kawanabe Kyōsai (1831–1889) and Suzuki Kiitsu (1796–1858). The works of these artists were a seminal influence for European painters around 1900 and still inspire artists worldwide today. A prime example is Hokusai’s Under the Wave off Kanagawa (1830–31), which is better known under the title The Great Wave and has been adapted artistically countless times and reproduced on a massive scale on postcards, mugs and T-shirts. Works by such diverse artists as Higuchi Akihiro (b. 1969), Yokoo Tadanori (b. 1936) and Horst Janssen (1929–1995) on view in the exhibition demonstrate the enduring impact of famous Japanese woodblock prints and paintings.