PASADENA — The USC Pacific Asia Museum is presenting two Japan-related exhibitions through Aug. 2.

“Ikko Style: The Graphic Art of Ikko Tanaka, which opens April 2, will present the work of Ikko Tanaka, one of the leading graphic designers in Japan in the second half of the 20th century.

Ikko Tanaka (1930-2002), “Close-up of Japan, London 1985” (detail), Japan, 1985, offset. Gift of Tanaka Ikko Design Room, 1990.9.5.

“Ikko Style” will provide a colorful look into how the artist’s ideas were visualized and transmitted to a broad audience. Over 40 posters will be on view, all of which are part of the museum’s permanent collection.

Tanaka’s style is provocative yet timeless, drawing visual idioms from his cultural background and redefining them with the collective imagination of the present time. Born in Nara, the cradle of Japanese civilization, educated in Kyoto, the imperial capital and the cultural hub of Japan, and starting his career in Osaka, the city of commerce and art patronage, Tanaka was well situated to be a successful graphic master in Tokyo, an international metropolis.

As a relentless promoter of visual expression, Tanaka strove to achieve universal aesthetic value beyond regional or cultural barriers, which can be seen in his countless designs of posters, logos, trademarks, books and packages. Through his vision, forms drawn from traditional ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) were reduced into striking abstract designs to promote cultural events. Using his aptitude for understanding visual elements from any form, Japanese written characters were transformed into effective and innovative graphic tools.

Through Tanaka’s celebrated work with fashion designers and corporations, including Hanae Mori and Issey Miyake and Mazda Corporation, Tanaka was able to bridge the gap between fine art and the commercial sector.

“Visualizing Enlightenment: Decoding Buddhist Iconography” presents an exceptional Amida Buddha from the Kamakura period (1185-1333). At over six feet tall, Amida Buddha is a rare example of large-scale sculpture from the period, and was executed using the yosegi technique, in which a single image is carved from multiple pieces of wood and then joined together from the inside.

Amida Buddha, Japan, Kamakura Period (1185-1333): First half of the 13th century, wood, lacquer, gilt and pigments, gift of Sharon Pierce in loving memory of her son, J. Christopher Johnson. Conservation funds provided by Sharon Pierce and the Collectors’ Circle, 2013.6.1.

Buddhist art comprises a tremendous range of objects from paintings to sculpture to ritual objects. Amida Buddha served as a powerful pedagogical tool to help devotees visualize the teachings and philosophical ideas of the religion.

Amida Buddha, meaning “Limitless Light” in Sanskrit, is the Buddha of the western Pure Land sect in East Asia. It is one of the most widely worshipped Buddhas in the Mahayana tradition due to a doctrine that assured salvation to commoners. With this prime example of Amida Buddha from the 13th century, this intimate exhibition in the Focus Gallery aims to explain some of the most common iconography of Buddhist art.

A third exhibition, “A New Way Forward: Japanese Hanga of the 20th Century,” which opened last year, will close on Sunday, April 19.

The last quarter of the 19th century brought profound changes in Japan as it transformed from a feudal society into a modern nation. Japanese artists went through equally fundamental changes as new theories were introduced from the other side of the world through books, magazines and increased travel by both Japanese and Westerners.

In the field of woodblock prints, the traditional ukiyo-e (pictures of the floating world) of the Edo and Meiji periods fell by the wayside, in favor of reinvigorated forms of printmaking as a means of artistic expression. Known as sosaku hanga (creative prints), artists in this group attempted to bridge “fine art,” a newly introduced Western concept, and “craft.”

Breaking away from the so-called ukiyo-e quartet system involving artists, carvers, printers and publishers, the artists in this movement designed, cut and printed their own images. Artists in the sosaku hanga movement found great inspiration from magazines that introduced the theories and styles of movements such as Impressionism, Art Nouveau and Avant-garde. On the other side of the spectrum, the shin hanga (new prints) movement endeavored to revitalize traditional ukiyo-e by maintaining the quartet system.

Watanabe Shozaburo (1885-1962), the driving force behind shin hanga, published prints by the artists he represented utilizing traditionally trained carvers and printers. Guided by this influential advocate, shin hanga artists embraced the past yet modernized their images to appeal to the Western audience and compete against the more Western-oriented sosaku hanga.

Closely tracking with the significant developments in Japanese political and social spheres of the early 20th century, the exhibition presents examples of shin hanga and sosaku hanga side-by-side in order to bring their shared aspects into focus for visitors, as well as their distinguishing characteristics. Major artists of the shin and sosaku hanga movements, including Kawase Hasui, Hiroshi Yoshida, Ito Shinsui, Kiyoshi Saito and Munakata Shiko, were included in two complete six-month rotations.

USC Pacific Asia Museum is located at 46 N. Los Robles Ave. in Pasadena. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is $10 general; $7 for students with valid ID and seniors (60+); free for children ages 12 and under; free for all museum members, USC faculty, staff and students with current ID; free for all visitors on the second Sunday of the month. For more information, call (626) 449-2742 or visit

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