Emerging from a two-year construction project, the William Benton Museum of Artat the University of Connecticut in Storrs is opening its first summer exhibitions since 2009, and as if to meet pent up demand, three shows open Tuesday.
The emphasis is on a lovely collection of colored woodcuts from 19th-century Japan, combining the museum's recent gift of works focused on Japanese theater with landscapes lent from St. Joseph's College's museum, and rounded out by Benton acquisitions.
What were once printed as souvenirs of Kabuki productions now stand as art on their own, with intricate lines, swirls of patterns, alluring color and innovative printing techniques, even on the most common of images, such that the swords and metal shine with metallic-flecked paint.
Many of the images are by Konishi Hirosada, who worked in the theater community of Osaka in the early 19th century. He often presented key scenes from Kabuki productions, alongside close-ups of the actors, who were also widely known at the time. In Kabuki makeup, their often scowling faces are rendered flat, their relatively tiny hands often clenched in passion or clutching swords.
The images were acquired over the years by George Lincoln, UConn Class of 1960, and his passion for woodcuts (and for donating to college museums) was matched by the Rev. John Kelley, who collected landscapes and scenes of everyday life in Japan caught at about the same time.
His collection, donated to the St. Joseph College Art Gallery in 1966, includes Utagawa Hiroshige's 1857 New Year's image of a haunting skulk of foxes gathered below a garment nettle tree, under the stars at Oji, and several of his views of Mt. Fuji from varying parts of the landscape.
The Cat in the Hat would never be mistaken for a Kabuki actor (though it would be a good stunt for him and Things 1, 2 and 3). But a second new exhibit, "The Art of Dr. Seuss" opens in an adjoining gallery Tuesday.
It features more than a dozen iconic characters created by Springfield-born Theodor Seuss Geisel, in drawings, sculptures and paintings. Organized in conjunction with a summer performance of "Seussical: The Musical," opening on campus June 16 by the Connecticut Repertory Theatre, the exhibit also includes his own version of trophy heads and a few later, whimsical paintings.
The Benton also takes the opportunity to show off a number of works from its own eclectic holdings. "The Sum of Its Parts: Selections from the Benton Collections" range from Dutch and Italian etchings from the mid-17th century (including one from Rembrandt) to new acquisitions from Peter Waite and Alfredo Jaar. It's an opportunity to show an impressive new woodcut and relief print from 1983 by Frank Stella, "Imola Five II," which the museum was given last year. It hangs next to the previously acquired Stella, "Steller's Albatross," bought when it was new in 1977.
Representative works from Robert Henri's early-20th-century followers, known as The Eight, are on display, as are works by feminist art from Kiki Smith and Nancy Spero, among others, and a few examples of German pop art, including works by Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke and Dieter Roth.
The three shows run from Tuesday through Aug. 7.
Also This Week
The traditional Japanese woodcut as created by Keiji Shinohara is part of a show of five Connecticut printmakers opening Wednesday at the Slipe Gallery in Taub Hall at the University of Hartford's Hartford Art School.
"Focus on Process," presented by Paper New England, will also feature work by Bryan Nash Gill, Chet Kempczynski, Michael Levine and Robert Parker. Several of the artists will demonstrate their processes at an opening reception June 3 from 6 to 9 p.m. The show continues through June 30.
A reception is set for Saturday from 1 to 5 p.m. for "Tearing Silk," a show of recent silkscreens by Miguel Trelles at the Broad Street Gallery, 1283 Broad St., Hartford. The show continues through June 18.
Among the current shows at the UConn Health Center in Farmington are "Epic Shadows," which features Indian shadow puppets from the collection of the Ballard Institute and Museum of Puppetry at UConn, and "Nature's Watercolors," an exhibit of paintings by Sharon Kocay of West Hartford.
"Strictly Fanciful," a show of paintings by Terry Lennox, opens Wednesday at the Silver Circle Gallery in Putnam. An opening reception is set for June 3 from 6 to 8 p.m.; the show continues through June 26.
A watercolor show by Moodus artist James R. Riccio, "In Natural Light," opens at the Gallery at the Mill House in Chester Wednesday. A reception is set June 4 from 2 to 5 p.m.; the show continues through June 30.
The Paradise City Arts Festival is this weekend at the Three County Fairgrounds in Northampton. The event has been named one of the top three art fairs nationwide and the only New England event in a list of top 10 art fairs nationwide. Among the 260 artists — including 19 from Connecticut — are 40 new exhibitors. It runs Saturday through Monday.
Also in Massachusetts, a new show that may be more suited to Labor Day Weekend than Memorial DayWeekend: "The Workers," opening Saturday at the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art in North Adams, features the work of 25 artists interpreting the way labor is represented today. That Mass MoCA is housed in a huge factory whose failure affected the region underscores the show's theme. A reception is set from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. Saturday; it runs through March 12.
In conjunction with the exhibit, an area called "I Am Searching for Field Character," run by the Bureau for Open Culture operated by James Voorhies, opens today, promised to be part beer garden, part work space, part slideshow stage.
The Farmington Valley Arts Center in Avon has canceled its planned Fire It Up! Summer kick-off bash Friday because of forecasts for rain. No makeup date has been set.
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