Pop and block 

Sangre's Japanese exhibits unveil a stunning tag team of contemporary and traditional

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There are two typical facets of Japanese art: the calm, sophisticated traditional sect of old, and the poppy, modern, ultra-cute of today. Seemingly incongruous, they have more in common than meets the eye.

For its newest show on Japanese culture and art, the Sangre de Cristo Arts Center and the neighboring Buell Children's Museum recognized this duplicity.

"We played off the traditional and the contemporary," says interim curator Trisha Fernandez.

Up front in the Hoag Gallery is the highlight of the whole show: "Ukiyo-e: The Floating World." An unassuming gallery houses the premier compilation of traditional woodblock print masterpieces in the West, on loan from Colorado State University. These are big names, artists whose images adorn calendars and coffee mugs. On display are works by Hiroshige, Hokusai and Utamaro, and also woodblock reproductions by the mysterious artist Sharaku, whose identity remains a topic of debate by historians.

While many of the prints are polished landscapes, several derive from studies by the artists. Some small prints by Hokusai depict peasants and traders laughing, their bodies in awkward poses, over a joke embedded in the picture.

From the most flamboyant Kabuki portrait to a simple flower print, the Japanese display demonstrates an intense sense of craftsmanship. Throughout the museum's galleries, attention to detail is prevalent in the works of regional Japanese-American artists, a dazzling kimono collection and ceramics inspired by simple Japanese aesthetics.

Fast-forward a hundred years in the Sangre's Buell Children's Museum, whose stance, according to Fernandez, is to display "what you would see on the streets of Japan." That means cutesy, furry creatures with big eyes and bigger smiles and a manga (comics) bookstore. Blowing through this seemingly lowbrow half of the exhibit, though, is not an option, especially if you're with children; they can try on a kimono, conduct a tea ceremony with plastic tea sets on tatami mats, and peer into cases of Japanese dolls and games.

While the Buell's offerings represent a big shift from the calm museum next door, they are no less legitimate. Both buildings present an excellent angle on Japanese art and culture for all ages to enjoy. Even teenagers engrossed in manga can appreciate anime's roots that lie in traditional Ukiyo-e, and stuffy art types like me can enjoy the furry cat-bus a large, yellow, faux-fur-upholstered play bus.

Jump to Japan is a full experience of Japan, which escapes stereotypes and instead paints an accurate portrait of old and new. From the dramatic restraint of traditional arts to the rush of in-your-face pop art, a legacy of elegance and humor continues to thrive.

Jump to Japan

Sangre de Cristo Arts Center and the Buell Children's Museum,

210 N. Sante Fe Ave., Pueblo

Through Sept. 1; Hours: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Tickets: $4 for adults and $3 for children; call 719/295-7200 or visit sdc-arts.org for more information.


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