PREVIEW: Spectra: Voicing Our Experience A Night of Spoken Art & Music

ArtsX UMMA will be putting on Spectra: Voicing Our Experience  A Night of Spoken Art & Music, featuring a wide array of participating student groups and individuals performing music, poetry, and song. Giving voice to the students’ stories, this event aims to display the diversity of experiences through art forms. Performances hosted at UMMA situated in the middle of the gallery spaces always prove to be beautiful; the sound echoes off the walls, amplifying and reverberating back at the audience to immerse the senses. If an event hosted in UMMA’s Apse surrounded by art and performance can’t tempt you enough, perhaps the hot cocoa bar will.

Thursday, February 16  /  7-10pm

University of Michigan Museum of Art

Free and open to the public

REVIEW: Japanese Prints of Kabuki Theater

Photo courtesy of the UMMA

Although the UMMA houses many intriguing exhibits, the Japanese Prints of Kabuki Theater has become a favorite for visitors of the museum. The art of kabuki theater, which is a classical form of Japanese drama that dates as far back as the 17th century, has been captured by colorful woodblock prints for the public to view. The exhibit currently showcases a collection of these prints, including those made by admired print-artists such as Utagawa Toyokuni and Toyohara Kunichika.

When I first stepped into the exhibit, I was greeted by oriental music and a large wall colored in blue, with text that described the art of kabuki theater. After reading the text, I make my way around the room—it was spacious, with clean white walls that had splashes of color from prints. These depictions of theater showcased famous actors and actresses in scenes from actual plays, as well as fictional ones. Some of the scenes included actors in disguise from enemies, lovers who were reunited, and battle scenes.

Photo courtesy of the UMMA
Photo courtesy of the UMMA

Among the collection of prints was a showcase for a bright red kimono with gold embroidery in the shape of various animals. This kimono was iconic for a specific kabuki actress, who was rarely seen wearing kimonos of other colors.
Next to the kimono was a TV that played a video recording of a kabuki theater performance from the late 1900s, a visual that seemed to bring the prints to life.

Overall, visiting the exhibit was a wonderful experience. I was enlightened of an aspect of Japanese culture that I did not know existed. Don’t miss the chance to view the exhibit for yourself—it will be at the UMMA until the 29th of this month, from 11AM – 5PM on Tuesdays through Saturdays, 12PM – 5PM on Sundays!

REVIEW: Tibetan Book Covers from the MacLean Collection

A Tibetan book cover featuring carvings of three divine figures and intricate decal, coated in gold-colored paint. Photo courtesy of the Crow Collection website

I had never thought of book covers as anything besides dusty, worn out blankets that hugged pages of a story together, but the special exhibit at the UMMA proved me wrong. Being the first ever exhibit in the United States to showcase Tibetan book covers, Protecting Wisdom: Tibetan Book Covers from the MacLean Collection, this collection is currently on display until April 2 of 2017, and so I took the opportunity to visit.

Expecting to see 8 x 11 cardboard covers encased in cloth or leather, I was greeted by wooden covers that measured two feet wide and about a foot tall; 33 or so of these were either situated on the gallery walls or in showcases. As I made my way through the gallery, I took in the intricacies of these Tibetan treasures: multiple gods were carved into these covers along with dragons, peacocks, floral decals, and so on. Paint in hues of gold, red, and green embellished the slabs of wood. Some of the detailing was so intricate that the cover was designed by several people.

Tibetan book cover
Photo courtesy of the Crow Collection website
Tibetan book cover
Photo courtesy of the Crow Collection website

The elaborate nature of these book covers is understood through its purpose. For Tibetan Buddhists, books are a divine presence where the Buddha lives and reveals himself, and so to honor him, detailed book covers were frequently commissioned. Tibetan book cover design has a history of more than a thousand years, and so these covers date back from anywhere in the 11th century to the 18th century. A gem of the exhibit is a wonderfully carved and painted book cover from the early 1290s.

I left the exhibit with a newfound respect for the art of designing book covers, especially the Tibetan book covers created by Buddhists. This exhibit is currently on display until the 2nd of April from 8:00am to 5:00pm from Tuesdays through Sundays, so please come out to view this gallery!

REVIEW: Artists of the Photo-Secession Gallery Tour at UMMA

When did photography become an art form? At some point, the technology for capturing images of people, places, and things developed enough that people could start adding artistic flair.

At the turn of the 20th century, a young Alfred Stieglitz had a radical idea that photography could be art, which clashed with ideas of older, more established members such as Charles Buadelaire, who considered photography nothing more than a “servant of the sciences and arts.”

Luckily for us, Mr. Stieglitz would have none of that. He formed the Camera Club of New York and started an avant-garde photography journal that changed how people saw photography.


These new artists, rather than simply pointing and shooting, used more artistic methods for their photographs. They took pictures with a soft focus to try and emulate the “look” of paintings. They used more expensive materials to get better contrast of lights and darks. They printed on Japanese paper, because nothing says classy quite like Japanese paper.

Seeing the pictures was enough to see the transition to photography as an art form, but going on a tour of the exhibit helped place the photos in a social context.

Our photo-secession-3stupendous tour guide compared two images of the Brooklyn bridge and pointed out how one was a standard picture of a bridge, while the other focused on the shapes and form of the structures of the bridge.

At the end, we learned about Stieglitz’s most famous work, The Steerage. He considered The Steerage to be his most important work because, while I only saw an interesting photograph with a lot going on, we learned that there was a deeper meaning.

The Steerage was one of the first photographs to make a social statement. Before the photograph of the protester in Tienanmen Square, or anything from Vietnam, there was a photo showing two separate classes in one photograph: the immigrants both literally and figuratively below the rich on the same ship.

The exhibit made it easy to see why opinions changed from viewing the camera as merely a gadget, to viewing it as a tool of the artist.

All the hard work put in by the photographers to distinguish their work as art, however, made me stop and think. In the era of iPhones and Instagram, where anyone can take a decent photo, are we regressing to a time where the photography is becoming a lesser art form?

PREVIEW: Japanese Prints of Kabuki Theater at the UMMA

1960_1_156The UMMA is currently displaying a collection of prints of Japanese Kabuki theater from their own collection.  Kabuki theater was popular during 18th and 19th century Japan, however it continues to draw viewers even today. These prints were of the most famous and influential Kabuki actors, who amassed many fans rabid for information about their private lives, much as fans behave towards their favorite celebrities now.  In order to sate that hunger, artists would create these colorful and dynamic wood-bock prints which often became wildly popular.

The exhibit will be open until January 29th, so make sure to swing by before it closes!  Tomorrow, Dec 4th, there will be a gallery talk from 2-3 PM for those interested in getting a more guided tour of the exhibition.


PREVIEW: Artists of the Photo-Secession Gallery Tour at UMMA

When did photography become an art? At some point, people took cameras and tried to capture people and places and things not simply for the sake of capturing them, but for the beauty of it. This was the beginnings of pictorialism.

As the UMMA web site states about the early pictorialist photographers:

Their poetic compositions drawn from contemporary life, combined with the use of expensive and labor-intensive printing materials such as platinum and gum bichromate, established these photographs as complex and nuanced works of high artistic quality.

The exhibition is open now and will remain open until March 5th.

Their next FREE upcoming gallery talk/tour is:

Sunday, December 11th at 2pm

Check out their calendar here for more information on the other upcoming gallery talks:

January 15th at 2 pm

February 19th at 2 pm