60 Years of the CWAJ Print Show
Encouraged by the publisher Charles Tuttle and the Yōseido Gallery’s Abe Yūji, the publication of Oliver Statler’s Modern Japanese Prints: An Art Reborn inspired a print show and sale featuring works illustrated in the book. Held on the 22nd of October 1956, this was the very first CWAJ Print Show, which has been held annually ever since. The artists featured in the Print Show’s early years were pioneers of the so-called ‘Creative Print’ movement, known internationally as sōsaku hanga. These works were conceived, designed, and produced by a single artist, and represented a major break from woodblock prints made in the Edo period (1603–1868), which were produced as a coordinated effort between multiple craftspersons, including designers, carvers, and printers, and overseen by a commercial publisher. The new sōsaku hanga were characterized by individuality and freedom of expression, as Japanese artists incorporated elements from a variety of contemporary international art movements into their own practices.
The first show established a firm foundation for the participation of well-known artists in generating funds for CWAJ scholarships, helping to establish CWAJ as an important presence in the Japanese art community. While CWAJ grants help fund the efforts of young scholars, the Print Show supports both young and established artists by raising their profile in Japan and overseas. As the show has gained momentum, CWAJ has taken its exhibitions to a number of international locations, with shows in the U.S., Europe, Australia and New Zealand. A large traveling show in 1985-6 toured several venues in North America before being displayed at the British Museum in London, where an impression of each print was donated to the permanent collection. Siilarly, the 50th anniversary show in 2005 traveled to The Library of Congress, Washington D.C. in 2007, and the prints from the show joined the permanent collection after the close of the exhibition.
The CWAJ Print Show is notable for its globalism––the artists, jurors, and visitors to the exhibition and sale are all groups with international members, not to mention the composition of the CWAJ organization itself. These selection and exhibition processes bring young and old artists and their works into the same display space, a rare occurrence in Japan, while at the same time introducing or confirming the presence of these artists to an international, art-buying public. To this end, the catalogue, featuring full-color reproductions of all the prints, is a recognized reference for contemporary hanga.
There have been many changes to the show since its early incarnations, including the use of computerized sales systems, art handling procedures, and formal selection processes by international advisors in order to accommodate the increased number of submissions and selected prints. In 1985, CWAJ inaugurated the Art Grant, which evolved into the Artist-in-Residence program in 2011. Together with the Young Printmaker’s Award begun in 2005, these grants have helped support and sustain the efforts of talented printmakers. In 2015, CWAJ has offered a new prize to researchers of Japanese art to celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Print Show.
In 2008, the Print Show was also held in Kobe, and from then on, has been held every two years. In 2013 the Kobe show was held in collaboration with the Kobe Biennale. Other important developments include the Associate Show, initiated in 1968, which has allowed for the exploration of themes and issues separate from the main exhibition. Further, since 1996, Hands-on Art displays have encouraged visually impaired visitors to appreciate prints in new ways, and have promoted understanding amongst all the Print Show’s guests.
The CWAJ Print Show has been in the unique position of reflecting and recording trends and developments in contemporary Japanese printmaking for the past sixty years, and represents one of CWAJ’s most significant achievements.