Can you tell us a bit about your work as an art historian? My main job is that I head the Department for Japanese and Korean Art at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and oversee around 8,000 works of art, one of the largest collections of Japanese art in the world. In this capacity I have 16 galleries for Japanese art that need to be rotated and also curate special exhibitions, two open with a total of almost 300 works. One of these exhibitions actually features some of the prints illustrated in this book. I also search for art that my museum should acquire and assist collectors. Apart from that, I write essays, books (now 12 total), and give lectures (in Kansas City at the Nelson Atkins Museum e.g.).
Which of the places in your book have you travelled to and what did you enjoy when you were there? Lots of them. The food! And I particularly enjoyed the temples and shrines in Kyoto and Kamakura (going into the big Buddha in Kamakura through the underground tunnel).
Looking back, which experiences, jobs and personality traits do you think have really helped you? Certainly being ‘international’ really broadens my mind. I have a master’s degree from Germany, a PhD from the Netherlands, my research for that I did in Japan which was a terrific experience. I’ve been in the US for 7 and a half years, now at a major institution truly committed to Japanese art with the best resources possible for a museum. And then my fiancée is from Sydney, opening a whole new world for me.
What were some of the most important moments when writing this book? I learned a lot about the geography and development of Tokyo because I searched for prints of areas that are popular today but had to realise that they are not necessarily subject of prints because they weren’t that interesting back then.
What do you admire most about Japanese woodblock prints? That you will always find something new that sparks your interest when you are looking at a print. They never bore you. The intriguing compositions, the vibrant colors, the enticing subjects. Prints are just great fun.
What would you most like to ask Hokusai or Hiroshige? So much research has been conducted on these two artists that my questions for them would not be about them personally. Hokusai I would ask who Sharaku was because we still don’t know for sure and the Sharaku prints came out while Hokusai was active as a print designer as well, so he could know. Hiroshige I would query about his contemporary Kunisada and what kind of a person he was. Kunisada was the focus of my PhD thesis and him and Hiroshige collaborated on a number of projects so I’m certain that they knew each other pretty well.
Do you have a favourite museum or art gallery? It really depends on the exhibitions that is on. The Freer/Sackler in DC had a phenomenal exhibition on Kano Kazunobu a few years ago that I enjoyed a lot. During my childhood, I was most impressed by the V&A and the Natural History Museum in London.
Do you collect anything? Yes, I have the collector bug. I started with stamps and metal caps of bottles in high school. Now it is Japanese art, especially prints, paintings, and ceramics and I also developed a love for African battle shields.
What is something that most people might be surprised to know about you? Maybe that I collect African shields?
What are you working on next? I just published another book on prints that accompanies my new exhibition, ‘Seven Masters: 20th-Century Japanese Woodblock Prints from the Wells Collection’. Now I’m working on a new exhibition catalog on contemporary Japanese lacquer sculptures as well as a book on the Kisokaido print series by Hiroshige and Eisen.
Read my review of ‘Japan Journeys’ here.