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It's All Done With Mirrors - and Exquisitely - At the Met's Show of Japanese Ukiyo-e Art


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I DON'T know why I keep forgetting the galleries set aside since 1987 for Japanese art in the Metropolitan Museum here. They are among the most handsomely designed and beautifully filled rooms to be found in this museum or anywhere else. Their space, lighting, and decor are totally in keeping with the art they display. In fact, nowhere else in the Metropolitan will one find so perfect a fusion of art, space, and interior architecture as one does in the galleries devoted to, and known as, ``The Arts of Japan.''

Perhaps I forget because I so seldom find myself in that area of the museum. The Metropolitan, after all, is so huge that entire sections of it can slip one's mind for years on end, only to be rediscovered when special exhibitions demanding one's attention are held in their galleries.

``Reflections of the Floating World: The Use of Mirror and Reflection in Ukiyo-e Art'' is such an exhibition. It is small, narrow in scope, and probably somewhat limited in appeal.

But, like the galleries within which it can be found, it is exquisite, in perfect taste, and wonderfully rewarding to visit. It includes colorful, often humorous woodblock prints by Hokusai, Utamaro, Hiroshige, and others; an album of brush-and-ink drawings by Hokusai and his disciples; two large albums of limited edition; privately distributed woodblock prints by various artists; and actual mirrors dating to the period of the prints.

The show is unusual and intriguing. It explores the use of the mirror, together with reflected images, in Japanese Ukiyo-e woodblock prints, whose name literally means ``pictures of the floating world.'' It became a very popular art form with Japan's merchant class in the 18th century.


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