Hokusai Exposed in Spitalfields

Hokusai - Red Fuji in Fine Weather

There’s a bit of a buzz around about the Hokusai Exposed exhibition at the Old Truman Brewery in Spitalfields. It describes itself as an ‘immersive exhibition of “recreated” works by Hokusai’ which sounds a bit out of the ordinary so I was keen to get down there and see what it’s all about. Starting with finding out just what it means to “recreate” a work of art.

It turns out that it involves using cutting-edge digital imaging technology to reproduce original works, restoring the colour and vitality that has been lost over time. Having started with Vermeer, Dr Shin-ichi Fukuoka of Aoyama Gakuin University moved on to Hokusai, one of the greatest of woodblock print artists, and his series of thirty-six views of Mount Fuji.

Hokusai Exposed

The exhibition is in two parts; upstairs is a display of the recreated works, UV printed onto canvas. While it’s good to see the full set of thirty-six together, they are conventionally displayed as in a normal gallery.

Hokusai Exposed

It would have been interesting to see more analysis of the process and a side-by-side comparison with faithful reproductions of the originals. However, all your favourites are here (Great Wave off Kanagawa, anyone?), sometimes shown on a much larger scale than the original prints. For me, it was the chance to see the less popular images that was most enjoyable, like this print, Hakone Lake in Sagami Province,

Hokusai Exposed

Or this one, Honganji Temple at Asakusa.

Hokusai Exposed

The fun starts downstairs, in the ‘rebirthing canal’. This is dark – very dark – but you’re given a little Japanese lantern to light your way around the various rooms.

Hokusai Exposed

There is, inevitably, a shunga (erotic art) room, which I’m afraid I rather skipped over, being shunga-d out after the British Museum exhibition. But one fun feature is that some shunga images are in 3D and you’re given a pair of those old-style cardboard 3D glasses, with one red and one green lens, on the way in.

The Kaidan (ghost) room offers a welcome opportunity to see some of Hokusai’s humorous images of ghosts. In spite of the spooky soundtrack they’re not very frightening so if you’re looking for a Halloween night out, go for somewhere creepier.

The best of this section is the large screen on which a sequence of Hokusai’s images is projected. This gives a close up view and brings out the zinging colours of the recreations.

Hokusai Exposed

Hokusai Exposed

Hokusai Exposed

The show zooms in on details from Hokusai’s work, both from the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji series and others. It’s quite revealing – for instance it illustrates how often Hokusai includes little groups of picnickers in the background (or foreground).

Hokusai Exposed

For shunga fans, it includes the notorious Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife (the one with an octopus doing unmentionable things).

On the way out there is a sake bar and a well-stocked gift shop.

Hokusai Exposed

The exhibition runs until 17th November. Entry costs £5 (kids under 11 go in free but aren’t allowed in the shunga part) and you can pre-book tickets on the Hokusai Exposed website. It’s open Sunday to Thursday 10am to 6pm, Friday and Saturday 10am to 9pm. Finding it in the large Old Brewery complex is a little tricky – it’s on Dray Walk, next to the Casio G-Shock shop.

Hokusai Exposed

8 thoughts on “Hokusai Exposed in Spitalfields

  1. The idea that they would recreate works in this manner really interests me and I have to wonder if we’ve got it right this time? I’m sure we do but when I visited Sforza Castle in Milan, they showed us a section of da Vinci’s Sala Delle Asse fresco which had been retouched about 100 years ago in garish, Art Nouveau tones. They’ve had to chip away faithfully at the retouches to reveal the far more subtle tones of da Vinci’s original creation.


  2. that is such an awesome idea for a hokusai exhibit. ukiyo-e, the woodblock print style of art hokuksai was so famous for, was specifically designed to be mass produced for almost no cost. i think it is very true to the art form to reproduce the artwork in a new and modern way. i would like to think hokusai would be proud.

    cool post, i enjoyed reading it.


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