The DART Board: In San Francisco

By Peggy Roalf   Wednesday August 14, 2019


“Elaborate Japanese tattoos can resemble colorful garments,” Sarah Thompson writes in the book, Tattoos in Japanese Prints, “covering the body from the neck to the elbows and knees, sometimes with a bare strip down the center of the chest so that the tattoos can be concealed with clothing or partially or fully revealed, as desired.” She points out that, when it comes to inking the body, many tattoo aficionados “consider the Japanese tradition to be the very finest in the world for its detail, complexity, and compositional skill.” Above: Toyohara Kunichika. Actors Ichimura Kakitsu IV as AsahinaTobei, Nakamura Shikan IV as Washi no Chokichi, and Sawamura Tossho II as Yume no Ichibei, 1868. Photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston. 

More than 60 superb prints by artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797–1861) and his contemporaries, from the noted collection of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, are on view at San Francisco’s Asian Art Museum until Sunday. Kuniyoshi’s influential print series One Hundred and Eight Heroes of the Popular Water Margin (1827–1830) explores the interplay between ink on paper and ink on skin, illustrating hero-bandits from a 14th-century Chinese martial-arts novel—a classic aha moment of art into life and life into art.

The strong link between tattoo art and color woodblock prints dates back to the late 1820s, when, as Thompson explains in the book, the artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi (1797-1861), known as “Kuniyoshi”, began releasing images in his print series One Hundred and Eight Heroes of the Popular Water Margin.

Based on a late-14th-century Chinese martial-arts tale about the adventures of bandits in the late Northern Song era, Water Margin (also called “Suikoden”), showed the protagonists with elaborately tattooed bodies. Left: Japanese artist unknown, collotype showing a kabuki actor, circa 1910s-20s; photo © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston)

The success of Kuniyoshi’sWater Margin series helped boost popular interest in tattoos. Thompson writes that some of the most in-demand motifs for body-inking during the artist’s time included dragons, demon masks, severed heads, and assorted ghosts and monsters. Water Margin made Kuniyoshi a star of the ukiyo-egenre, or “pictures of the floating world,” referring to kabukiand other popular entertainments, and the life of the pleasure quarters of the Edo period (1603-1868).

The craze for tattoos in Japan lasted until the early Meiji period (1868–1912), when the Japanese government prohibited them as part of its effort to modernize the country. Woodblock prints are some of the best documentation that has survived of real-life tattoos of 19th-century Japan, and they continue to provide models for tattoo artists today.

Tattoos in Japanese Prints ends on Sunday, August 18. Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin Street, San Francisco, CA Info


Opening Friday, August 16

Nome Edonna | Con Theory, 7-10 pm. Mirus Gallery, 540 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA Info


Looking Back | Ten Years of Pier 24 Photography. Pier 24, The Embarcadero, San Francisco, CA Info

Mark Ruwedel | Westward the Course of Empire; Overland to California | Commemorating the Transcontinental Railroad. California Historical Society, 678 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Alessandro Cassolini, Studies of Putti in various Poses (recto): Study of a Male and Female Figure, Study of A Face (verso), 1500-1600s; Hosfelt Gallery


Through August 17

Between Them: Drawings  Ruth Asawa, Rina Banerjee, Bruce Conner, Tim Hawkinson, Nam June Paik, Patricia Piccinini + 61 more. Hosfelt Gallery, 260 Utah Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Lee Friedlander | Signs. Fraenkel Gallery, 49 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Lewis Watts | Photographs.  Rena Bransten Gallery, 1275 Minnesota Street Info

Raymond Meeks | Sonder. Casemore Kirkeby, 1275 Minnesota Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Through August 18

Catherine Wagner | Paradox Observed. San Jose Museum of Art, 110 S. Market Street, San Jose, CA Info

Through August 23

Richard Prince | High Times. Gagosian, 657 Howard Street, San Francisco, CA Info Left: Richard Prince, Untitled (2017-18). © Richard Prince; Photo: Jena Cumbo

Through August 24

Summer Sessions Part II | Brianna Tadeo, Kija Lucas, Rachelle Reichert. Anglim Gilbert Gallery, 1275 Minnesota Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Present Objects | Clare Strand, Lebohang Kganye, Liza Ambrossio, Rachel Phillips, Julia Goodman. Equinom Gallery, 1295 Alabama Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Through August 25

The Art of Peace. Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, 701 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Through August 30

Sara VanDerBeek | Roman Women. Altman Siegel Gallery, 49 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Summertime… Gordon Parks, Julia Fullerton-Batten, Wesaam Al-Badry, Aida Mulunch, Hendrick Kerstens. Jenkins Johnson Gallery, 464 Sutter Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Through August 31

Contemporary works by Tauba Auerbach, Cecily Brown, Sarah Crowner, Juhn Currin, Danny Fox, Shara Hughs, William Kentridge, Alicia McCarthy. Berggruen Gallery, 10 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Yamamoto Masao | Bonsai Microcosmos Macrocosms. Robert Koch Gallery, 49 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Don’t Touch My Circles | Works by Kim Beck, Kevin Cooley, Nicki Green, Bill Jacobson, Jana Sophia Nolle, Stephanie Syjuco, Marie Watt. Catherine Clark Gallerly, 248 Utah Street, Can Francisco, CA Info

Queer Voices | Paperbacks and Periodicals Forging Community. American Bookbinding Museum, 355 Clementina Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Right: Wayne Thiebault, Land Cloud, 2011; at Crown Point Press

Through August 31

Likenesses | Works by Mauricio Anzeri, Kota Ezawa, Mike Henderson, Thah Heydari, Matt Lipps, Alme Mpane, Shirin Neshat. Haines Gallery, 49 Geary Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Summer Choices | Works by Anne Appleby, William Bailey, Robert Bechtle, Brad Brown, John Chiara, Richard Diebenkorn, Leonardo Drew, Marcel Dzama, Jacqueline Humphries, Al Held, Joan Jonas, Tom Marioni, Ed Ruscha, Wayne Thiebaud, Patricia Treib, Charline von Heyl, and William T. Wiley. Crown Point Press, 20 Hawthorne Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Through September 1

Pushing West | The Photography of Andrew J. Russell. Oakland Museum of California, 1000 Oak Street, Oakland, CA Info

Unlimited | Recent Gifts from the William Goodman and Victoria Belco Photography Collection. BAMFA, 2155 Center Street, Berkeley, CA Info

Through September 2

Andy Warhol—From A to B and Back Again. SFMOMA, 151 Third Street. San Francisco, CA Info

Through September 20

New Beginnings | California. Scott Nichols Gallery, 450 1stStreet East/Suite g, Sonoma, CA Info


Planning Ahead

Wednesday, September 4

The Sacred Star of Isis and Other Stories | Photography by Adama Delphine Fawundu. Museum of the African Diaspora, 685 Mission Street, San Francisco, CA Info

Thursday, September 19

For the second time this year, SFMOMA is opening the museum free of charge all day on Thursday, Sept 19, as part of the Culture for Community initiative — a coalition of more than a dozen Yerba Buena neighborhood arts and cultural institutions. Don’t miss out! Tickets are free, but an RSVP is highly encouraged. Info