Tokyo Art & Photography exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford

The Ashmolean Museum Tokyo: Art & Photography’s new exhibition, which launched this week, is a celebration of one of the world’s most creative, dynamic and fascinating cities.

It is an exploration of Japan’s capital through the dynamic arts it has generated over 400 years and the first exhibition in Britain to showcase both historical and contemporary art about Tokyo.

Perhaps more than any other city in the world, Tokyo has had to constantly rebuild and reinvent itself due to the devastating impact of natural and man-made disasters.

The exhibition highlights artists and audiences who have long responded to the changing urban landscape and reflected personal experiences of living in a place undergoing intense regeneration and development.

Tokyo exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum

It tells the stories of a resilient population who, in a time of destruction and renewal, have made Tokyo so famous with their insatiable appetite for the new and innovation.

With over 37 million people today, the Tokyo metropolitan area is unrivaled for its size and population, but the city has its roots in a small fishing village where the Edo warrior clan built a fortified residence in the 12th century.

For a long time, it was little more than a remote garrison town compared to the sophistication of Kyoto’s imperial headquarters. But in 1603, Edo became the de facto capital of Japan.

Within decades, the brash new city had transformed into a thriving metropolis – not just a political and commercial center, but a city with its own distinct culture, fostered by samurai patrons and ordinary townspeople.

Oxford Mail: Tokyo exhibition at the Ashmolean MuseumTokyo exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum

It has remained a center of artistic innovation ever since, and in the late 19th century it was renamed the city we know today as Tokyo.

Tokyo: Art & Photography will span the past four centuries, from rolls and screens to avant-garde interdisciplinary art collectives, and many works have never been shown in this country before.

It features iconic woodblock prints by Hokusai and Hiroshige to contemporary photography by Ninagawa Mika and Moriyama Daido and includes works on loan from Japan, new commissions, as well as treasures from the Ashmolean’s own collections.

Oxford Mail: Tokyo exhibition at the Ashmolean MuseumTokyo exhibition at the Ashmolean Museum

The exhibition is co-curated by Ashmolean’s Dr. Lena Fritsch (modern and contemporary art) and Dr. Clare Pollard (Japanese art), who both lived, studied and worked in Tokyo. Lena and Clare have also co-authored a publication to accompany the exhibition available now at the Ashmolean Museum and online store.

Dr. Xa Sturgis, Director of the Ashmolean, said: “With its tumultuous history and rich and diverse artistic output, Tokyo is one of the most exciting cultural hotspots in the world. By showcasing this exceptional array of artworks from the 17th century to today’s installations, as well as valuable works on loan from Japan, this exhibition promises to be an exciting insight into Tokyo, one of most extraordinary cities in the world.

The exhibition is made possible thanks to The Shikanai Foundation, The Ishibashi Foundation and The Tokyo Exhibition Circle

l Tokyo: Art & Photography runs until January 3. Reservation is essential at ashmolean.org/Tokyo

Tracey L. Sweeney