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The Formation of the Japanese Print Collection at the Art Institute of Chicago: Frank Lloyd Wright and the Prairie School

April 22, 2017–July 23, 2017
Gallery 107

As an architect, art dealer, and designer, Frank Lloyd Wright’s interest in Japan is well known. In 1893, his visits to Japan’s national pavilion at the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition had a lasting effect on the young architect. He first went to Japan in 1905, and returned from the trip with a large selection of prints, many of which he intended to sell. Later, he resided in Japan while working on Tokyo’s Imperial Hotel, giving him the chance to deepen his appreciation of Japanese nature and culture as seen in woodblock prints. While he did not return to Japan after the hotel’s completion in 1922, he continued to collect and sell prints until his death in 1959.

Frank Lloyd Wright lent Japanese prints to the Art Institute consistently, but his most important exhibition was undoubtedly a large show of prints he mounted at the museum in 1908 with an installation of specially designed frames and furniture. For the first time in Chicago, visitors were treated to a staggering array of prints from a variety of artists and time periods. The majority of the works on view were lent by Frank Lloyd Wright himself.

Clarence Buckingham, whose name graces the Japanese print gallery at the Art Institute, purchased several prints from Frank Lloyd Wright for his personal collection in 1911. For this sale, and throughout Buckingham's years as a collector, he sought the advice of fellow collector and art consultant Frederick Gookin. Following Buckingham's death, Gookin organized the Buckingham collection for accession by the Art Institute and held the position as curator of Japanese art until 1936.

This exhibition comprises Japanese prints originally purchased from Frank Lloyd Wright, photos of the 1908 exhibition, as well as presentation drawings by Wright and his studio. Many of the drawings are by talented draftswoman Marion Mahoney Griffin and show the incorporation of elements found in Wright’s Japanese prints. In this collaborative exhibition, works drawn from the Department of Asian Art, Ryerson and Burnham Library, and the Department of Architecture and Design will be on view.

An installation view of the 1908 Art Institute of Chicago exhibition of Japanese color prints, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The Art Institute of Chicago Archives.