Monsters at the museum: YŌKAI at Museo degli Innocenti

Monsters at the museum: YŌKAI at Museo degli Innocenti

Until November 3, step beyond the veil to experience ghosts, ghouls and all things otherworldly.

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Fri 14 Jun 2024 12:37 PM

Sweeping aside curtains, one after another, you duck and dodge before a long-haired, pointy-nosed creature meets you face to face. Eliciting both laughs and shrieks, this is your introduction to the world that’s set to grip you for the duration of your visit to the YŌKAI – Monsters, Spirits and other Hauntings in Japanese Prints exhibition at Museo degli Innocenti. The underground setting is unnervingly apt as we’re plummeted into a dimension inhabited by otherworldly creatures, on display until November 3.

Horror lovers bristle in anticipation for the tales of murder, betrayal and revenge, while art enthusiasts grasp the intricate details of the centuries-old Japanese prints. Above all, however, it’s young people who are going to be most catered to in this show curated by Paola Scrolavezza and Eddy Wertheim, with the innovative involvement of Vertigo Syndrome. Great efforts have been made to intrigue and excite younger visitors, with a treasure hunt for all little ones who visit, and a space for making their own monsters. Teens also get their turn with works by online sensation Giulia Rosa, whose seven digital artworks interpret seven legends.

Kunimasa Baido, Kabuki Theater Opera, Meibokou Sendai Hagi, 1873
Kunimasa Baido, Kabuki Theater Opera, Meibokou Sendai Hagi, 1873
Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, A false Murasaki and a country Genji, 1884
Yoshitoshi Tsukioka, A false Murasaki and a country Genji, 1884
Kunimasa Baido, Kabuki Theater Opera, Meibokou Sendai Hagi, 1873
Kunimasa Baido, Kabuki Theater Opera, Meibokou Sendai Hagi, 1873

Even from the press conference, it was evident this show holds something extra, with the words “Art exhibitions are boring”, followed by an enthusiastic explanation as to how the creators worked to make this something unforgettable, especially in order to bring young people closer to art. Curator Eddy Wertheim elaborates, “The works show us that even if you’re a good person, sometimes bad things happen, and it’s about how we overcome this and grow stronger. I hope that not only children learn from these stories, but us as well today”. 

Yokai Museo degli Innocenti

Threatening and disturbing figures loom in ethereal and elegant works, as legends around the likes of monster hunter Raikō and the humble fisherman Urashima Tarō are detailed in 18th and 19th century images, woodcuts, masks, weapons and armour, while Ukiyo-e prints hide hybrids, shape-shifters and demons in their elaborate explorations of what lies beyond the veil. The fabric dividers are visual representatives that add excitement, as you’re never quite sure what awaits on the other side. One room in particular is gasp-inducing, as beyond the heavy black curtain lies a long, narrow room lit by 100 candles, with the voice of a long-dead Samurai regaling visitors with his woesome tale. 

An ample events calendar accompanies the exhibition, with role-playing games and talks digging deeper into the artworks that go from the ancient through to the contemporary, with familiar characters from Pokémon and much-loved Manga getting dedicated displays.

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