Three exhibitions opening Friday, Jan. 16, at the Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library highlight the diversity and richness of the library’s collections, exploring Yale’s remarkable collection of pre-modern Japanese manuscripts, the underground art scene in 1980s East Germany, and the integration of American theatrical productions.
Combined, the three exhibitions present an extraordinary range of items, including materials from a 1943 integrated production of Othello staring Paul Robeson; works by East German underground artist and poet Sascha Anderson who was secretly in cahoots with the Stasi; and eighth-century Japanese scrolls that are among the world’s earliest printed objects. These and a trove of other facinating material will be on view in the following exhibitions:
Jan. 16 – April 2
Yale’s Japanese Manuscript Collection (1907) and Yale Association of Japan Collection (1934) include stellar examples of early printing, woodblock print publishing, and artworks, as well as an impressive array of rare historical documents. This exhibition provides a glimpse of the treasures in these extraordinary collections, which are associated with the legacy of Asakawa Kan’ichi (1873-1948), professor of history and first curator of the East Asian collections at Yale.
The exhibition is a tribute to Asakawa’s vision for a great Japanese library that would engage Americans in the study of Japan’s history, society, and culture. It also celebrates recent efforts by faculty, students, librarians, and conservators at Yale and the Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo to document Yale’s holdings of pre-modern Japanese books and manuscripts and bring them to the forefront in research and teaching.
Jan. 16 – April 11
Behind the Iron Curtain, a generation of poets, artists, musicians, and performers turned their backs on official culture in the East German state. In back-courtyard apartments, private studios, and workshops, they created a space for free creative expression that (they hoped) might elude the dictates, police, and policy-makers of the communist regime, which they viewed as a dead end for culture, or—in the prescient metaphor of the poet “Matthias” Baader Holst—a sinking ship.
Fun on the Titanic explores the creative diversity and exuberance of culture nurtured behind closed doors by the East German underground of the 1980s. Rare and colorful, the self-published ‘zines and artist’s books on display from Beinecke’s collection tell a story of persistent resolve, resourcefulness, and mischievous youthful determination—punctuated by betrayals, arrests, voluntary exile, and even suicide—all in the name of a lost generation and its yearning to have fun in the final days of a totalitarian state.
Jan. 16 – April 18
Many of the productions now considered highlights in the history of African Americans on the stage—Shuffle Along (1921), The Green Pastures (1930), Porgy and Bess (1935)—were performed by entirely African American casts. This exhibition features theatrical productions and performers that attempted to bridge America’s racial divisions through integrated casting.
The exhibition is divided into two parts: The curved case at the north end of the library’s mezzanine offers a chronological selection of examples of stage integration, beginning with the 1878 Uncle Tom’s Cabin and continuing through August Wilson’s 1984 Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom. The south case features three individuals—the actor Paul Robeson, the director Lloyd Richards, and the producer Philip Rose—each with notable involvement in the history of integration onstage.
Much of the material on exhibit comes from the Clippings File of the Beinecke’s James Weldon Johnson Memorial Collection, a vast and rich assemblage not only of clippings, but also of theater playbills and other ephemera.