As we launch our online exhibition Founder's Favorites, we took a moment to speak with Roni Neuer, Ronin Gallery founder and executive director, about her selected works, lifetime of collecting, and advice for new collectors.
Katsutoshi Yuasa, "Life is good and good for you #2," 2017. Woodblock Print.
How did you begin collecting Japanese prints? What was your first print?
It was really because of my husband, Herb Libertson. After purchasing a few prints from the Frank Lloyd Wright collection, he became enamored with Japanese woodblock prints. He also had some ukiyo-e that his father brought back from his travels through East Asia as a merchant seaman in the 1920s. To this day, we still have the first print that my husband ever purchased hanging in our home—a Toyokuni III portrait of a Kabuki actor.
What are some of your favorite prints that you've encountered over the years?
It's difficult to say since I'm able to find something I like in almost every print. Whether it be the overall design, the line, color, pattern, history that it portrays, rarity or preservation and impression, every work has something special. If pressed, I would have to say some of the works by Utamaro are among my favorites. For example, in Courtesan Usumizu from Tsuruya, you can really feel her as a person. In works like Overnight Guest, I can step into a scene of 18th century life. When I look at this work I always wonder if it could be Utamaro himself at the window, gazing out at the snow during a night in the yoshiwara.
Utamaro, "Overnight Guest," from Annals of the Green Houses Vol. II, 1806. Woodblock print.
Utamaro, "Courtesan Usumizu from Tsuruya," c. 1789. Woodblock print.
Are there any prints that you've always wanted but remain elusive?
Of course! There are so many. Every time I see a unique work or a great impression of a print, the work comes to life and I am captivated. It is a love affair never ends.
How did you select the works of art in Founder's Favorites? Can you tell us a little about your favorite of the favorites?
Founders Favorites is really a farewell to our current website. As I was thinking about this exhibition, I selected the works that I am surprised are still available. They stand out at for a multitude of reasons.
Katsutoshi Yuasa's Life is good and good for you #2 stands out as an ode to New York City and its vibrant nature. During this difficult times, it holds a special meaning. Hokusai is known for his powerful Great Wave, but I love the quiet and simple palette of blue and yellow in Choko in Clear Autumn Sky. Kuniyoshi's Tomoe Gozen at Awazugahara Battle is another standout. I love how he captures the strength of this famous female warrior in this triptych. Sometimes a work stands out for its outstanding printing quality—and that's the case with Toyonari's Maiko (Apprentice Geisha). From the gold in the obi to the mica background to the faint blush on her cheeks, the printing quality makes this print come to life.
Hokusai, "Choko in Clear Autumn Sky," from the series Eight Views of Ryukyu, c. 1832. Woodblock print.
Toyonari, "Maiko (Apprentice Geisha)," 1924. Woodblock print.
How has it been to watch your collection evolve over more than four decades of Ronin Gallery?
What a great honor it's been to curate a collection that encompasses the full spectrum of the art form—from the very beginnings of ukiyo-e in the 17th century through today's contemporary printmakers. The great thing about the Ronin Gallery collection is its scope. It encompasses the entire range of the art form without prejudice to the popularity, rarity, or condition of the print. Each print has its own worth and its own majesty and should be appreciated. I'm proud to have built a collection that gives each work its due.
Founder's Favorites marks the last exhibition on the old website. What can collectors look forward to on the new website?
The new site will be very visually similar to the old site that all of our collectors loved. The big changes are behind the scenes. This means highly sophisticated search function for our collectors and a streamlined backend system for our team. There will be many new features under development over the next year, but I don't want spoil the surprise...keep an eye out for exciting announcements to come.
Kuniyoshi, "Tomoe Gozen at Awazugahara Battle," c. 1848. Woodblock print.
What is your advice for new collectors?
Buy what you love, live with it. The true purpose of art is enjoyment. It should be able to take you to another place, whether aesthetically or intellectually. It should give you a little spark of joy, even if only for a few brief seconds while you view it. Should you decide to build a collection, define your focus, it could be a specific artist, subject, period or even a color. Also, never sell your first print. It will always have special memories.