Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

Photo Credit: Philip Cohen

Set of three lanterns as a commentary about the art and craft world marketplace economy. 

Floating World traces the shifting fortunes and declines of contemporary society and the resulting impact on the arts community using the Yoshiwara as metaphor.

The two Japanese paper lanterns with Japanese calligraphy say "Harriete Estel Berman" and "Art Gallery". 

The center lantern is constructed from recycled tin cans, aluminum rivets, Pelon with Xerox transfer of art gallery advertising. An abridged artist's statement is below with additional images. 

Floating World, Yoshiwara, and Art      
Although prosperity and peace prevailed in society, signs of trouble were everywhere as the gap between rich and poor widened. Usurers thrived; citizens financed gracious living through loans and lawsuits.  

The wily and ambitious and the cunning ruled this increasingly decadent society.  High-ranking officials regularly diverted public funds for their personal use. 

Maintaining its characteristic formality, the artistic world of the Yoshiwara continued to emphasize status and privilege.  The streets were lined on either side by lighted toro lanterns with the name of the establishment to attract attention. 


15" height maximum, lantern hang from the ceiling. 

Only larger established art houses could afford to maintain the extensive advertising and expenses of the elegant and prestigious SOFA.  

Among the established proprietors of the pleasure quarter, stealing someone else’s client was strongly censured. Even so, every gallery feared its own clients might prefer less expensive substitutes, so they would offer discounts to any self-titled collectors.  

As evidence of a gradually crumbling facade, leading houses would even try to accommodate the tastes of commoners and make many concessions that sacrificed the high tone of an earlier period.


Critics held a unique position. As writers, they revealed numerous bits of behind-the-scenes information to bring people up to date on the fashion and talk of the Floating World. By reputation, a writer would be readily welcomed to social openings. By insinuation they could highlight truths or obscure flaws in the social fabric of this secretive and hidden world.  Probably too much an intellectual, the critic could only participate vicariously in this closed society.  


As time passed, the traditional Yoshiwara distinctions began to blur. The galleries and museums increasingly came to depend on a wider populace for their livelihood despite a growing lose of its former graciousness, the ever more accessible Floating World did make an impact on a much broader sector of society [1]. 

[1] Extensive portions of this text have been adapted from Cecilia Segawa Seigle’s book Yoshiwara, the Glittering World of Japanese Courtesan, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 1993

CLICK HERE to read the Artist Statement for this artwork.

This sculpture is available for purchase or exhibition.
Retail price: $6,599.99

These lanterns are included in the online exhibition Enlighten Me on Crafthaus.

© Harriete Estel Berman, 1999