Arthur Tress (b. 1940) is an acclaimed American photographer known for his dreamlike staged images and exploration of the human body. Tress’s vast body of work includes series on the environment, the dramas of adult relationships, male same-sex desire, and many others. In one his most famous projects, Dream Collector, Tress represented the hidden tensions and symbolic language of children’s dreams. He has produced numerous photo books as well, including Fish Tank Sonata (2000), Egypt 1963 (2014), The Circle of The Orange Rubber Traffic Cone (2019), and others. His photography has been featured in major exhibitions around the world.
Arthur began collecting Japanese illustrated books in 1965 when he was visiting Kyoto. Tress built the collection “on an artist’s shoestring budget,” as he says, and “pour l’amour de l’art.” Over more than fifty years he amassed an extensive and important collection of over 1400 titles dating from the late 17th century through the 1930s. Recognizing a kindred book-lover, he contacted Julie Nelson Davis about a home for his remarkable collection, and in June, 2018, Tress gave the entire collection to the University of Pennsylvania Libraries.
The Tress Collection is one of the most complete of its kind in the U.S., exceeding in number and quality many others. It includes popular illustrated books, such as novels, guidebooks, theater books, and the like; deluxe limited-edition poetry, erotica, and artist-centered books; exquisite editions of books on kimono design; and many more. There are examples of every kind of book produced between the mid-17th century to the early twentieth century, making this an exceptionally comprehensive collection, from a who’s who of Japanese artists. Among the most famous of the titles are acclaimed works such as Shusui’s Tales of Ise (1767), Hosan’s Famous Views of Bitchu (1822), Rinsho’s Book of Caricatures (1770), Hokkei’s Tokiwa no Taki (1833), Hōitsu’s Drawing Book of Oson (1816), Hokusai’s One Hundred Views of Mt. Fuji, Ryūsui’s Treasures of the Sea (1774), and others. Artist names include: Suzuki Harunobu, Nishikawa Sukenobu, Adachi Ginko, Utagawa Kunisada, Utagawa Kuniyoshi, Utagawa Hiroshige, Katsushika Hokusai, Hanabusa Ippō, Hasegawa Settan, Tani Bunchō, Kameda Bōsai, Nakamura Hōchū, Kitagawa Utamaro, and many more.
The best of the collection is on par with the finest printings in the Pulverer Collection of the Japanese Illustrated Book held at the Freer and Sackler Galleries, Smithsonian; the Spencer Collection in the New York Public Library; the Ravicz Collection at the Chiba City Museum of Art, Japan; and the Vershbow Collection at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. However, the Tress collection surpasses these in its range, with its wide array of illustrated fiction, erotica, humor, and other works, as well as in total number. Tress conceived of the project as building a “study collection,” and now in its new home at Penn, it is achieving that goal.
For more on Arthur, see:
Jackson Davidow, “Portfolio: Arthur Tress,” Artforum (Octobeer 14, 2021)
“Arthur Tress.” Arthur Tress. https://www.arthurtress.com/.
Arthur Tress: I am a Camera (video)
Tress, Arthur, and James A. Ganz. Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964. San Francisco, CA: Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco, 2012.
Wood, John, and Richard Lorenz. Arthur Tress: Fantastic Voyage: Photographs 1956-2000. Boston, MA: Bulfinch Press, 2001.