Japan Society Gallery's Deco Japan Exhibition Opens 3/16

Japan Society Gallery's Deco Japan Exhibition Opens 3/16

A thoroughly Japanese expression of the first truly global design style-Art Deco-came into being in the 20s and 30s, when the luxe and the low, the old and the new, and the East and the West were shaken and stirred into a unique cultural cocktail. 

The Gallery at New York's Japan Society considers this phenomenon from March 16 to June 10, 2012 in Deco Japan:  Shaping Art and Culture, 1920–1945. The exhibition assembles fine examples of the sophisticated craftsmanship and design one associates with Japan-in ceramics, lacquerware, glass, metalwork, jewelry, textiles, sculpture, painting, and lithography-contextualized by colorful ephemera and goods mass-produced for the modern home.  Some 200 works are drawn from the Levenson Collection, the world's finest private holding of Japanese art and design from the Art Deco period. 

All bangs, bob, and bright red lips, the modern girl, or moga, is undoubtedly the star of the show.  As the primary subject as well as the primary consumer of Art Deco design in Japan, the moga appears on a vast majority of the works featured in Deco Japan.  "Beginning in the early 20th century, Japanese women began to enter the work world in force, as typists, shop assistants, office clerks, and the like," says guest curator Kendall H. Brown, Professor of Japanese Art History at California State University.  "Their desire to display their newfound freedom helped to fuel the vitality of the era and spawn new floating worlds in the fashionable districts of Tokyo. "

After its showing in New York, Deco Japan travels to The John and Mable Ringling Museum of Art, Sarasota, Florida (July 2012); The Albuquerque Museum of Art and History (February 2013) ; The Society of the Four Arts, Palm Beach, Florida (November 2013); and other venues to be announced.  The exhibition and its tour are organized by Art Services International, a nonprofit traveling exhibition organization in Alexandria, Virginia. 

"In the late 20s and 30s, Tokyo was rebuilding and modernizing in the wake of the 1923 earthquake," notes Joe Earle, Director of Japan Society Gallery, who collaborated with DR. Brown to organize the showing.  "There was a pent-up desire, after years of hardship, to make, consume, and shake off tradition in favor of the new, modern way of living." 

This thirst for the new, in tandem with other complex social forces, is examined in Deco Japan.  "Rather than grouping by medium, we have juxtaposed different kinds of objects in order to shed light on the appropriations, formal strategies, and social context of Art Deco in Japan," says DR. Brown

Near the beginning of the exhibition, the visitor encounters a man's kimono with a skyscraper motif and a delicately lacquered silver and gold box with a leaping Pegasus on its lid:  just two examples of how Japanese artists of the period gave vitality to a variety of popular manias, whether it be for skyscrapers and Classicism or Egyptian art, Chinese antiquity, and horse racing.   

The intricate diamond shapes of a cloisonné vase, the dots and swirls animating a glass bowl, and the hint of a metal mechanical spring in the autumnal cattails of a bronze tea ceremony screen: these and other visual riffs suggest what enormous pleasure the artists of the period must have derived from their new and inventive manipulations of form and pattern.  

The Museum of Fine Arts, Boston is lending five spectacular paintings for the exhibition at Japan Society. Originally displayed in the fashionable Gajoen hotel and wedding hall, one of the notable consumer sites in 1930s Tokyo, the panels depict the fashionably attired modern girl-skiing, sailing, celebrating Christmas, and visiting a tearoom. Here, rich hues and sinuous lines applied with mineral pigments and ink illustrate how naturally the precision of traditional Japanese painting lent itself to art deco streamlining.

The taste for the exotic is evident in many of the 20 sculptures (okimono) on view in the exhibition. Here, exotic and mythological beasts like lions, bulls, unicorns, and dragons are realized in a variety of ways, from a mass-produced powder blue ceramic bear to a pair of masterful silver and gold figures of paper cranes no larger than the palm of the hand.

In sharp distinction to the café culture values illustrated in one of the most expressive works in the exhibition-a color woodblock of the modern girl with a cocktail in a café-a good number of the featured works convey a militant nationalism.  A phoenix on the lid of a round container, a ferocious dragon cast in bronze, and a heron snatching a fish in its beak atop a lacquered box: these subjects would have been clearly understood as symbols of imperial prestige and the will to power that characterized the years  preceding and during World War II.

Deco Japan's last room features with examples of luxury commodities and mass-produced goods conceived for the modern "culture house."   A pair of lacquered vases with leaping hares created in 1942, a cubist-like sake flask in the shape of an Akita dog from the 1930s, a decorative cabinet, carpets and an extraordinary bronze table clock with a rabbit pounding rice-cake on the moon, which reimagines a medieval Japanese tale, bringing the show to a close with a perfect pairing of tradition and modernity.


About the Curator

A noted expert on 20th-century Japanese art, Kendall H. Brown has helped organize exhibitions for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Minneapolis Institute of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and Virginia Museum of Fine Arts as well as the Honolulu Academy of Art, for which he curated Taisho Chic: Japanese Modernity, Nostalgia and Deco, which toured nationally between 2004 and 2006.



A comprehensive fully-illustrated catalogue, published by Art Services International, will accompany Deco Japan:  Shaping Art and Culture, 1920–1945. Contributors include, in addition to  DR. Brown, Machiko Takanami, Chief Curator, Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Museum; Professor Vera Mackie, University of Melbourne; Hitomi Kitamura, National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; and Professor Tim Benton, co-editor of the Victoria and Albert's groundbreaking 2003 exhibition "Art Deco: 1910–1939."  The 320-page soft-cover volume will include 200 color plates and 45 black and white illustrations, and will be available for $49.95.




Deco Japan:  Shaping Art and Culture, 1920–1945 is organized and circulated by Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia. Support has been provided by The Chisholm Foundation. His Excellency Mr. Ichiro Fujisaki, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of Japan to the United States of America is Honorary Patron of the exhibition. This exhibition is generously supported by Chris A. Wachenheim, Jean S. and Frederic A. Sharf, Kenneth A. Cowin, Martha J. Fleischman, Marjorie G. Neuwirth, Kathleen and Martin Feldstein and the Leadership Committee for Deco Japan:  Shaping Art and Culture, 1920–1945. Media sponsorship is provided by WNYC. Transportation assistance is provided by Japan Airlines.  Exhibitions at Japan Society are made possible in part by the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Endowment Fund and the Friends of the Gallery.


Related Programming 

Family Program - Deco Art Cart

Saturday, March 17, 2:00 pm 
Children and their families, led by a Japan Society educator, participate in a gallery lesson focused on themes in the Deco Japan exhibition, including animals, sports and nature. In the hands-on portion of the program, led by a master printmaker, participants will create prints employing motifs found in the exhibition. Recommended for children ages 8-12. $12/$5 Japan Society members; children ages 2 or under free.


Conference - Deco Japan Symposium

Saturday, March 24, 1:00 pm
Professor Gennifer Weisenfeld of Duke University, an authority on Japanese design and consumerism in the early 20th century, and Professor Vera Mackie of the University of Wollongong, one of Australia's leading scholars of Japanese gender and cultural studies, join Deco Japan curator Dr. Kendall Brown for an exploration of the historical and social conditions associated with the Art Deco movement in Japan. $11/$7 Japan Society members, students and seniors (includes exhibition admission).


Soirée - Dances of Vice: Deco Japan and The Heart of the Modern Girl

Saturday, May 5, 7:00 pm–Midnight

7:15-8:00 pm Exhibition Tour by Gallery Director Joe Earle

Dances of Vice, NYC's premier promoter of anachronistic parties, along with The Art Deco Society of New York presents an evening with the Modern Girl, or Moga, and her kaleidoscopic world of dancing and late night revelry. Learn a new step on the dance floor, sip an intoxicating tonic and take in the sultry sounds of live pre-War jazz by the Kuni Mikami Jazz Quintet featuring vocalist Mari Koga. Fashionable flirtation comes to life as real Moga wearing Deco-style fashion designed by Mutsumi Gee of Allure Original Styles shimmy through the Japan Society's spaces. Period attire strongly encouraged! $15 advance/$20 door; advance tickets available at www.dancesofvice.com.


Workshop - Deco Design

Wednesday, May 9, 6:00 pm

Graphic designer Adrienne Wong leads a three-hour workshop on basic screen and block-printing techniques. Participants create multi-color, unique greeting cards and  tea towels with Art Deco motifs inspired Deco JapanLimited availability. No experience necessary. Please wear clothing suitable for working with paint and dye. Bring an apron. $80/$75 Japan Society members, students and seniors. For more information please call (212) 715-1224.


One Year Later: Commemorating the One-Year Anniversary of the Great East Japan Earthquake & Tsunami

March 6-20, 2012

Japan Society's One Year Later series marks the anniversary of the disasters in Japan with a series of events to remember those lost in the disaster, examine the progress of Japan's recovery, and explore prospects for the future. In addition to panel discussions throughout March, Japan Society hosts a day of reflection on March 11, including a moment of silence presided by Ambassador Shigeyuki Hiroki at 2:46pm; a mini-exhibit of children's artwork from the Tohoku regiondoll making for children living in the affected regions; documentary screenings, including recent Academy Award nominee The Tsunami and the Cherry BlossomMemory: Things We Should Never Forget, a photographic exhibit illustrating the disaster's human tragedy and the optimism and resilience of local people struggling to rebuild; and craft making events for families to share with children in Japan.


Sakura – Spring Renews, Beauty Blooms

March 6–April 14, 2012

Commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the gift of cherry trees from Japan to New York and Washington, DC, this series of programs is shaped around the many meanings of sakura, or cherry blossoms, including live performances of centuries-old kabuki dance; a 10-part film series showcasing Japanese cinema's beauty of transience (mono no aware); a haiku workshop; and separate Japanese confections discussion and workshop. The series culminates with Japan Society's annual j-CATION all-day culture festival-12 hours of crafts, workshops, language classes, a film screening, a live concert, and a Japanese-style game show with the grand prize of one roundtrip ticket to Japan courtesy of United airlines. 

Japan Society Gallery is among the premier institutions in the U.S. for the exhibition of Japanese art. Extending in scope from prehistory to the present, the Gallery's exhibitions since 1971 have covered topics as diverse as classical Buddhist sculpture and calligraphy, contemporary photography and ceramics, samurai swords, export porcelain, and masterpieces of painting from the thirteenth to the twentieth century. Each exhibition, with its related catalogue and public programs, is a unique cultural event that illuminates familiar and unfamiliar fields of art. 

Founded in 1907, Japan Society is a world-class, multidisciplinary hub for global leaders, artists, scholars, educators, and English and Japanese-speaking audiences. At the Society, more than 100 events each year feature sophisticated, topically relevant presentations of Japanese art and culture and open, critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. An American nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, the Society cultivates a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan.

Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second Avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and V subway at Lexington Avenue). The public may call 212-832-1155 or visit www.japansociety.org for more information.

Japan Society Gallery hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 11:00 am-6:00 pm; Friday, 11:00 am-9:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 am-5:00 pm; the Gallery is closed on Mondays and major holidays. Admission: $12/$10 students and seniors/FREE Japan Society members and children under 16. Admission is free to all on Friday nights, 6:00-9:00 pm. Docent tours are available free with admission Tuesdays-Sundays at 12:30 pm (English), and Fridays at 6:00 pm (Japanese); no appointment necessary.