Dr Wilda Reviews: Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture, 1920–1945 at the Seattle Art Museum

21 May

Moi was invited to a press viewing of the Seattle Art Museum’s Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture, 1920–1945. This visually stunning Deco exhibit at the Asian Art Museum until October 19, 2014 is an example of how artists pick up vibrations and interpret the cultural vibrations that move their spirit and creativity. According to the press materials:

Jazz. Gin. Short hair and short skirts. The modern girl. The rise of film, and the advent of skyscrapers and air travel. After World War I, the world was changing rapidly. With the machine age came an increased emphasis on speed.
The art world answered with Art Deco, which had a driving energy that found expression in its use of themes from cultures all over the world, wild appropriation of other art forms, and graphic designs with fast lines that could be adapted and used on everything from housewares to posters, and for everything from politics to advertising.
By World War II, Art Deco had left its mark on almost every medium of visual art…. http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/exhibitions/deco

In addition, in 1923, the Japanese suffered the Kanto Earthquake which destroyed Tokyo and Yokohama. It was an interregnum period between wars as societies and individuals coped with the shifting social norms and political alliances. The Deco movement attempted to not only embrace modernity, but to make the modern beautiful as well as functional.

Some young Japanese women wanted to be modern girls or MOGA:

“Ten Qualifications for being a moga” (Modern Girl)
1. Strength, the “ene?my” of conventional femininity
2. Conspicuous consumption of Western food and drink
3. Devotion to jazz records, dancing, and smoking Golden Bat cigarettes from a metal cigarette holder
4. Knowledge of the types of Western liquor and a willingness to flirt to get them for free
5. Devotion to fashion from Paris and Hollywood as seen in foreign fashion magazines
6. Devotion to cinema
7. Real or feigned interest in dancehalls as a way to show off one’s ostensible decadence to mobo (modern boys)
8. Strolling inthe Ginza every Saturday and Sunday night
9. Pawning things to get money to buy new clothes for each season
10. Offering one’s lips to any man who is useful, even if he is bald or ugly, but keeping one’s chastity because “infringement of chastity” lawsuits are out of style
–by the leading illustrator Takabatake Kashō for the magazine Fujin sekai (1929)

The 200 items in the exhibit show the marriage of Japanese craftsmanship and artistic expression with the Deco movement. It is well edited to tell the Deco story from the Japanese perspective.
Seattle is very lucky to be a stop on the U.S. tour.

This exhibit is highly recommended. Dr. Wilda gives Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture, 1920–1945 a definite thumbs up.

Here is information about the exhibit:

Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture, 1920–1945
May 10 – Oct 19 2014
Asian Art Museum
Tateuchi Galleries
http://www.seattleartmuseum.org/exhibitions/deco

Art Deco Style defines Art Deco:

Art Deco Terminology

The term ‘Art Deco’ is taken from the name of the 1925 Paris exhibition titled Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes. The most popular and respected French artists of the day showcased their work at this exhibition.
Jewelry makers, graphic artists, painters, architects, fashion designers and all other manner of craftsmen and women displayed their pieces at the exhibition. All of the works had a commonality – they were not only functional, but also very beautiful (i.e. decorative).
The term came up again in an article by the architect, Le Corbusier, titled ‘1925: Arts Déco’ and in 1966 at the retrospective exhibition titled Les années ’25: Art Deco/Bauhaus/Stijl/Esprit Nouveau. But it wasn’t until Bevis Hiller published his book, Art Deco of the 20s and 30s in 1968 that term was used to truly define that style movement.
In essence, Art Deco is a modern interpretation of the art movement that preceded it, Art Nouveau. So it may be helpful to structure the Art Deco definition in contrast to Art Nouveau.

Art Nouveau
Art Nouveau came into existence as a reaction to the purely functional and practical spirit of the Industrial Revolution. In the late 18th and early 19th centuries, society was primarily concerned with production, machinery and the output of goods. Less focus was placed on beauty.
If something did not serve a practical purpose, it was in essence useless, regardless of how much pleasure it gave you to look at and admire it. But just like with anything in life, when you focus on one aspect of something at the exclusion of another, the other comes back with a vengeance! And so in came Art Nouveau.

Artists of the day began creating works of art that were highly stylized and purely decorative. The focus started to shift from the cold, dismal, lifeless factories to the energetic, colourful natural environment. Artists began to incorporate naturalistic motifs into their works – dragonflies, insects, flowers, birds, flowing water, etc.
Rounded edges, scrolls and curves were very popular as they evoked a more organic, natural feel. Moreover, the focus was back on beauty and decoration. Everything from architecture to jewellery to common household objects was embellished and beautified – function took a back seat and beauty was glorified.

Art Nouveau to Art Deco
Art Deco followed in Art Nouveau’s footsteps in that it also paid homage to beauty, but it was a more ‘modern’ interpretation. The Machine Age was well underway at this time and function became an important requirement again. The rounded, scroll, naturalistic motifs of Nouveau were replaced with geometric, angular and streamlined motifs like zigzags and chevrons (notice the difference in designs in the two lamp pictures above). Function was important, but not at the expense of beauty and decoration.

Art Deco Definition
To sum up, the Art Deco definition can be outlined as follows:
Art Deco is both a functional AND decorative artistic style that emerged in the early 1920s and influenced all forms of creative design. http://www.art-deco-style.com/art-deco-definition.html

The Victoria and Albert Museum’s 2003 exhibit showcased the global nature of the Deco style. See, Art Deco: Global Inspiration http://www.vam.ac.uk/content/articles/a/art-deco-global-inspiration/

Resources:

Art Services International DECO JAPAN: Shaping Art and Culture, 1920 – 1945 U.S. museum schedule http://www.asiexhibitions.org/Deco-Japan.html

Japan’s art deco interlude http://www.salon.com/2012/03/17/japans_art_deco_interlude/

An Urbane and Unexpected Leap From West to East http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/23/arts/design/deco-japan-shaping-art-and-culture-at-japan-society.html?_r=1&

Where information leads to Hope. © Dr. Wilda.com

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