The often-overlooked pre-World War II period in Japan offers many surprising discoveries. The Asian Art Museum offers a comprehensive look at one such unexpected development with its exhibit Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture, 1920–1945, which chronicles like the Japanese art deco boom that occurred during that time through paintings, fashion, sculptures, and more.
What's most striking about the exhibit is the way the pieces on display appropriate the sleek, new cosmopolitan ideas and stylistic cues from European and American art deco, yet remain so rooted in in traditional Japanese culture. While there are direct liftings of Western imagery—like the Songbook for "Mon Paris, Paris March" lithographic poster featuring three high kicking dancers with canes adorned in red, white, and blue suits and top hats—there are also many creations like the Nakamura Kenji's gold and silver sculpture Pair of ornaments of origami cranes, where the classic Japanese origami imagery gets cast in an art deco light with the garish metallic shimmer and sharp geometric lines. The blending also occurs simply in the Eastern canvases used to express the art deco movement, as a folding screen is decorated with a picture of a woman engaging in the newly imported Western winter sport of skiing (Enomoto Chikatoshi's Young Woman Adjusting Her Skis) and silk under-robes are adorned with imagery of movie posters or city skyscrapers.
The breadth of work on display offers patrons a chance to dive deep into the 25 year period. With almost 200 works spanning a myriad of media—lithographic posters, metal sculptures, pottery, home decor, clothing, matchboxes, etc.—Asian Art Museum conveys that this moment in Japanese art history wasn't merely a blip on the radar, but a true movement that swept across the country in the early 20th century and shaped its modern sensibilities.
Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture, 1920–1945
Thru Oct 19, Asian Art Museum, $7