The Modern Girl in Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture

The quality and beauty of every object showcased at the exhibition Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture from the 1920s through 1945 is stunning. The show is heart-stopping beautiful, and highlights an era of glamor and luxury. Judging from the number of paintings, jewelry and metalwork displayed throughout the entire second floor of the Japan Society's gallery space, it's fair to say that most of the works belonged to the impressive collection of the Levenson Family. I must admit, I was not familiar with the influence of Art Deco in Japan until I attended the Deco Japan Symposium* on Saturday, March 24th (one day before the end of Asia Week New York, which fetch about $170 Million).

The Modern Girl and Art Deco
Photo courtesy High End Weekly

It's hard to imagine that art deco would have such a huge impact on a closed society as Japan was back then. But obviously, Deco being what it was, managed to break through that barrier. Imperial Japan was ripped for more progressive thinking, and fine arts managed to have a vital role during the war in Japan. Japanese craft represented the totality of the whole Japanese society, and the upper class were vastly concerned with art and design. Interior designers understood that all too well, as they hurried to create interiors that were harmonious, and functional.

Yamazaki Katutaro (1899 - 1984) Pair of vases with design of leaping hares, 
lacquered wood, 1939 - 1942
Enomoto Chikatoshi (1898 - 1973) Young woman adjusting her skis.
Two panels folding screen, in powdered shell, silver, and colors on panel, late 1930s
Kosen (dates unknown) Sake Flask in the form of a Akita dog
Hiramatsu Koshun (1896 - 1971) Bull. Cast bronze, about 1930 - 1943.
bull cast bronze

Photos courtesy of Levenson Collection, via Japan Society

Miki Suizan (1887 - 1957). Junpu (A Fair Wind)
Panel; ink, colors, and mica on silk, 1933

Photo Courtesy © Museum of Fine Arts, Boston

They were quite keen to sell that lifestyle to their clients. The objects on view are of social identity, paired with functional, subdued, yet spirited interiors. All three speakers who were part of the symposium were brilliant, and a leading voice in their field of expertise. I especially enjoyed Vera Mackie's talk: The Modern Girl and Art Deco. The modern girl had a close association with art deco, feminism and women sufferance, since it was a period of cultural transformation, fashion, and memorable architecture. The last room from this exhibition is where you'll be able to view, and explore this exciting topic. The modern girl in Japan was known to decorate with exotic fabrics, many of them from India. She had a very active social agenda, got involved with shopping, playing tennis, drinking, and smoking cigarettes. The art deco style became apparent in the kimono designs from her wardrobe, her bobbed hairstyle was all about modernity. In short, Ms. Mackie explained that the modern girl in Japan was an Icon of Modernity. But at the end, she was consumed, as people consumed the image of the Modern Girl.

* Kendall Brown (the exhibit's curator and author of Deco Japan), Gennifer Weisenfeld, Vera Mackie, with a welcome and introduction by Joe Earle, director of the Japan Society Gallery

Deco Japan is from March 16 until June 10, 2012 at the Japan Society

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