Shōwa Japan and modern European art

Louise Franklin, Bristol School of Art,

The impact of Japanese art and design on European artists from the late nineteenth century onwards has been well documented in the English-language art historical literature. The activities of European dealers of Japanese art and Japanese art dealers operating in Europe have also received critical attention. Likewise, the ways in which ‘Japan’ was conceptualised for European (and North American) museum-going audiences after the Second World War have been interrogated. However, while the influence of North American culture on post-war Japan has been charted, albeit with less focus on Fine Art than other areas of the visual arts, the same cannot be said for English-language accounts of the impact of modern European art on the Japanese art world.

This panel seeks to begin to address this historiographical imbalance – in the spirit of Chakrabarty’s (2000) call to ‘provincialise Europe’ – by inviting contributions that consider the impact of modern European art, specifically that produced in the first half of the twentieth century, on the Japanese art world during that country’s Shōwa period (1926–1989).

Speakers & Abstracts

Reverse Current: A study of the influence of modern European on Shōwa Japan from the Ohara Museum of art

Yi Huang (Arizona State University)

This presentation focuses on a particular case, the Ohara Museum of Art, to explore the influence of modern European art on Shōwa Japanese art. This paper will talk about the collection and exhibition of European art in the Museum, study the western-influenced Japanese modern artworks that exhibited in the Museum, examine the public art education function of the art museum in the Kurashiki region, thus provide a vision of the western art’s reverse influence on regional Japanese art during the Showa period.  

Established in 1930, the Ohara Museum of Art is the first Japanese art Museum to focus on modern European art collections and exhibitions. The Museum’s collection was based on Ohara Magosaburo’s private collection, founded under the advice of Japanese Impressionist Torajirō Kojima, a friend of many influential modern western artists. During the Shōwa period, the Ohara Museum was a base of Japanese artists studying Western art and learning impressionism, expressionism, cubism, and other modern art styles. The Ohara museum of art is a great example to explain Shōwa Japanese’s taste in European art. And as a public institution, the art education activities and the collections of local Japanese artists’ western-style artworks would reflect the role of modern European art in the history of Shōwa Japanese art. Located in Kurashiki, a city outside the circle of Tokyo and Osaka, the Museum also provides a regional perspective on modern Japanese art. 

Broken dolls and screaming popes: Mapping the intercultural origins of Tatsumi Hijikata’s butoh dance

Lucy Weir, University of Edinburgh

Ankoku butō (variously translated as “dance of absolute darkness” or “dark soul dance”) emerged from the Japanese underground in 1959 with the premiere of Kinjiki (Forbidden Colours), a radical performance that shocked contemporary audiences with its violent and homoerotic content. A product of late-Shōwa-era counterculture, the choreographic works of butoh pioneers Kazuo Ohno (1906-2010) and Tatsumi Hijikata (1928-1986) represented a dramatic departure from traditional aesthetic values and popular dance forms alike. Yet, despite Hijikata’s proclamation that butoh marked a rejection of European influence, both his technical and choreographic methods were profoundly impacted and, arguably, shaped by the writings of Antonin Artaud and Jean Genet, artists including Francis Bacon, Hans Bellmer, and Jean Fautrier and, perhaps most significantly, the choreographies of Vaslav Nijinsky and Mary Wigman. In this paper, I will examine and elucidate the rich seam of Modernist European influence on Hijikata’s practice, particularly in relation to its themes of sexuality, sickness, and decay. In so doing, I contend that Hijikata’s work cannot be understood in isolation, but might be read more coherently as a dialogue between Eastern and Western tendencies, something that comes to fruition most explicitly in his 1968 work, Tatsumi Hijikata and Japanese People: Rebellion of the Body, and is manifested through recurring themes of fragmentation, distortion, and disintegration.

Galerie Yoshii and Chaim Soutine: from Paris to Tokyo and back again

Louise Franklin, Bristol School of Art

This paper explores how a commercial gallery in Tokyo, Galerie Yoshii, impacted the reception and reputation of one of the members of the École de Paris – Chaim Soutine (1893-1943). Established in 1965 by art dealer and philanthropist, Chozo Yoshii (1930-2016), the gallery’s Tokyo location focusses on contemporary Japanese art alongside the work of the modern French masters, of which it is a key importer to Japan. Of particular interest here is the gallery’s exhibition programme in 1973, which featured a solo show dedicated to Soutine’s paintings. The paper presents for the first time previously unpublished information collected during an interview with the current President of Galerie Yoshii, Atushi Yoshii, and will demonstrate that such commercial galleries were extremely influential in shaping the reception, reputation and value of modern European artists in Japan, an area of research markedly neglected in the English-language literature on modernism.

The wider context of the exhibition and promotion of modern European art in Japan’s Shōwa period will also be considered, in particular the role of the National Museum of Western Art, Tokyo, which was established in 1959, the Ohara Museum of Art, founded in 1930, and Chozo Yoshii’s Kiyoharu Art Colony, founded in 1981 and located in Yamanashi Prefecture. Now a large site comprising exhibition spaces, a chapel and a library/archive, the latter provides studio spaces for Japanese artists based on its French counterpart, La Ruche in Paris, which was home to the École de Paris artists.



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