Friday, February 14, 2014

Cultural Shift

Photo by David Brichford
The Vienna World Exposition of 1873 spurred international enthusiasm for Japanese art. Much like that expo, Remaking Tradition: Modern Art of Japan, on display at the Cleveland Museum of Art from Feb. 16 to May 11, offers a rare look at modern Japanese art. The collection, which includes six pieces certified by the government as important cultural properties, communicates how Japanese art has evolved with Western influences while still maintaining centuries-old tradition. Here are three things we learned from the exhibit that marks the first time a collection of modern Japanese art of this size from the Tokyo National Museum has been introduced overseas.

Tradition Remains: As you stroll through the more than 50 folding screens, hanging scrolls, ceramics, oil paintings and more keep an eye out for traditional symbols of Japanese culture in modern-style works, such as Aiming at the Target. “The technique is Western, but the artist picked up the motif of the Japanese cherry blossoms, and the costume was an exact representation of traditional Japanese armor style,” says Masato Matsushima, curator of Japanese painting and senior manager of special exhibitions at the Tokyo National Museum, through an interpreter.

Pushing Boundaries: Early styles of Japanese art, such as ceramics, were often regarded as decorative arts. To help establish a foothold in the fine arts and politics, artist Takahashi Yuichi adapted Western techniques of oil painting for this portrait politician Okubu Koto. “In order to be powerful in other countries, Japan tried to enforce the power of the art, too,” Matsushima says. “[Yuichi] painted this portrait, which is a traditional style of Western in oil painting in order to prove that Japan can create something like Western countries can do.”

Frame Game: Although the scrolls hang free in this exhibit, they were presented as a paneled portrait during the 1873 expo. “Maybe it’s more approachable for Western people to see the framed painting," Matsushima says, "but then they get used to it and eventually can accept the traditional format ... maybe.”

Remaking Tradition is the first major exhibit shown since the museum finished its eight-year-plus, $350 million renovation. To read more about the renovation, see our January 2014 "Master Work" Package here.

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