Japanese Traditions at American Museums: Three Summer Exhibits
by Valerie Bacac for Arts Japan 2020, July 2017
A trio of insightful new exhibits at American museums explore elements of Japan’s cultural transformations from the Edo era through the Meiji restoration and beyond.
The Boston Museum of Fine Arts’ exhibit New Women for a New Age: Japanese Beauties, 1890s-1930s (on display through August 20) explores how the Japanese feminine ideal was promulgated through prints, book illustrations, and photographs during the Meiji and Taisho periods. The exhibit includes notable examples of kuchi-e prints from romantic novels of the early 1900s, as well as shin-hanga prints (inspired by Western Impressionism) which employ both modern and ancient motifs. The exhibit invites consideration of traditional female roles and of Japan’s search for national identity during a period of swift modernization .
The concept of ritual as a source of cultural cohesion is illuminated by the exhibition Art of Japanese Tea Picnic: Nodate and Chabako (on display through July 19th at The Nippon Club in New York City). Visitors to the exhibit are immersed in the realm of outdoor tea ceremonies (nodate); these rituals incorporate elements of Zen, wabi-sabi (acceptance of imperfection and transience), and nature’s ephemerality. The exhibit also demonstrates how the kawaii aesthetic informs the traditional craft of tea boxes (chabako) and utensils. (Kawaii, sometimes translated into English as “cute” or “lovable”, is most familiar to American audiences via pop culture exports like Hello Kitty).
Americans interested in Japanese cultural history will also find much to enjoy at the Mingei Museum in San Diego, where Kanban: Traditional Shop Signs of Japan (on display through October 8) displays historic shop signs made from panels of lacquered wood, silk thread skeins, bamboo, iron, stone and other materials. This exhibit offers new insights into Japan’s commercial and artistic roots, and invites visitors to explore the evolution of trade as well as the fusion of art and commerce amidst the emergence of mass consumer culture in Japan.
New Women for a New Age: Japanese Beauties, 1890s-1930s
On display through August 20th, 2017
Monday and Tuesday: 10 am –5 pm
Wednesday – Friday: 10 am – 10 pm
Saturday and Sunday: 10 am – 5 pm
Boston Museum of Fine Arts
Avenue of the Arts
465 Huntington Avenue
Boston, MA 02115
Art of Japanese Tea Picnic: Nodate and Chabako
On display through July 19th, 2017
Monday – Friday: 10 am – 6 pm
Saturday: 10 am – 5 pm
The Nippon Gallery at The Nippon Club
145 West 57th Street, 7th Floor
New York, NY 10019
Kanban: Traditional Shop Signs of Japan
On display through October 8th, 2017
Tuesday – Sunday: 10am – 5pm
Mingei International Museum
Balboa Park, Plaza de Panama
1439 El Prado
San Diego, CA 92101