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Taisho Chic: Japanese Modernity, Nostalgia, and Deco

Berkeley, CA, August 5, 2005—The UC Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive (BAM/PFA) is pleased to announce the exhibition Taisho Chic: Japanese Modernity, Nostalgia, and Deco, on view from September 14 through December 23, 2005. The exhibition explores the impact of Western styles and culture on early 20th-century Japan, and features over sixty scroll paintings, folding screens, woodblock prints, kimono, and decorative arts from one of the finest collections of Art Deco-era Japanese art outside of Japan.

Taisho Chic explores Japanese art and design from the reign of the Emperor Taisho (1912 – 1926). At the heart of the exhibition is the simultaneous clash and embrace of modernity and tradition in Japan in the twenties and thirties. This conflict was especially evident in the lives of women, who were avid consumers of the new styles and trends coming out of Europe and America. The modern girl (modan gaaru, or moga for short) was the subject of much of the art of the period. These young women—the Japanese equivalent of flappers—were office workers, shopgirls, or waitresses who enjoyed a degree of economic independence that was unprecedented for women within Japanese society. Moga represented both the promise and the threat of social, cultural, and sexual liberation, and sharply contrasted the roles traditionally assigned to women. These contradictory ideas are richly illustrated in the images, fashions, and furniture featured in Taisho Chic.

Blending the new with the old is the hallmark of much of the artwork created during the Taisho period. With the growth of an increasingly urban and international society, Japanese artists were faced with a choice between adapting traditional forms and motifs that were associated with the past, and taking up new Western techniques and styles that were identified with modernity and progress. Often they succeeded in doing both. A painting by Nakamura Daizaburo¯ shows a beautiful young woman wearing a traditional kimono and reclining gracefully on an opulently upholstered chaise longue. The woman is Irie Takato, a popular film star, who here appears to epitomize the refinement of both Japanese couture and Western fashions. European furniture, like the brocade chaise featured here, was popular in middle-class Japanese homes, many of which included a token Western-style room. In this image the model's pose, with left ankle crossed over right, is reminiscent of Manet's Olympia, a painting of a reclining nude that had caused a scandal at the 1865 Paris Salon. Daizabur o¯ was an acclaimed specialist in bijinga, or paintings of beautiful women, who encouraged his students to familiarize themselves with traditional culture but to stay attuned to current ideas.

Other paintings show Western and Japanese culture in equally striking juxtaposition. Yawakawa Shuh o¯'s stunning four-panel screen shows three sisters dressed in long-sleeved kimono and obi arranged around a large, luxurious silver car. Two sisters sit inside while the other stands with one hand casually resting on the hood of the car and holding a camera in the other. Another painting is a portrait of Terue Ueda, the wife of an academic who in 1929 traveled with her husband through America and Europe. In this painting she is seated in a bentwood rocking chair modeling the latest in European fashions. Although she sat for the painting in her own home, the Western rug and most of the furnishings were painted in later by the artist to create a setting as contemporary as Terue herself.

In other paintings the cultural independence of the moga is treated differently. Kobayakawa Kiyoshi's woodblock print Tipsy shows the modern girl as the consummate sex object. Kiyoshi shows her seated alone with a cocktail, daringly dressed in a low-cut, sleeveless dress and bright lipstick. With her comb falling from her stylishly bobbed hair, the moga holds a cigarette and looks directly and alluringly at the viewer. At the same time this image asserts the fashionability and sensuality of the sitter. While it fixates on the superficial qualities of the moga, Kiyoshi's image was also alluring to men, who were the primary consumers of these kinds of prints.

Artists also found ways to adapt modernism's influence into decorative arts and textile design. Many combined traditional forms such as the kimono, the folding screen, and the hibachi, with non-traditional materials including stainless steel, glass, and aluminum that were made popular by Art Deco. Other artists adapted centuries-old techniques such as lacquerware to create familiar objects in stylish new shapes and patterns. Fabric designers often took traditional motifs such as the dragonfly and the chrysanthemum and used them as the basis for bold new contemporary designs.

Other objects featured in Taisho Chic, such as cut-glass coffee cups and saucers, lady's clutch purses made from silk, and condiment trays in brushed aluminum, reflect new social trends that became popular during the Taisho era. Many pieces suggest the cross-cultural influences that were in play. Included in the exhibition is a tile from Frank Lloyd Wright's Imperial Hotel, which opened in Tokyo in July 1922. Although Wright claimed that Japan had not influenced his architecture, he obviously absorbed its lessons which emerged in subtle ways in his work. The broad, multiple horizontal and vertical planes of the Imperial Hotel, executed in reinforced concrete, wood, and native Japanese stone, were compatible with their surroundings. The design of the terracotta tile is reminiscent of the Ichikawa family crest with which Wright would have been familiar. Its geometric design is repeated in a silk obi woven in shades of mauve, grey, and black.

Taisho Chic is curated by Dr. Kendall H. Brown, California State University, Long Beach, and organized by the Honolulu Academy of Arts. The exhibition was coordinated for BAM/PFA by Senior Curator for Exhibitions Constance Lewallen. The collection of paintings that forms the core of the exhibition was formed over a period of twenty years by long-time Tokyo resident and art dealer, Patricia Salmon, who now resides in Hilo, Hawaii. Salmon made the collection available for purchase to the Honolulu Academy of Arts in 1997.

Public Programs
* Find out more about BAM/PFA Public Programs online at bampfa.berkeley.edu/education/

Lecture
Modern Girls (Unless They're French) Don't Wear Kimono
Liza Dalby
Sunday, September 25, 2005, 3:00 p.m., Museum Theater

The first two decades of the twentieth century in Japan saw the kimono burst forth in a creative last gasp of fashion for the masses. In this lecture, anthropologist and writer (Geisha, Kimono—Fashioning Culture, The Tale of Murasaki) Liza Dalby examines the juncture where kimono began to lose ground to western clothing on its home turf, yet its exotic design and form as seen through western eyes impacted the fashions of Paris, London, and New York.

Kimono Demonstration
Joanna Mest
Sunday, October 16, 2005, 3:00 p.m., Taisho Chic galleries

Berkeley collector Joanna Mest shares a selection of beautiful kimono from her collection of nearly 400 pieces of Japanese clothing and accessories, with a particular focus on the bold designs from the Taisho period (1912-25). Mest will detail some of the variety of garments, techniques, and designs that make these kimono so glorious to view and wear.

Panel discussion
Modern Girl in East Asia
Sunday, November 13, 2:00 p.m., Museum Theater

The program will take as its focus the central role of the Modern Girl—a motif which figures prominently in the Taisho Chic exhibition—in understanding the cultural and historical moment of Japan's embrace of Western modernism in the 1920s and 30s. It is designed to offer a cross-cultural look at the "Modern Girl" and related issues from the standpoint of China, Korea, and of course Japan.

Participants include: Tani Barlow (University of Washington), Jordan Sand (Georgetown University), Miriam Silverberg (UCLA.), Kyu Hyun Kim (UC Davis), Dan O'Neill, moderator (UC Berkeley).

Publication
Taisho Chic: Japanese Modernity, Nostalgia and Deco, with essays by Kendall Brown and Sharon A. Minichiello, available at the Museum Store; $45 hardcover, $29.95 softcover.
To order call (510) 642-1475 or visit the Museum Store online at bampfa.berkeley.edu/store/