Monday, 21 May 2012

Katagami Style Exhibition at Mitsubishi Ichigokan Museum

The posters for the exhibition have been in all the tonier train stations for the past two months. Katagami Style written out in a faux Jungenstile font. I had misgivings about the exhibition. The same kind of misgivings you might have about Catholic restoration art. I can't find the source but I believe it was Kenneth Clarke who worried about 'illusion ' and 'exploitation' in the swooning beauty of Bernini's St Theresa sculpture. He said something along the lines that, "All art is an illusion. It transforms experience into order to satisfy some need of the imagination. But there are degrees of illusion, depending on on how far from direct experience the artist is is prepared to go."

This idea along with the Japanese Folk craft Museum founder Yanagi Soetsu's essays on the beauty of pre-industrialized societies arts and crafts and Zen Buddhist ideals just stuck in my brain twenty something years ago and I have not digested them and moved on. I suppose if I met someone and we could talk these out to some logical conclusions my head would be freed up a bit.

After coming down off harvesting the tea terraces this morning I met Tohei and Eri and we had a look at the exhibition in Tokyo. Tohei lasted about three minutes and he was out having a beer in the rose garden. I know why. There was something sick about the exhibition and he was having nothing to do with it and made a bee line for the exit. Eri and I stuck it out. There were hundreds of katazome stencils some dating back 300 years and old Japanese stencil dyed clothing. Impressive and unforgettable. But the main idea of the exhibition was how tens of thousands of Japanese katzome stencils found their way to Europe in the late 19th century to the Vienna, Paris and London World Fair exhibitions and explosively triggered a design freak out. William Morris wallpaper and furniture and graphic design, fireplace grates, staircase railings, clothing, lighting, Frank Lloyd Wright stuff.....everything. And the museum had samples of them all. And they were all nauseating and obnoxious. I felt like a puppy getting my nose rubbed in it. Don't you do that again..bad dog.

Seven hundred years of stencil dying history in Japan. The refinement and techniques breathtaking. And the designs show up in Europe without the techniques  and the history in the form of used stencils and they are exploited....aghhh it was painful to see. It seemed almost to be a uber-sophisticated right wing Japanese nationalistic  exhibition to show the vast artistic and culture superiority of Edo period Japanese to North Americans and Europeans. They needed no words to do it. The facts were right there before your eyes. Refinement and poetry in the old stencils and then mindless miserable mannerism in Art Nouveau. It was agonizing.
Is it offending when the artist seem to be pulling one off on you by going way to far beyond his or her own experience?

Outside in the rose garden over a beer the three of us were talking about the pottery festival in our town last weekend. We tried to make sense of it's wretched decline. Painful. I need a large bottle of sake to get me through the evening.  A lot to digest. (Especially my hard core artistic conservatism.)

1 comment:

  1. How interesting. I recently visited an exhibition in Palazzo Pitti on Japan, one part was called 'giapponismo' (awful word, by the way) and they showed some works of great European artists influenced by Japanese art. I didn't like it, I found that there was a lot of imagination from those who put up the exhibition, personally I could not see this influence, probably thanks to my recent experience in Japan. I came out with the feeling 'fake' and a little bit offended too: I do not know much about Japanese traditions, but to be truly influenced by someone else's art you first should study vey much. Especially when this art comes from a world so different and with such a different philosophy from the European one.