Japanese Modernism

Taniguchi Fumie, Women preparing for a party (Yosoo hitobito), 1935Featuring over 190 multi-disciplinary works created during the first half of the 20th century, the National Gallery of Victoria presents Japanese Modernism – an exclusive exhibition at NGV International from 28 February 2020.

Created during a culturally formative period in Japan between the catastrophe of the 1923 Kanto earthquake and the devastation of World War II, the exhibition will present traditional Japanese motifs juxtaposed with modern designs, highlighting two rare large-scale works by exceptional yet under-recognised women artists and leading avant-garde designers and illustrators of the era.

Showcasing rare paintings and colour woodblock prints, street posters and magazine designs, Japanese Modernism will also highlight innovative fashion – including kimonos for women and men displaying playful contemporary designs – as well as accessories embracing Art Nouveau and Art Deco design elements.

Interior design will be presented across beautifully-crafted glassware, lacquerware and bronzeware, with over 100 pieces of Japanese cut glass on display, with geometric and nature motifs inspired by Japanese traditional design.

“The culmination of a five-year collecting period by the NGV, Japanese Modernism offers exclusive insight into an era of Japanese art that is yet to be widely discovered by Australian audiences,” said said Tony Ellwood AM, Director National Gallery of Victoria. “With all of these works being exhibited in Australia for the first time, this vibrant collection of modernism captures the spirit of a rapidly evolving country and its exuberant youth.”

In the 1920s and 30s, Japan underwent major redevelopment and its cities were filled with department stores (including the iconic Mitsukoshi), cafés, teahouses, movie theatres, ballroom dance halls and modern transportation, catering to a new generation of urban pleasure seekers. With an increase in international travel, the influence of new technologies from abroad and a lively consumer culture took hold of the country.

In Tokyo, the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Imperial Hotel – which survived the devastation of the city’s great Kanto earthquake in 1923 – provided the backdrop for the reconstruction of a modern capital that delivered a new-found sense of optimism to its younger generation.

In 1924, Japanese publisher Hoshino Seki (of the Gahosha publishing house) commissioned The Great Taisho earthquake and fire – a set of 36 colour prints created by six different artists, depicting scenes from the aftermath of the earthquake. Three years later, the fast-paced development of Japan’s capital was celebrated by graphic artist Hisui Sugiura in his iconic work The first subway in the East (1927) – which paid tribute to the opening of the first subway in Tokyo and Asia.

In 1935, Japanese artist Taniguchi Fumie created her trailblazing work Preparing to go out (Yosoo hitobito). Taking inspiration from the 17th century Matsuura screens, the artist created a large sixfold screen capturing changing attitudes towards women, consumerism and fashion in the early 20th century.

Despite making huge progress in her artistic practice during the 1930s, Fumie had her burgeoning career cut short after she evacuated to the countryside to escape the final bombing raids of World War II. Leaving Japan in the early 1950s, Fumie was never known to paint again and eventually settled in Los Angeles, where she found work as a waitress, seamstress and maid.

With life progressing at a rapid pace, women relocated from rural areas to the cities to secure jobs and a more liberated lifestyle. This transformation of Japan’s social norms led to the first generation of financially independent women and female artists being recognised in Japan’s traditionally male dominated art world.

The self-assured, highly fashionable women of the modern era were captured in many artworks of the time including Tea and coffee salon, Sabo (1939) by Saeki Shunko and Waiting for Makeup (1938) by Negishi Ayako.


Japanese Modernism
NGV International, 180 St Kilda Road, Melbourne
Exhibition: 28 February – 4 October 2020
Free entry

For more information, visit: www.ngv.melbourne for details.

Image: Taniguchi Fumie, Women preparing for a party (Yosoo hitobito), 1935 ink and colour on silk 176.8 x 364.0 cm National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne. Purchased with funds from the Estate of Kevin and Eunice McDonald and NGV Foundation, 2019 © Estate of Taniguchi Fumie

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