japonisme: 4/13/08 - 4/20/08

19 April 2008

The Hymn of a Fat Woman

All of the saints starved themselves.
Not a single fat one.
The words “deity” and “diet” must have come from the same
Latin root.

Those saints must have been thin as knucklebones
or shards of stained
glass or Christ carved
on his cross.

as pew seats. Brittle
as hair shirts. Women
made from bone, like the ribs that protrude from his wasted
wooden chest. Women consumed
by fervor.

They must have been able to walk three or four abreast
down that straight and oh-so-narrow path.
They must have slipped with ease through the eye
of the needle, leaving the weighty
camels stranded at the city gate.

Within that spare city’s walls,
I do not think I would find anyone like me.

I imagine I will find my kind outside
lolling in the garden
munching on the apples.

© 2008 Joyce Huff

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18 April 2008

bosoms lost

don't tell any- one, but women used to have bottoms, breasts, and bellies. in fact, when they chose clothes to wear, or dictated what was fashionable, the styles might even exaggerate them. but then things changed.

It was a difficult time for the former matrons of Edwardian society, the previous leaders of fashion whose style of dressing became as passé as their rounded figures and older faces. More youthful women who could party all night and carry the boyish fashions well were all the rage.

The slender flat- chested tanned body and face of a 15 year old became the desired silhouette of the bright young things of the 1920s. 1

Women’s fashion in the early 1900s highlighted the silhouette of the mature, full-figured body. Low busts and curvy hips were flaunted by the dress styles of the era... From 1910 until the start of the First World War in 1914, fashion continued to move toward slimmer, narrower silhouettes that emphasized flat busts and slim hips . Bustles and trains were removed from dresses, as fashion designers played with the length of skirts to reveal enticing new areas of skin. 2

and of course, as we've seen, this is also the period during which the influence of japonisme on fashion became the most evident. women and fashion designers were suddenly looking at young idealized japanese courtesans with a new eye. but this new audience for the ukiyo-e may not have understood that they were seeing through the artists' eyes as well.

Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770) was the first artist to use the technique of full color printing. He popularized a new aesthetic in female beauty—that of a delicate, ethereal, childlike woman... Torii Kiyonaga (1752-1815) focused on bijin-ga (pretty women). His women are stately and statuesque. They are more realistic than Harunobu's, but are still impossibly tall and elegant. His faces exhibit a high degree of idealism and are often indistinguishable from each other.

Kitagawa Utamaro (1750-1806): Utamaro worked mainly with bijin-ga, his prints dominating the Ukiyo-e scene in the 1790s. He took Kiyonaga's female type to its elegant extreme. His were tall, full-bodied women with large oval heads. Utamaro depicted these women on a monumental scale, often delighting in bringing the figure forward and focusing on enlarged heads and torsos. 3

so i begin to wonder, putting this all together in my head...: were we seeing, in the 20s, evidence of women's "new freedom," as the new look is often attributed to, or yet another sample of japonisme?

are we still punishing ourselves for having edwardian bodies in a "modern" world due to the fancies of japanese printmakers from over 200 years ago?

as we've seen, we were quick and happy to emulate the japanese clothing, and perhaps we were also inviting in their bodies as well. many of us in the west are from, or have ancestors from, european peasant stock, inheriting bodies as far from the stereotyped (let alone the idealized) japanese body as a body could be. in inviting in these body images, we were also welcoming decades of frustration and self-hatred.

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17 April 2008

When the West Reflects the East

PARIS: The dress is spring green, its flat surface ruffled like wind on water. A pebble path and a few drifting leaves add to the zen-like tranquility of the Japanese garden.

This is not cherry blossom time in Kyoto, but a French couture outfit in a Paris museum. The pallid background, the pebbles and the spare setting, are meant to enhance an original take on East meets West, as rising sun embroideries or bare-nape evening coats are displayed beside the traditional kimonos and geisha prints that inspired them.

The result is an exceptional and thought-provoking exhibition called "Japonisme et Mode 1870-1996" (Fashion and Japanese Style) at the Palais Galliéra costume museum until Aug. 4 [1996]. Although the show originated in Kyoto in 1994, the Paris version has a subtly different slant. It needs to explain the essence of the kimono to Europeans and also to show how high fashion from the mid-19th century on has absorbed the pure spirit of the East, just as Claude Monet was drawn to an aesthetic that "evoked a presence by its shadow, the whole by a fragment."

Themes from Japanese culture are isolated and given their fashion reflections: lacquer work as the shimmering geometrically constructed 1920s dress by Madeleine Vionnet, shown beside a Jean Dunand copper vase; symbolic chrysanthemum patterns as spidery gold embroidery on an emerald green silk 1927 coat by Coco Chanel, or as rich panels of Lyonnais silk. Or there are the Japanese designers' own interpretions in Hanae Mori's calligraphy patterns, Issey Miyake's origami of pleats and the paper-cutout dresses from Comme des Garçons.

The exhibition is in itself a marriage of two cultures, represented by Akiko Fukai, curator of the Kyoto Costume Institute and Fabienne Falluel, curator at the Paris museum. Falluel admits that she has altered the Kyoto focus to include playful pieces that show Japanese influence at its most popular, not to say vulgar. That means including a 19th century poster for an exotic Eastern perfume (complete with parasol and lilies) and cartoon printed kimonos from Jean-Charles de Castelbajac's current collection.

The clothing is reinforced with accessories and objects — René Lalique's Art Nouveau decorative hair combs, as well as vases, boxes and screens. One exquisite Edo screen shows folded kimonos; another kitsch 1919 version has a French society beauty against blossom branches.

"My dream was to show fashion along with other objects so that people would realize that we should not think about major and minor works of art," says Falluel. She had a frisson of excitement when she put together a dress by Charles Frederick Worth decorated with the same vivid fish pattern that appeared on a Dunand screen, and when she found a sample of the original butterfly print fabric used for a 1910 Mario Fortuny kimono. Other matches were serendipitous: a chariot-wheel pattern on a Japanese handkerchief and as Comme des Garçon's cutouts, or a Worth cape decorated with samurai helmets as seen in a warrior uniform on display.

The exhibition first informs the visitor about the kimono, its symbolism, its structure, its sleeves. Then the opening display shows Western variations on the theme from a crimson velvet Worth coat scooped away at the nape à la geisha, to John Galliano's 1994 mini kimonos — a sexy slither of skirt below the obi-sash.

Western designers are divided into those seduced by Japanese decoration — all the crysanthemum prints or the exotic fabrics used by Paul Poiret, and those who were fascinated by the kimono's geometry, like Vionnet's green dress cut in flat panels and decorated only with wave-seaming.

"Paul Poiret did wonderful things because he was so influenced by motifs, but Vionnet really understood the kimono and took the geometric idea to construct her clothes — and that brought such freedom into European clothes in the 1920s," said Issey Miyake, who was at the opening party.

"Kimono-mania" swept through fashion in the 19th century, when Japan was opened to the West. Kimonos were cut up and used as decorative fabric for Western dresses, or the corseted body was given a new freedom in kimono house robes made for Liberty of London or copied in India.

"When a new culture comes, people first copy surface decoration, then they study the technique and cut," says Jun Kanai, a curator at Kyoto. "Eventually they assimilate and use it for their own creativity, just as Van Gogh did."

Suzy Menkes
(read the rest)

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13 April 2008

sunday night at the museum

Gallé and Japonisme

This exhibition presents works from the heyday of Japonisme. It focuses on works by Gallé showing distinct uses of motifs from Japanese ukiyo-e and crafts. It will also examine ways in which Japanese motifs were perceived and incorporated graphically into European crafts.

From the 1880s, Gallé's Japonisme began to shift away from external manifestations. While he continued to incorporate elements of Japanese art during this period, he attempted to fuse them with Western forms of expression. This segment presents Gallé's interest in the tactile sensibilities reflected in Japanese crafts, the Japanese eye for fleeting, precious living things, and the combination of painting and poetry elements he harmonized with modes of expression rooted in his own country.

Around 1900, Gallé's Japonisme deepened further, and had tremendous influence on establishing his original artistic approach. This exhibition looks at the ways in which the Japanese artistic concepts of deriving shapes from nature itself, exquisite composition, and mono no aware (sensitivity to things) were sublimated in Gallé. 1

Thursday 20 March to Sunday 11 May 2008


The National Gallery of Australia opens the exhibit Treescape through August 30. Trees are a strong element of our visual and tangible environment, making the tree a natural subject for artists to explore.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, Pictorialist photo- graphers such as John Kauffmann (1864–1942) were influenced by the soft blurring effect of etching, creating atmospheric images of trees.

For many cultures the tree has spiritual significance, forming a metaphorical connection between the prosaic and the ethereal, the secular world and the heavenly world. Southeast Asian textiles often present images of spiritual trees in stylised form and give the textile the power to protect the wearer or observer during ceremonial activities. By incorporating these symbolic works, children are introduced to another function for art, where the object’s spiritual and religious significance is as important as it’s aesthetic appearance. 2

12 April – 30 August 2008

Japonisme in American Graphic Art, 1880–1920

Commodore Matthew Perry’s 1853–54 voyage to Japan not only reestablished diplomatic and mercantile relations between that country and the West for the first time since the seventeenth century, but also opened the floodgates for cultural exchanges that would profoundly affect Western art. In the ensuing decades, Japanese artifacts poured into Europe and America, appearing in exhibitions, import shops, and art collections, as well as in articles and books. Western artists began incorporating Japanese motifs, aesthetic principles, and techniques into their work—a phenomenon known by the French term “Japonisme.” This widespread fascination with Japanese objects dovetailed with late-nineteenth-century artistic developments, including the interest in foreign cultures as well as reformist impulses. Japanese art’s emphasis on beautiful design and hand-craftsmanship, for instance, resonated with the “art for art’s sake” philosophy advocated by the Aesthetic Movement as a remedy for the ills of modern industrial life. Progressive styles such as Impressionism also gained inspiration from Japanese prototypes in revitalizing Western pictorial traditions.

Japonisme in American explores the myriad manifestations of Japonisme in a selection of rarely seen American works on paper from the Brooklyn Museum’s permanent collection. Concurrent with the so-called “Japan craze” in America was a renewed interest in graphic arts: as watercolor, pastel, etching, and other graphic media came to be appreciated for their artistry and expressivity, they also reflected the impact of Japanese art. Color woodcuts by late-eighteenth- and nineteenth-century masters such Hiroshige, Hokusai, and Kuniyoshi were avidly collected in the West and served as particularly influential models of stylistic and technical innovation for American artists. (Examples of such prints are on view in the special exhibition Utagawa: Masters of the Japanese Print, 1770–1900, through June 15, 2008, and in the online exhibition Hiroshige’s One Hundred Famous Views of Edo.)

Inspired by their encounters with the arts of Japan, the artists featured adopted Japanese subjects and design elements, embraced Eastern aesthetic principles, and sometimes even traveled to Japan to study its cultural traditions firsthand. Their resulting works demonstrate the variety and breadth of Japanese influence on American graphic arts at the turn of the twentieth century. 3

April 16 through August 3, 2008
New York

(note: the images here are by the artists who will be featured in the exhibitions, but all individual items may not be included.)

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