Sunday, July 12, 2020

Japanese Modernism–A Short Break Before Lockdown

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Toraji Ishikawa– Resting (Woodblock print)

Here we are in Melbourne forced again to stay home for the next six weeks in a second lockdown.

But, just before this second constraint on liberty occurred, I visited the National Gallery of Victoria ostensibly to see the current exhibition featuring Japanese art from the 1930s – Japanese Modernism.

You had to pre- book your visit online, nominating a date and time, as visitors to the gallery were limited to around 450 persons at a time.

I opted for July 8th and it’s lucky I selected that day as the lockdown came into effect from 9 July and the Gallery is closed again for visitors.

It was like having the gallery all to yourself; so few people being in attendance at the same time made the outing pleasant with not having to cope with other attendees hogging the exhibits.

One of my favourite old calendars is that for 1989, Prints of the Dark Valley which features the woodblock art of Japan in the 1930s. I was smitten back then with Toraji Ishikawa’s  series of prints titled The Ten Beauties (AKA Ten Types of Female Nudes).  They were so stylish -  sort of oriental Art Deco with an unusual composition aesthetic.

So I’m delighted to discover that NGV acquired the series for their permanent collection in 2014 and are currently featuring them in their Japanese Modernism exhibition. I can go back and see them anytime when I am not as distracted as I was last Wednesday due to Bingo being unwell. (More about that later)

The Japanese Modernism period is described in the exhibition notes as follows:

During a brief window between the destruction caused by the Great Kantō earthquake of 1923 and the calamities of the Pacific War (1942–45), the Japanese cities of Tokyo and Osaka developed into some of the world’s most vibrant and modern metropolises. Bustling streets filled with glamorous department stores, fashionable cafes, popular movie theatres, swinging dance halls and high-tech transportation catered to a new generation of confident and financially liberated youth, who challenged conservative views and delighted in disrupting the establishment by making their own lifestyle choices.

Playfully known as moga and mobo – modern girls and modern boys – this new generation represented the arrival of modernity in Asia and in turn spurred the inspiration, iconography and dynamism behind a creative movement that energised Japanese creativity and innovation during the early twentieth century. This exhibition investigates the increasingly socially liberated status of women in Japan at the time. Japanese Modernism also features fashion of the 1920s and 1930s, including women’s and men’s kimonos, and related accessories. Decorative arts objects include beautifully crafted glassware, lacquerware and bronzeware, and popular culture is represented by street posters,
magazines and graphic design.

Not being entirely sure as to where the exhibition was situated in the gallery, other than knowing it was on the first floor somewhere, I headed that way and came upon the NGV’s collection of Asian Art.

The first object that caught my eye was this amazing metal motor scooter, the creation of Indian artist Subodh Gupta.

Cow by Subodh Gupta

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Cow (back view)

Also in this area were various Buddhas…

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Dainichi Buddha – Japan Kamakura Period 1185 to 1333

…and Guanyin – Chinese Goddess of Compassion

Guanyin – China Jin Dynasty 1115 to 1234

I was also taken by these contemporary Japanese artworks in the Japanese Design – Neolithic to Now exhibition

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Bag by Issey Miyake 2016

Fan by Taro Yamamoto -Green maple and boat on flow (2012)

Up In the Clouds  by Wei Guan – bronze sculpture 2012

Also exhibited in the Japanese Design section were Noh Theatre Robes of elaborate design…

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Noh Theatre robe

…and the following exquisite lacquer bust

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Lacquer Bust by Ah Xian

Eventually, after wandering around the Asian Art collection and failing to find the up ramp which led to the Japanese Modernism Exhibition I asked one of the Galley staff for directions. The gallery is a maze – a Chinese Mystery Box of rooms within rooms within rooms.

The Japanese Modernism exhibition encompassed not only woodblock prints but clothing and other objects such as this lacquer box…

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Lacquer Box with horses and hand printed gift envelopes to the left

…and small animal sculptures in bronze.

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  Polar Bear by Junmin Yamamoto

There was a wall of woodblock prints of  young Japanese modern women enjoying various activities.

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and another wall of popular music scores.

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Music scores

The Toraji Ishikawa series of nudes also occupied its own wall.

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Toraji Ishikawa display

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Toraji Ishikawa – The Sound of the  Bell

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Toraji Ishikawa – Reading

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Toraji Ishikawa – The Blue Parrot

As opposed to traditional kimono design, those of 1930’s Japan have a thoroughly contemporary look that would be attractive and unusual even today.

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Kimono design detail

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Kimono design detail

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Kimono design detail

Even the modern (1930s) Japanese male had interesting modern undergarments decorated with such things as planes, cars, record albums etc.

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Man’s undergarment with records

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Men’s undergarment with planes and cars detail

As you will have ascertained that there was a lot to see in the Japanese Modernism Exhibition, and truth to tell I did not view the whole in as much detail as I could.

However one cannot move on from the exhibition without posting two quite famous pictures.

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Shunko Saeki – Tea and coffee Salon

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Hisui Sugiura – The First Subway in Asia – Ueno to Asakusa

The Japanese Modernism Exhibition  is on until 2 October 2020. It’s a refreshing, colourful and unusual look at Japanese society before World War II changed everything.

Before leaving the Gallery I decided to go and have a look at Liquid Light- 500 Years of Venetian Glass. It ranged from exquisite creations to over the top excess.

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Venetian Glassware

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Candelabrum C 1880– not really to my taste

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Wine Glass -  more my thing

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Wine Glass

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Of course I couldn’t leave the Gallery without visiting the NGV Shop. It being a Wednesday, my Seniors Card permitted me to claim a 10% discount on purchases. The NGV Shop has quality items at various prices. I generally buy a few postcards for my collection and greeting cards to send to friends on their birthdays.

Back to the cause of my distraction, Bingo the cat was very unwell last week, refusing food from Monday and looking quite poorly – listless and quite unlike his usual self.  We took him to the vet on Tuesday. who had no idea what was ailing the cat, other than that he had a fever, but gave him an antibiotic injection as a precaution. Bingo was slightly brighter on Wednesday but refused food again, which meant that he had not had any solid food since Sunday evening, though had been drinking water. Back to the Vet he went and spent the day there on a drip.  He was extremely distressed when we got him home that night, but he eventually settled and even nibbled on some leftover sausage. I left a small  portion of said sausage in a bowl over night and he ate it. On Thursday he had improved and even managed some breakfast of sausage. Today he is back to normal, thank goodness, but he certainly caused a great deal of fret and worry to his human companions last week.

The Vet gave us some pills to boost his appetite and a liquid painkiller that seemed to zonk him out. Described by the Vet as cat heroin, we’ve discontinued administering it over the last few days.

Curiously, at pretty much the same time last year he had a similar episode of not eating for a week. Coincidence?