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exhibitions
ARTIFACTS

Since the late 19th century, Japanese art has been schizophrenically split into yoga (Western-style) and nihonga (Japanese-style). The latter arose as a self-conscious response to the inroads of the former. Nevertheless, when nihonga took up the challenge of Western art, it was unable to avoid borrowing some of its ideas, most notably the romantically inflated concept of the “divine” artist. But instead of Michelangelo or van Gogh, nihonga found its role models in the elite artist/craftsmen of the Rinpa school. The Yamatane Museum of Art’s exhibition What Did Nihonga Learn from Rinpa? uses 50 mainly large works to look at echoes of the school in the works of 20th-century nihonga artists. Particularly worth seeing is Kaii Higashiyama’s vast seascape Rising Tide and Gyoshu Hayami’s Falling Camellias.

Through Dec 25. See exhibition listings (Ginza/ Kyobashi/ Tokyo) for details. CBL

Giveaway!
Metropolis is offering readers ten free tickets to “What Did Nihonga Learn from Rinpa?” For your chance to see this excellent exhibition, email the following information by Wednesday, December 17, to editor@metropolis.co.jp:

1. Name; 2. Address; 3. Age; 4. Home country; 5. Last exhibition you visited

Include the text “Nihonga” in the subject line. Winners will be selected at random.

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By JEFF MICHAEL HAMMOND

CUBISM IN ASIA: UNBOUNDED DIALOGUES

Regional cubist artists come out of the box

Ahmad Sadali (Indonesia), Central Park, New York, 1962, oil on canvas, 105x125cm
Private collection

The influence of Cubism on Asian art may not have run particularly deep, but it spread widely across the region, affecting the works of a large number of 20th-century artists. This new exhibition at the National Museum of Western Art is the first time that a thorough and large-scale overview of this hitherto overlooked subject has been undertaken in Japan.

Japan was the only Asian country to assimilate Cubism in the 1910s, the decade in which it was being conceived in Paris. It was only in the decade after this that Cubism appeared in China, and it wasn’t received elsewhere until the ’30s to the ’50s—dates that, ironically, often corresponded to these countries gaining independence from colonial rule.

Cubism met with a mixed reception when it arrived in Asia, as it was considered, alternately, to be a reminder of Western cultural superiority or a pan-cultural visual language of modernity for newly independent countries. There was also the concern that Cubism, being born of a particular cultural, philosophical and scientific background in Europe, was an imported phenomenon not suited to the Asian worldview.
Indeed, we can see in the exhibition examples where Cubism has been taken onboard without a full understanding of its underlying precepts. The Indonesian artist Handrio, for example, took the idea of “cubes” ridiculously literally in his depiction of the heads of musicians as square boxes in his painting Quartet.

Li Hua (China), Still Life from “Li Hua’s 10 sheets of Color Woodcut Prints,” 1935, woodcut, 32x27cm
Shanghai Lu Xun Museum

However, there are also cases where an artist, such as Masaaki Yamada, faithfully followed the Cubist masters’ flat and solid grid-like structure (in a still life shown here), while others have even taken Cubist ideas places that were never considered in Picasso and Braque’s original explorations.

A particularly Asian take on the form was termed “Transparent Cubism” by one of its proponents, Vicente Manansala from the Philippines. Here, the non-transparent, flat grid planes of the European Cubists have been replaced by a similar network of semi-transparent planes that serve to unify the objects and the spaces they occupy into a cohesive, three-dimensional whole. With minimal contact between them, artists in China, Korea and Indonesia were also exploring similar ideas.

The angular, piercing lines of typical Cubism are sometimes replaced with curvilinear forms, like Malaysian artist Chuah Thean Teng’s Lady Musician, in which the performer’s body unites with her double bass into one harmonious figure. George Keyt from Sri Lanka shows a similar fondness for curved lines; Keyt’s also interesting as one example, among many in the exhibition, of an artist who attempted to fuse themes, elements and iconography from his or her own country’s cultural traditions with Cubist-inspired ideas.

Sompot Upa-In (Thailand), The Politician, 1958, oil on canvas, 71x57cm
Collection of the artist

References to Picasso’s work in particular crop up several times, perhaps most poignantly in Yamamoto Keisuke’s Hiroshima, which echoes in style and imagery the Spanish painter’s depictions of horror in his masterwork Guernica.
A number of works return to the kind of Primitivism that Picasso and Braque saw in African and Asian artifacts and which helped fuel their search for a new visual language, a search leading them to Cubism—for example, Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, a study of sexuality and raw sensuality, is referenced more than once here.

This awareness of primitivism suggests that in Asia, some aspects of Cubism finally came full circle.

The meeting of imported Cubism with various native ideas, together with the fact that some Asian artists were more influenced by less central but still Cubist-oriented artists such as Leger, gives range and variety to the works on display.

National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, until Oct 2. See Ginza/Kyobashi/Tokyo listings for details.

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