Metropolis Magazine
Issue #805 - Friday, Aug 28th, 2009
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Past Issues

801: Paul Gaugin
799: Visual Deception
797: Bones
795: Neoteny vs. Micropop
793: Ryusei Kishida
791: Matisse & His Circles
789: Osamu Tezuka
787: Louvre Exhibitions
785: Artist File 2009
783: Meditating Mark Rothko
781: Springtime of Russian Avant-garde
779: Arts & Crafts from Morris to Mingei
777: Matazo Kayama
775: Twelve Travels
773: Fuchu Biennial
769: Leonard Foujita
767: Andrew Wyeth
765: Tokyo in the 1930s
763: Treasures by Rinpa Masters
761: Yokohama Triennale 2008
759: Vermeer & The Delft Style
757: John Everett Millais
755: Avant Garde China
753: The Railway Museum
751: Parallel Worlds
749: George Raab: Canadian Wilderness Etchings
743: Daido Moriyama
741: Bauhaus Experience, Dessau
739: The Perry & Harris Exhibition
737: The House
735: XXIst Century Man
733: Kaii Higashiyama
731: Three Weeks of Art Celebration
729: Fashion + Art
727: New Horizons: The Collection of the Ishibashi Foundation
725: Yokoyama and Toulouse-Lautrec
723: Goth: Reality of the Departed World
721: Genesis Art Lounge
717: Tatsuya Matsui: Flower Robotics
715: Space for Your Future: Recombining the DNA of Art and Design
713: MoMA Design Store + Gallery White Room Tokyo
711: Roppongi Crossing 2007: Future Beats in Japanese Contemporary Art
709: Daikanyama Installation 2007
707: Nippon to Asobo
705: Marina Kappos at Tokyo Wonder Site
703: African-American Quilts: Women Piecing Memories and Dreams
701: Kids Earth Fund
699: The Mural Art of Kotohira-gu Shrine: Okyo, Jakuchu and Gantai
697: "Ayakashi" and "Odilon Redon"
695: Architects Around Town
693: Chocolate
691: My Civilization: Grayson Perry
689: Henry Darger: A Story of Girls At War-of Paradise Dreamed
687: Taisho Chic: Japanese Modernity, Nostalgia and Deco
685: Marlene Dumas: Broken White
683: The Mind of Leonardo: The Universal Genius at Work
681: Suntory Museum of Art and 21_21 Design Sight
679: Art Fair Tokyo 2007
677: Gregory Colbert: Ashes and Snow
675: The Door into Summer: The Age of Micropop
673: World of Kojima Usui Collection
671: Keeping TABs
669: The National Art Center, Tokyo
667: New Year's Preview
665: Jason Teraoka: Neighbors
663: The 3rd Fuchu Biennale: On Beauty and Value
661: Bill Viola: Hatsu-Yume (First Dream)
659: Shinro Ohtake Zen-Kei
657: Prism: Contemporary Australian Art
655: The Royal Museums of Fine Arts of Belgium Exhibition
653: Luisa Lambri
651: Modern Paradise
649: The Legend of Ultraman
647: Nihonga Painting: Six Provocative Artists
645: Echigo-Tsumari Triennial
643: Art Communication = Open!
641: YOROYORON: Tabaimo
639: Africa Remix
637: Mashcomix
635: Move On Asia and Hitoshi Nishiyama's White Out
633: A Passion for Plants
631: Chikaku: Time and Memory in Japan
629: A Sense of You, Created by Me
627: Beautiful Cities in Dreams
626: 77 Million
625: No Border
623: The 9th Annual Taro Okamoto Memorial Award for Contemporary Art
621: Tokyo-Berlin/Berlin-Tokyo
619: Conversation With Art, On Art
617: Olafur Eliasson: Your light shadow
613: Mayumi Terada: New Works
611: Gerhard Richter: New Works
609: Hokusai
607: Stephan Balkenhol: Skulpturen und Reliefs
605: International Triennale of Contemporary Art 2005
603: CWAJ 50 Years of Print Show
601: Hiroshi Sugimoto: End of Time
599: Shinji Ohmaki: Echoes-Infinity
597: Miwa Yanagi
596: Cubism in Asia: Unbounded Dialogues
595: Canada Tsuga: The Feeling of Wood
594: Laurie Anderson: The Record of the Time
593: Today's artists X: Nishimura Morio/Matsumoto Yoko
592: Masaaki Yamada
591: Follow me!
590: Daido Moriyama: Buenos Aires
589: Mutsuro Sasaki: Flux Structure
588: Shinro Ohtake
587: Masterpieces of the Louvre Museum
586: Tabaimo: Yubibira
585: Yasumasa Morimura: Los Nuevos Caprichos
584: Julian Opie: Films and Paintings
583: Masterpieces of the museum island
582: The Elegance of Silence
581: Tapies
580: The world is a stage: Stories behind pictures
579: Shigejiro Sano At Play in the Esprit of Paris
578: The Body: Hitoshi Abe
577: Tenshin Okakura: The Awakening of Japan
576: Contemporary Spanish Photography: Ten Views
575:Taro Okamoto Memorial Award
574: Takeshi Tamai: Till Moss Grows On
573: Laura Owens
572: Alphonse Mucha: Treasures Of The Mucha Foundation
571: “Welcome, Welcome” Art-Beijing-Contemporary
570: The hidden side of Japanese art
569: Art Scope 2004: Cityscape Into Art—Michiko Shoji + Johannes Wohnseifer
568: Life Actually
567: Traces: Body and Idea in Contemporary Art
566: Mirrorical Returns: Marcel Duchamp and the 20th Century Art
565: Archilab: New Experiments In Architecture, Art and the City, 1950-2005
564: The Second Annual Fuchu Biennale
563: Have We Met?
561-2: Fluxus: Art Into Life
560: Christopher Wool
559: Pop Art and co.
558: Art & Money
557: Art of the Japanese Postcard
556: Yayoi Kusama: Eternity-Modernity
555: Ihei Kimura: The Man with the Camera
554: Wolfgang Tillmans: Freischwimmer
553: Emerging Generation
552: Larry Clark: Punk Picasso
551: Cool & Light: New Spirit in Craft Making
550: Angelo Mangiarotti: Un Percorso
549: Endo Akiko: Poetry of an Everlasting Life
548: Paris and Klein
547: Yoshitomo Nara: From the Depth of My Drawer
546: Colors: Viktor & Rolf & KCI
545: Micro Presence & Macro Presence
544: Non-sect Radical: Contemporary Photography III
543: Pastoral and Flowers in Modern French Painting
542: Collapsing Histories: time, space and memory
541: Supernatural Artificial
540: Jiro Takamatsu: Universe of His Thought
539: The World Press Photo 2004
538: I Dreamt of Flying: Noguchi Rika
537: Man Ray Exhibition: The Gift of His Vision
536: Why Not Live For Art?
535: Brazil: Body Nostalgia
534: n_ext: New Generation of Media Artists
533: Empty Garden II
532: Street Art in Africa: A Color Commotion
531: Modern Crafts and Design from the Museum Collection: Art Deco
530: And or Versus? : Adventures in Images
529: Modern Means
528: Remaking Modernism in Japan 1900-2000
527: Treasures of a Sacred Mountain: Kukai and Mount Koya
526: Jan Jansen: Master of Shoe Design
525: Yasuo Kuniyoshi: Between Two Worlds
524: Beyond The Border: Seung H-Sang and Yung Ho Chnag
523: Testimony of Life: Ancient Roman Portraits from the Vatican Museums
522: I Love Art
521: "My" Siberia and "My" Earth: The 30 Year Memorial Retrospective Exhibition of Yasuo Kazuki
520: Time of My Life: Art with a Youthful Spirit
519: Joy of Life: Two Photographers from Africa-JD 'Okhai Ojeikere and Malick Sidibé
518: Roppongi Crossing: New Visions in Japanese Art 2004+Kusamatrix
517: Exposition Musee Marmottan Monet
516: Treasures of a Great Zen Temple: Nanzenji
515: Johannes Itten: Ways to Art
514: Meiji Kaigakan (Memorial Picture Gallery)
513: Kaii Higashiyama: One Man's Path
512: Future Cinema: The Cinematic Imaginary after Film
511: Yasujiro Ozu: Japanese Film Master
509/10: End-of-the-year review and 2004 preview
508: Surface tension
507: Jean Nouvel
506: Makoto Aida: My Ken Ten
505: Gaudi: Exploring Form
504: Ino Tadataka and Old Maps of Japan/Fusuma Paintings of Jukoin
503: Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum
502: Happiness: A Survival Guide for Art and Life
501: Today's Man
500: Taro Shinoda: Helicopter 1

Issues 499-
Issues 449-
Issues 399-
By C.B. Liddell

Matazo Kayama
The National Art Center unleashes the power of nihonga

A Thousand Cranes, 1970, color on silk/ a pair of six-fold screens, 1.6 x 3.7m each
Photos by Courtesy of Kyodo PR

Western art in the 20th century seems to have taken Star Trek for its model: forever attempting to “boldly go where no man has gone before.” This readiness to constantly break rules and push the proverbial envelope yielded much energy and excitement, but also led to much chaos. An exhibition by the nihonga painter Matazo Kayama, whose career spanned the second half of the century, shows that backward-looking conservatism and deference to time-honored traditions can be just as thrilling and, often, more aesthetically pleasing.

While “tradition” is often viewed as a dead weight, cramping and stifling creativity, it can also serve as a springboard to higher levels of artistic achievement. This seems to have been the case with the Kyoto-born Kayama, son of a kimono textile designer, who studied nihonga techniques at the Tokyo Fine Arts School in the immediate postwar period.
Waves in Spring and Autumn, 1966, color on silk/six-fold screen, 1.6 x 3.6m

Because nihonga, a Meiji-era revival of traditional Japanese art, had been associated with the imperialism of the war period, it was under a cloud in the late ’40s and early ’50s. In a period of intense Westernization, it no longer seemed relevant. Some nihonga painters even felt the need to look West for models. Kayama’s early paintings of animals, like Moon and Zebra (1954), have a harsh stylization that owes more to the brutalism and reductionism found in Western art of the time.

The gradual recovery of Japanese confidence after the war, however, is also reflected in his art. From the early ’60s, Kayama’s paintings begin to be more sumptuously decorative and limited to traditional nature motifs, recalling the Rimpa school of the Edo period.

With its innovative decorative effects, wild stylization bordering on the abstract, and a poetic sensibility grounded in traditional Oriental and Chinese culture, Rimpa seems to have provided Kayama with a rich visual vocabulary and a satisfying artistic challenge. This liberated him from a reliance on the confused and ever-shifting aesthetics of Western art. Instead, within the confines of Rimpa, Kayama seems to have found the kind of artistic excitement and freedom normally associated with avant-garde.
Moon and Zebra, 1954, color on paper, 1.1 x 1.4m

By the time Waves in Spring and Autumn appeared in 1966, the traces of Western art of Kayama’s earlier paintings had all but disappeared. Although this work presents us with traditional nihonga subject matter—seasonal changes represented by cherry blossoms and autumn leaves—there’s just as much artistic excitement and exploration as one detects in a Picasso or Jackson Pollock. Perhaps the most obvious sign of this is the way that the artist has reinterpreted the traditional seikaiha (blue ocean wave) pattern. Instead of limiting himself to the usual tight pattern of overlapping patches of parallel curves, he has loosened the design to create swirling lines that sweep round and energize the picture.

Along with other fine examples of Kayama’s Rimpa-inspired style, like A Thousand Cranes (1970), this painting is positive proof of the advantages of working within a strong artistic tradition. The exhibition also proves the same point negatively, with a series of erotic nudes that see Kayama clearly stepping outside the bounds of Rimpa and nihonga. Heavily stylized paintings of beautiful ladies (bijinga) are part of nihonga’s artistic vocabulary, but blatantly erotic nudes are not. The self-conscious poses recall dated fashion or porn mags like Playboy. Kayama also heightens the feeling of awkward voyeurism by swathing the figures in curtains of lace. These odd-looking paintings are a fascinating part of the exhibition but clearly not his best work. Painted in the ’70s when the artist was aged around 50, they suggest a man going through a midlife crisis.

Kayama’s subsequent return to more traditional subject matter, including stunning works inspired by Chinese monochrome ink paintings, shows that he was luckily able to recover his artistic mojo.

Through March 2, The National Art Center, Tokyo. See exhibition listings (Akasaka/Roppongi) for details.

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