Next year marks the 39th installment of the Tokyo Performing Arts Festival, and this time around, traditional noh theater takes center stage. Beginning January 12 and running until the end of March, the 2007 TPAF will also feature events ranging from opera and ballet to contemporary Japanese dance. Tickets will be sold in advance and several events are free. See http://tinyurl.com/y96e73
(Japanese only) for more information. AC M
Yasuo Kuniyoshi: Between Two Worlds
|Life Saver, 1924, oil
on canvas, 76.4x63.8cm
Despite having no clear purpose in life,
Yasuo Kuniyoshi was compelled by a sense of adventure and
the opportunity to pursue his dreams to leave Japan at 17
and travel alone to the United States in 1906. Once there,
his longings led him from Los Angeles to New York, eventually
sparking an interest in artistic expression and becoming an
This new retrospective at The National Museum of Modern Art,
Tokyo, focuses on his struggle as an immigrant of Japanese
origin during the turbulent years in America before, during,
and after World War II. It begins with his arrival as a student
in New York and continues to his establishment as an influential
teacher and American realist painter among the ranks of Paul
Cadmus and David Hopper.
The exhibition portrays Kuniyoshi as an artist between cultures
whose life and status as an outsider gave him a unique vision,
and whose hopeful outlook is a model for an increasingly intercultural
and uncertain world.
After a few experiments in cubism and the requisite paintings
from his student years, Kuniyoshi's works from the
'20s, such as Milking and Boy Feeding Chickens, express
a darkly humorous and symbolic vision of rural America with
influences from American folk art imagery. The subjects and
compositions of other paintings from this time show him engaging
in the search for indigenous roots that was central to American
art of the period.
Tore My Poster, 1943, oil on canvas, 117.0x66.5cm
Works from the '30s and the years
prior to the war shift to sensual women, miscellaneous still-lifes,
and sparse landscapes. Most notable are the portraits of young
women, which show a preoccupation with sex and the compositional
possibilities of the body. The muddied and overworked paint
reflects a gritty life removed from the Hollywood impression
of the era. Also in this mix are a number of black-and-white
photographs that offer further insight into Kuniyoshi's
As the war came, America's turn to an increasing sense
of nationalism and militarism weighed heavily on Kuniyoshi.
Despite being a devout patriot and outspoken anti-fascist,
his ethnicity exposed him to racism and anti-Japanese sentiments.
In response, his paintings grew darker and his women became
not objects of lustful sexuality, but forlorn symbols of emptiness
and grief. As in 1943's Somebody Tore My Poster (a
reference to a propaganda poster he produced in the war effort),
the backgrounds of these portraits combine ruined landscapes
and bodies to produce ominous scenes of loss.
His post-war work utilized an intense and painfully red palette
to juxtapose conflicted spaces with the folk ephemera and
circus performers of earlier images. Paintings such as 1952's
"Mr. Ace" have an unsettling sense of disillusionment.
In these last works, Kuniyoshi seems to suggest something
missing in the American image versus the American reality.
Babies, 1923, oil on canvas, 76.2x61.0cm
Proclaimed as a bridge between East and West,
as well as a man Japanese by birth but American by practice,
Kuniyoshi had a distinctive personality that, as this exhibition
reveals, transcended these limits. What emerges is a passionate
and idealistic artist who carved a path through the conventions
of his time and brought a unique vision to the world.
The exhibition's success is in highlighting how Kuniyoshi's
life shows a way to exist between cultures, and whose painterly
focus on the ordinary elements of life common to all human
experience remain relevant to the present day.
The National Museum of Modern Art,
Tokyo Until May 16. 3-1 Kitanomaru Park, Chiyoda-ku. Tel:
03-5777-8600. Open Tue-Sun 10am-5pm (Fri until 8pm). Adm:
Adults ¥1,300, students ¥900, children ¥500.
Nearest stn: Tozai line, Takebashi stn. www.momat.go.jp
1. Courtesy of a Private Collection
2. Courtesy of The Fukutake Collection
3. Courtesy of The Fukutake Collection