En Avant Garde Turning Point: Oribe and the Arts of Sixteenth-Century Japan by Miyeko Murase, ed., and Mavo: Japanese Artists and The Avant-Garde 1905-1931 by Gennifer Weisenfeld

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En Avant Garde Turning Point: "Oribe and the Arts of Sixteenth-Century Japan" by Miyeko Murase, ed., and "Mavo: Japanese Artists and The Avant-Garde 1905-1931" by Gennifer Weisenfeld
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  © Lauren W. Deutsch page 1   En  Avant  Garde Turning Point: Oribe and the Arts of Sixteenth-Century Japan Miyeko Murase, Ed. (Yale University Press, New Haven, 2003) Mavo: Japanese Artists and The Avant-Garde 1905-1931 Gennifer Weisenfeld (University of California Press, Berkeley, 2002)By Lauren W. DeutschReviews Published in Kyoto Journal, May 2004Imagine … It's early 1924. Furuta Oribe XII's 20-something only son, Oribe xiii, is deep into an early mid-life crisis. Life as an heir apparent is not cutting it. Endlessly attending and holding those stuffy teagatherings every time a cherry blossom petal takes to wind or a maple leaf blushes. He's full-up-to-herewith the pretentiousness of emptiness, with a capital "EMPTY". Besides, no one sits seiza anymore.His family's legacy of quirky ceramics and interior design, so beloved by generations of aesthetes of yore,has not transitioned into the new social economy. The Western hungry ghosts have insatiable appetitesfor Japanese oldies-but-goodies Chinoiserie knock-offs. The nouveau riche industrialists are good to go24/7 with assembly line versions of his great-great-great-etc. granddaddy's classics, but the output is somuch vulgar stuttering, diluting the genius   of spontaneity. They think a whack of a paddle, a swish of brown slip and a splat of green glaze and … a masterpiece. Ha!Very soon he'll be installed with full rights as Mr. XIII. This will mean managing and supporting the drearyhousehold staff. It's not his cup of tea.Wriggling out of the nijiriguchi, he hangs up the "Sorry We Missed You!" sign on the roji gate and headsfor the sento . In the genkan, the front page of the morning's shinbun blasts an editorial about the declineof morals of youth due to a dangerous and growing sense of individualism among the intelligentsia.Women are cutting their hair short, exposing their skin in public, and men are wearing unisex fashion.There's a notice about a group of artists who are staging an art show and poetry reading at a café insupport of a petition for more affordable housing. Another about the round up of students hanging out atthat same joint.Slipping into his new brown hounds-tooth Jodhpur, cream mohair jacket and forest green leather boots,he heads shitamachi  to find that little café. His soul is dry. And he's very thirsty. Thirsty for a fresh look atthe world.Consider what might transpire if xiii had met the modernists of his own time, Picasso for sure … But thisfantasy must serve this review, so he meets Murayama Tomoyoshi and his band of merry Taishopranksters, the artists of the Mavo movement. Turning Point  is the long awaited book on about the impact of Momoyama generalissimo chajin FurutaOribe on Japanese aesthetics. Hideaki Furukawa, the director of The Museum of Fine Arts in Gifu, offersin its early pages, "The impulse to challenge and defy convention could be called the defining theme of Japan's Momoyama period. 'Oribe' neatly captures this sprit of creative nonconformity…" The Oribe bookmade its debut in sync with the block-buster one-stop exhibition of the same name held at New York'sMetropolitan Museum of Art staged at the end of 2003 through early 2004.Weisenfeld's dense opus, Mavo, is a chronicle of the activities, inspirations and impact of Mavo , theJapanese sociopolitical aesthetic movement dated 1905 - 1931. It primarily focuses on MurayamaTomoyoshi, the movement's mastermind, who seemed to have a whole lot of fun stirring up the alreadyturbulent Taisho status quo, with a capital Quo. While a bit dense to casually, the narrative would servevery well if complementing an exhibition.  2 "Mavo was a self-proclaimed avant-garde constellation of artists and writers collaborating in a dynamicand rebellious movement that not only shook up the art establishment, but also made an indelible imprinton the art criticism of the period," she outlines.Rigorous narratives supported by copious illustrations fill these two volumes. By re- and de-constructingreputations, myths and the physical remnants of the times, they address philosophy and production of artin a multitude of methods -- from clay and oil painting and sculpture, to architecture, theatre and the massmedia. They also give us images of how Japan deals with errant aesthetes.During each period, evolutions of artistic styles were inseparable from developments in Japaneseenterprise, hegemony and industrialization, mass consumer culture, and social order. Bookending threecenturies of isolationism, it may be argued that the volumes under consideration reflect "modernist"  trends within its own time period, providing an interesting spectrum from which to explore the premise of Vlastos'book Mirror of Modernity: Invented Traditions of Modern Japan . (See accompanying review "I AmTherefore …")"Artists are too often omitted from sociopolitical studies [of the Japanese intelligentsia], here they gaintheir rightful place in the debates of the early twentieth century. Including those who dealt with art:educators, bureaucrats, dealers, collectors and publishers," notes Weisenfeld. As an exhibition catalog, Turning Point  is a font of illustrations of stunning dogu for  chanoyu . It alsocontains generous helpings of mind -candy about the who / how / huh of Oribe. In addition, it offersliterary works, screen painting and even Portuguese maps and diaries. Each points to Oribe's impact as amajor "player" in volatile and changing political, social and cultural landscapes of his time … and now. A major focus of the book and exhibition is the new archeological scholarship being undertaken at historicSeto kiln sites. Sifting through household waste and layers of potsherds, they are documenting the  popularity  and mass production of Oribe- ness . What is lacking in both book and exhibition is a samplingof today's Oribe -ish ephemera such as plastic sushi bar  shoyu dishes. Do I ask too much?The editor states, "During the era of Oribe, a common aesthetic language bound all the visual arts morestrongly than any other time in Japan before or since, and intimate working relationships existed amongartists in different media." Until the advent of Mavo, perhaps.Like the French impressionists in the late 19 th century, Murayama and his avant-garde cronies took on the gadan (art establishment) of their time, unabashedly challenging conventional taste and social norms. And like Oribe, Murayama was charismatic and drew tremendous inspiration from his collaborations withothers.Where Oribe's jazzy naturalistic designs were to be "seen" mostly dimly lit tea rooms set to promoteharmony and tranquilly, purity and respect, Mavo was a brash, in-your-face under- and-above-groundcollective tour de force affront to the bitter reality of life Meiji / Taisho.The srcin and significance of the "Mavo" name itself seems to be contested among the group members.The most widely disseminated story has it coming from a random selection within a collective processwith representation of the membership itself. While a hotly disputed conclusion, it proved to be a useful"brand", replete with mystery. The actual composition of "membership" also waxes and wanes withopinions, however scholarly, but consensus contends it fluctuated.What is quite clear, however, is that they played turned everything upside down and backwards. For example, The "V" in Mavo on their publication covers is mimicked in several of the members' (men andwomen) hairstyles … or is it vice versa? Like Andy Warhol's "Factory" in New York of the 1960s, thegroup of young, largely self-trained Mavo men and women spent as much energy promoting its manifestoas making the "art" itself.  3 "While drawn together because of a 'constructivist inclination,'" states the author, "the Mavo artists did notassert ideological solidarity. Rather, they maintained distinct convictions, respecting each other's personalgoals."On the serious art side, Mavo was deeply imprinted by German Abstract Expressionism and the"happenings" of Dada and other modernist movements in Europe and the USA. Illustrations includearchitectural designs catering to the lifestyle of the proletariat. Graphic designs for leftist literary works,periodicals and promotional materials for Mavo events incorporated typographic influences of Europe(including classic Germanic script and Hebrew!).Weisenfeld writes, "They strived to revolutionize the form, function and intent of Japanese art. Theyaimed to reestablish a connection they felt had been broken in the Meiji period with the codification of autonomous "fine art' based on the Western model … reintegrating art into the social (and political)practice of everyday life." As a friend living in Japan said, it would take an exhibition in New York or Paris for Furuta Oribe to bepublicly claimed by the Japanese as a favorite son in "mixed" ( gai  and Nihon-jin) company. And thenthere's Mavo. Can't imagine the French keeping Picasso a secret for 400 years, much less declaring theuniqueness of analytical cubism.-- 30 --
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