In the Toshie and Frank Mosher Gallery of Japanese Art

March 31, 2011 – February 26, 2012

Meiji: Japan Rediscovered explores the vibrant connection between Japan and the West during the Meiji period (1868-1912). Meiji is one of the most dynamic eras in Japanese political and cultural history, as Japanese artists in all fields rediscovered and re-imagined their own history in response to the “opening” of the country to Europe and America. Recently, scholars and collectors alike have renewed appreciation for export arts created during this era. The technical virtuosity of these art objects speaks to the formation of a new national identity and the emergence of a vibrant economy at the turn of the 20th century.

The Meiji exhibition focuses on the rich production of art for export, using little seen objects from the Museum’s collection to illustrate new developments in oil painting, woodblock prints, cloisonné, ivory, metalwork, textiles, picture books and ceramics. Also on view are period photographs made primarily for American travelers which point to the prominence of Western tourists and consumers as the audience for this art. The highlight of the exhibition is a stunning single panel screen with a design of a flower basket in the form of a phoenix boat, constructed out of wood, lacquer, ivory, bone, horn, and mother-of-pearl.

The subjects that recur in these works — Japanese landscape epitomized by Mt. Fuji as well as Japanese femininity as distilled in the depiction of women in these works — signal a refashioning of Japanese “tradition” that resonated domestically in Japan even as it was disseminated abroad. The scale of these works, from intimate to grand, reflect the changes that were happening throughout the entire Japanese culture, from domestic interiors to international exhibition halls.

Meiji (1868-1912) was a critical moment of transculturation — of profound mutual engagement — between Japan and Euro-America. It was the era of Euro-America’s re-engagement with Japan after 250 years of relative disconnection. This rediscovery set off the “Japan idea” in American art and culture as well as Japonisme in Europe. In presenting itself to Euro-America through export art, Japanese artists, entrepreneurs, government officials and art critics “rediscovered Japan” as the country absorbed international influences. Meiji marked the beginning of a dynamic conversation between Japan and the West that has continued to the present.

Guest curated by Ken Brown.