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Museum of Modern Art Tokyo


At present, the museum collection consists of approximately 12,000 items. In this continually changing exhibition, we select a group of 200 pieces from the collection and display them in the 3,000㎡ gallery space across the three floors of the museum.

Exhibitions will be renewed every two or three months, with significant changes in the works on display. With a wide range of special displays, you are bound to encounter something new every time you visit the museum. The “Highlight Corner,” where you’ll find a variety of familiar works, and the relaxing “Nihon-ga (Japanese-style Painting) Corner” also promise a rich viewing experience.

Kobayashi Kokei, Indian Corn Plants, 1939

Kobayashi Kokei, Indian Corn Plants, 1939

Over 200 works are lined up in this 3,000-square-meter space – these extravagant conditions are the pride of the MOMAT Collection. In recent years, however, we have received an increasing number of comments like, “They’re so many things here, I’m not sure what to see!” and “All I want to do is have a quick look at the famous works in a short period of time!” As a result, in conjunction with the gallery renovations that were completed last year, we have created this “Highlights” corner to allow visitors to enjoy a consolidation of splendid works from the collection, with a focus on Important Cultural Properties. For the walls, we have selected navy blue to make the works stand out more beautifully. And to eliminate the glare of glass cases, we have opted for a mat black for the floor to help viewers concentrate on the displays.
In this exhibit of Nihon-ga (Japanese-style painting), we present Kobayashi Kokei’s Indian Corn Plants and Kayama Matazo’s A Thousand Cranes. These works are part of a lineage that stretches back to the aesthetic sense of the 17th century Rimpa School, which was rediscovered in the early 20th century. Both Indian Corn Plants, which makes effective use of blank space, and A Thousand Cranes, a decorative work depicting a stylized flock of cranes in flight, offer a unique interpretation of the artistic characteristics of the school. In the field of oil paintings, along with a number of Important Cultural Properties, we present notable works by Umehara Ryuzaburo, Kambara Tai, and Paul Klee which exemplify the artists’ attempts to explore the effects of color.

2. The Bunten Exhibition Era

Following the inauguration of the Meiji government in the late 19th century, a variety of cultural concepts and systems based on a Western model were adopted in Japan. It was during this period that painting also came to be divided into two categories. The term “yo-ga” (Western-style painting) was used to refer to oil painting, which had its roots in the West, while “Nihon-ga” (Japanese-style painting) denoted any painting that made use of time-honored and traditional Japanese techniques. This genre division was further reinforced at a government level with the opening in 1907 of the Bunten exhibition, an annual event sponsored by the Ministry of Education that consisted of three divisions: Western-style painting, Japanese-style painting, and sculpture.In this section, we present Western-style paintings dating to around the time that the Bunten exhibition was first held, with an emphasis on works by the so-called “new school” of painters headed by Kuroda Seiki. Unlike the “old school,” which included artists such as Asai Chu, who favored dark brown, the new style, characterized by the use of a blue tinge in everything including shadows, produced outstanding works depicting scenes flooded with brilliant sunlight. But despite the overall similarities, when we compare several pictures of the sea, it is clear that each artist adopted a different approach to light.In the Nihon-ga field, we present Otake Chikuha’s The Visit, a painting that delights the eye with its depiction of autumn flowers. And in the sculpture field, we present Asakura Fumio’s The Grave Keeper . Both of them are originally shown in the 4th Bunten exhibition.

3. Art Movements of the Taisho Period

In 1910, the sculptor and poet Takamura Kotaro published an essay titled “The Green Sun” in which he asserted that in order to express one’s self, an artist might depict the sun as green rather than red. Concepts such as “the individual” and “freedom,” which Takamura stressed in his text, were also key words in the art movements of the Taisho Period.
The artists behind these movements were fanatical about Post-Impressionist painters like Van Gogh and Gauguin, who were first introduced in the magazine Shirakaba (White Birch). They had also discovered the power of self-expression. Though Fauvism had an unmistakable influence on Kawakami Ryoka, and likewise Renoir on Umehara Ryuzaburo, and Cézanne on Nakamura Tsune, it is perhaps more important to point out that the artists transformed the values of artistic expression after coming into contact with these new ideas in Western painting. This in turn led to the individualistic outlook of figures such as Yorozu Tetsugoro, Sekine Shoji, and Murayama Kaita. At the same time, there were artists like Kishida Ryusei, who ceased to pursue new avenues and turned instead to detailed depictions, concentrating on the life and mystery that dwelled within his subjects. These distinctive expressions exerted a clear influence on Kishida’s associates in the Sodosha group as well as many other artists
including a number of Japanese-style painters

Ogiwarwa Morie, Miner 1907

Ogiwarwa Morie, Miner 1907
4. Portrait Sculpture: Pursuing the “Real”

Let’s start by comparing the busts by Asakura Fumio and Ogiwara Morie. Which one seems more real? To describe the differences in the plainest terms, you might say Asakura sought to capture an external likeness while Ogiwara attempted to portray the changing aspects in the outward appearance, suggesting an emphasis on the personality of the model and the inner workings of the artist’s mind.
Asakura’s work accurately conveys the figure’s superficial skeletal structure and minute expression through elements such as the rugged cheekbones and furrowed brow. At the time, the artist, who had graduated from the Tokyo School of Fine Arts, was attached to the idea of realistic depiction as seen in the work of Shirai Uzan, who was also a teacher at the school.
On the other hand, the figure in Ogiwara’s Miner has an unusually high nasal ridge and the center of his lips are pointed. In contrast to the features of his long face, his neck has a bold appearance,
creating an extremely powerful impression. Astounded by the work of Rodin, who Ogiwara met while living in Paris, the artist set his sights on becoming a sculptor and returned to Japan to present his work in 1908. Unfortunately, he died suddenly only two years later at the age of 30. But Nakahara Teijiro and other sculptors who followed his lead, were greatly influenced by Ogiwara and Rodin.

5.Umehara Ryuzaburo and Yasui Sotaro

In this phase of the exhibition, we present depictions of human figures by Umehara Ryuzaburo and Yasui Sotaro in Room 5. The two artists, both of whom were born in 1888 in Kyoto, were known as the Japanese Renoir and the Japanese Cezanne, respectively. Their emergence signaled the start of a new era in European-style painting in the Showa Period.
Renowned as a master of portraits, Yasui depicted numerous people in his work. But a close examination reveals that the structure of their faces and proportions of their bodies were significantly deformed. There is also a strange relationship between the figures and the background space.
Umehara, on the other hand, was famed for his countless nudes. Less concerned with the way his models fit into the square picture plane and the background space than Yasui, Umehara placed a strong emphasis on the use of brilliant colors. In his early works, he dealt with meaningful subjects such as Narcissus (the handsome youth from Greek mythology who fell in love with his own reflection on the surface of a pool of water) and nude women with mirrors.
In this exhibit, we also present examples of more avant-garde tendencies in works such as Koga Harue’s Sea and Yorozu Tetsugoro’s Leaning Woman, which are also representative of the era. Please take a minute to compare the picture of the persistent woman changing into a machine with the figures by Umehara and Yasui.

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