Magazine article Art Monthly

Tokyo-Berlin/Berlin-Tokyo

Magazine article Art Monthly

Tokyo-Berlin/Berlin-Tokyo

Article excerpt

Tokyo-Berlin/Berlin-Tokyo Mori Art Museum Tokyo January 28 to May 7

'Tokyo-Berlin/Berlin-Tokyo', the latest offering from Tokyo's Mori Art Museum, is an exhibition of broad historical scope and suitably ambitious scale. Conceived together with the Neue Nationalgalerie in Berlin, it investigates the cultural interplay between Tokyo and Berlin over the past 125 years through some 500 works ranging from paintings, photographs, posters, and prints to sculpture and architecture. The show's 11 chronological sections occupy most of the 2000 sqm of gallery space on the Mori Tower's 53rd floor.

David Elliott, director of the Mori and one of the curators of this exhibition, points out that this show differs from previous exhibitions concerned with the development of modern art in Japan or Germany, in that it draws attention to 'the names of two cities which people don't usually put together' unless in a negative association with the Second World War. The exhibition immediately dispels that association in its first section, 'Berlin Tokyo 1880-1914: Exoticism and Modernity', by taking us back to an earlier era of exchange between the cities, well before the war. Berlin, we find, was prospering as the capital of a newly united Germany, while Tokyo similarly presided over the Meiji Restoration, a scheme of sweeping modernisation undertaken by a newly established government after 300 years of national seclusion. Juxtaposed paintings and prints from these early years illustrate how similar were the goals embraced by the cities, and viewers are surprised to realise how quickly information travelled between the Far East and Europe in an age without jumbo jets or the internet. One cannot, for example, easily distinguish a German Expressionist painting by Franz Marc from a Japanese expressionist painting by Gyo Fumon or Tetsugoro Yorozu. These Japanese painters seem to have acquired not only the style but also the spirit of German Expressionism. Paris is often regarded as the art capital that gave direction to modern art in Japan, but such paintings offer fresh insight into the impact of German art on Japanese painters--an impact far stronger, it seems, than how it is described in Japanese art history books.

A happy resonance between the two cities can also be felt in the artworks from the 20s and 30s--those of Berlin Dada and Tomoyoshi Murayama's avant-garde MAVO group, for example--in the sections that follow. As the exhibition title indicates, the exchange was not only one way, for Berlin took a great deal from Tokyo as well. Just as earlier German artists had absorbed exoticism from Japanese culture, so the Bauhaus artists incorporated the elements of traditional Japanese architecture. In 1933, when fleeing Nazi Germany, Bruno Taut emigrated to Japan and worked on numerous design and craft projects while writing some important papers on Japanese architecture and culture during his three-year stay. Japanese architects, on the other hand, vigorously studied German architecture and design, and notably they did not merely copy German design but tailored its methods to the specific context of local needs. Influenced by the Trockenbau (dry building) method devised by Walter Gropius, for example, the modernist architect Kijo Tsuchiura built his own house in 1935, but with wood instead of concrete, a modification enabling this method to be applied in constructing housing with speed and at a reasonable cost in meeting the demand of Tokyo's growing urban population. …

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