Asia Society Museum Presents Meiji Modern: Fifty Years of New Japan
Asia Society presents a fresh look at the art of Japan’s Meiji era (1868-1912), a period of unprecedented cultural and technological transition, in the landmark exhibition Meiji Modern: Fifty Years of New Japan. During these four remarkable decades, the country experienced radical social and political shifts, which propelled the once inward-facing society into a new modern, global era.
Following two centuries of limited international trade, new connections with foreign cultures inspired dynamic new forms of artistic expression. The profound cross-cultural impact of the country’s developing relationships with the wider world is evident in over 80 extraordinary objects comprising Meiji Modern, on view at Asia Society Museum in New York from October 3, 2023 through January 7, 2024.
Paintings, prints, photographs, sculpture, and fine examples of enamel, lacquer, embroidery, and textiles—evidence a blending of cultures and techniques and the innovative interchange of old and new. Uniquely, the exhibition features a diverse selection of both export wares and items made for display in Japan, reflecting the diversity of tastes and aesthetic discourse in the Meiji period.
The exhibition is organized into five thematic sections. Crafting a Modern State, highlights the emergence of a country opening up to the outside world through prints, and other objects depicting Western scenes and motifs. Depictions of Meiji rulers in Western clothing and portrayals of American dignitaries in Japanese clothing—including American presidents George Washington and Ulysses S. Grant and Benjamin Franklin—underscore these new international connections.
Navigating Changing Seas demonstrates the continued cultural importance of the sea and conveys its role in bringing the outside world to Japan, and bringing Japan to the outside world. An intricately embroidered, monumental silk folding screen depicting an expanse of rough-looking seas is a highlight of this section of the exhibition.
Fashioning the Self assesses the emergence of a new Japanese identity as a non-white, modern nation-state, and considers the changing gender roles of the period, the end of samurai status, the creation of a Meiji bureaucracy, and the growing embrace of modern conveniences as seen in clothing items and prints such as Telephone Call: A Merchant’s Wife.
Making History, Enshrining Myth examines the importance of a national religion, traditions, and myths to the formation of a modern nation-state, and considers how a self-conscious reinterpretation and re-articulation of the past helped inform a contemporary nation and its global future through unique new expressions.
In Cultivating a Modern Aesthetic traditional themes of plants and animals are shown as the motifs and subject matter most eagerly embraced by foreigners and therefore commonly made for export. Such artistic production translated to diplomatic soft power as well as a lucrative way to fund industry. It also fueled Western expectations for and definitions of “Asian tradition,” setting precedents for cultural and geopolitical relations and tensions that continue to unfold in the global arena today.
Meiji Modern: Fifty Years of New Japan is co-curated by Bradley Bailey, the Ting Tsung and Wei Fong Chao Curator of Asian Art, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; and Chelsea Foxwell, Associate Professor of Art History, University of Chicago. The exhibition is accompanied by a fully illustrated catalogue with essays.
Following its presentation in New York, the exhibition will travel to the Smart Museum of Art, The University of Chicago, from March 21 to June 9, 2024, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, from July 30 to September 15, 2024.
Meiji Modern: Fifty Years of New Japan is organized by the Japanese Art Society of America in celebration of its 50th Anniversary, with funds generously provided by The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation; The Mary Griggs Burke Center for Japanese Art, Columbia University; The Japan Foundation; Shiseido Americas Corporation; Bonhams, Japanese Art, New York; IFPDA Foundation; and Japanese Art Society of America (JASA) members.
The Asia Society’s presentation of the exhibition is funded through the generous support of Asia Society Japan; The E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation; and Mary Dee and George Hicks.
Meiji Modern: Fifty Years of New Japan is part of a yearlong focus on the country’s arts and culture, politics, and contemporary society, taking place at Asia Society in New York and throughout its global network through spring 2024.
The exhibition follows in the footsteps of Designed for Pleasure: The World of Edo Japan in Prints and Paintings, 1680-1860, also organized by JASA, presented at Asia Society Museum from February 27 through May 4, 2008. Other recent Japanese art exhibitions at Asia Society Museum include The Art of Impermanence: Japanese Works from the John C. Weber Collection and Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd Collection, February 11 through April 26, 2020, and Kamakura: Realism and Spirituality in the Sculpture of Japan, February 9 to May 18, 2016. Japanese contemporary artists are regularly represented in group shows such as the Asia Society Triennial, October 27, 2020 through June 27, 2021, as well as in solo shows such as Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool, September 9, 2010 through January 2, 2011, and In Focus: Takahiro Iwasaki, January 27 through April 26, 2015.
About the Japanese Art Society of America
The Japanese Art Society of America (JASA) promotes the study and appreciation of Japanese art. Founded in 1973 as the Ukiyo-e Society of America by collectors of Japanese prints, JASA’s mission has expanded to include related fields of Japanese art. Through its annual lectures, seminars and other events, the Society provides a dynamic forum in which members can exchange ideas and experiences with experts about traditional and contemporary arts of Japan.
About Asia Society Museum
Asia Society Museum presents a wide range of traditional, modern, and contemporary exhibitions of Asian art and Asian American art, taking new approaches to familiar masterpieces and introducing under-recognized arts and artists. The Asia Society Museum Collection comprises a traditional art collection, including the initial bequests of Mr. and Mrs. John D. Rockefeller 3rd, and a contemporary art collection. Through exhibitions and public programs, Asia Society provides a forum for the issues and viewpoints reflected in both traditional and contemporary Asian art, and in Asia today.
Asia Society Museum is located at 725 Park Avenue (at 70th Street), New York City. For hours and admission information, visit AsiaSociety.org/NY. Connect with us on Instagram @AsiaSociety, and on Facebook and Twitter @AsiaSocietyNY.