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FASCINATION JAPAN. Monet · Van Gogh · Klimt

Category: Exhibition 18. October 2018

Stretched picture formats, asymmetrical compositions, bird’s eye perspectives, empty sections with only abstract lines and shapes, vibrant color fields, ornamental motifs : All these characteristics of Japanese aesthetics had an enormous influence on European art from the mid – 19th century until up to the 1930s.
In 1867 Japan participated in the world fair in Paris with one of its most typical products: tea. Japanese tea was the reason that large quantities of a kind of Japanese prints were exported: Chirimen-e, a cheaper version of the Ukiyo-e (literally „pictures of the floating world“) on crepe paper, because many of the tea packages had these prints on them. These prints were not at all considered an art form in Japan, they were more of a pastime.
From then on, also promoted by following world fairs in Paris and Vienna, not only prints but other exotic goods from Japan were exported to Europe – lacquered boxes, textiles, woodcuts – that triggered the emergence of „Japonism“. In the 1890, Japanese color woodcuts with their narrative subjects – actors, geishas, landscapes, daily life, the seasons – were available as mass products.
To describe this boom of Japanese culture in Europe, the term „Japonism“ was coined by art critic Philippe Burty in 1876, Western fascination with Japanese art continued until the 1930ies.
The exhibition in the Bank Austria Kunstforum, curated by Evelyn Benesch, demonstrates the enormous variety of Far Eastern aesthetics as a source of inspiration in all of Europe. At first mostly in France, but at the latest after the Vienna world fair in 1873 also in Austria, including artists like Hans Makart, Koloman Moser, Egon Schiele and Gustav Klimt, whose painting in the exhibition, „Nixen-Silberfische“ (1902) comes from the Bank Austria collection. From Klimt’s own collection there are Netsuke figures, color woodcuts and a No-theater mask on display. In total there are more than 40 European and 20 Japanese items on display, paintings and prints as well as furniture and other objects like a folding screen by Pierre Bonnard.
There is a series of color woodcuts that come from the Secessionist Emil Orlik, one of the few artists who actually travelled to Japan.
European art movements like the Impressionists, the Blaue Reiter movement or the Nabis were impressed by the non-centered, photographic picture sections, by the simple lines accentuating the volume of objects without using shadow, and by the bold perspectives. Van Gogh was inspired by these perspectives with no vanishing point, the Japanese coloring style also influenced his pictures, of his trees for example, with their movement, the branches in the foreground and the characteristic curvatures of the trunk.
Three contemporary Austrian female artists of three generations, Margot Pilz, Eva Schlegel and Stephanie Pflaum, have produced sculptural interventions especially for this exhibition, about the teahouse as subject.
The „White Cat“ of 1912 by Franz Marc reminds of Hokusai’s studies of animals, pictures of women by Degas resemble the ones by Utamaro, whether it is Van Gogh, Monet, Cézanne, Vallotton, Vuillard or Manet and Munch – the show in Bank Austria Kunstforum demonstrates that European modern art would be virtually unthinkable without the influence of Japan. (written by Cem Angeli)

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