“Japanese Kōgei: Future Forward” Exhibition

Museum of Arts & Design

poster for “Japanese Kōgei: Future Forward” Exhibition

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The Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) presents Japanese Kōgei | Future Forward. The exhibition showcases the work of 12 established and emergent kōgei artists, and examines the changing role of this discipline within Japanese culture today. Kōgei is a genre of traditional art that may be roughly translated as “artisan crafts”—a means of highly skilled artistic expression, both in form and decoration, that is associated with specific regions and peoples in Japan. The subject is steeped in tradition and rooted in upholding conventional cultural ideals and aesthetics through the mastery of specialized techniques and materials.

While contemporary kōgei remains rooted in centuries of cultural history, the work of the artists in this exhibition reflects a decisive and somewhat controversial shift from that of their peers. Most kōgei artists see their role as one that upholds traditional Japanese culture of the past, as it was established in the late-19th-century Meiji period, which precludes the opportunity for personal expression or for addressing more topical, global issues. The artists in Japanese Kōgei | Future Forward transcend this convention by incorporating into their work a high degree of individual expression and addressing ideas about the “future.”

“There is a technical ability inherent in kōgei that has the capacity to unleash intense, future-oriented visual imagery,” says Yūji Akimoto, Director of the 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Ishikawa Prefecture, Japan, and curator of Japanese Kōgei | Future Forward. “The exhibition considers the contemporary relevance and globalization of kōgei by examining innovative applications of traditional techniques and presenting works that reflect a high degree of individual expression.”

The relationship of each of the 12 artists to kōgei varies, reflecting the complex and evolving perceptions of the genre today. Drawing inspiration from current trends in Japanese culture, including animation, manga, design, and contemporary art, these artists reimagine conventional processes, surface treatments, ornamentation, and figurative expression to create inventive new forms for traditional use. The individualism found in these works links them equally to art as to traditional craft, extending the vitality of kōgei into the 21st century.

“MAD aims to reveal the fluidity of traditional approaches to artistic expression and their complex relationship to contemporary practice,” says Ronald T. Labaco, MAD’s Marcia Docter Senior Curator. “Japanese Kōgei | Future Forward presents the work of artists who redefine traditions by considering craft at the intersection of the historical and the contemporary, thus radicalizing the genre.”


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