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Permanent Collection - National Museum of Modern Art

Permanent displays of the Museum Collection and special exhibitions take place in the Main Building.

The permanent exhibition entitled "Modern Japanese Art from the Museum Collection" consists of paintings, sculptures, prints, watercolors, drawings, photographs, and other works dating roughly from the beginning of the 20th century to the present and provides an overview of the history of modern art. Although the exhibits are changed several times a year, historic masterpieces remain on show for as long as possible

I. Art in the Meiji and Taisho periods
Around the launch of the Bunten

When we take a general view of modern Japanese art by means of our museum's collection, we first come across with works shown at the annual Bunten or Ministry of Education Exhibition which was launched in 1907. Established as a part of the Meiji Government's educational policy, the government-sponsored painting and sculpture competition had a great influence on subsequent developments in the Japanese art world. Western-style paintings shown at the Bunten, such as those by Nakazawa Hiromitsu and Wada Eisaku, followed the academism already established by Kuroda Seiki and his comrades, characterized by then fashionable brightness hence the school name Gaiko-ha (literally "outdoor daylight school"). Japanese-style paintings broke from the conventionalities in various aspects including shading, perspective, and color composition, establishing itself as a genre of arts to be publicly exhibited. In the 1910s, active introduction of European Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, and Symbolism inspired many Western- and Japanese-style painters to pursue innovative expressions.

Humanism in the Taisho period (1912-26)

In 1910, Takamura Kotaro's essay Midori-iro no taiyo (lit. "Green sun") declared absolute freedom for artists' self expression. Artists' groups such as Fyuzan-kai (Fusain Society), Shirakaba, and Nakamura-ya Salon attracted young artists aspiring to humanism and utopia. Among others, Kishida Ryusei, Yorozu Tetsugoro, Nakamura Tsune, and Ogiwara Morie produced distinctive works showing their departure from the Bunten's formalism. In particular, Kishida Ryusei placed his ideals in "internal beauty" and pursued realistic expression with minute representations. Together with his research into Chinese art of the Sung and Yuan dynasties, the painter's originality had a great influence on many artists including Hayami Gyoshu and other Japanese-style painters. The works symbolic of this periods included those of Yorozu Tetsugoro who was quick to acquire new futurist expressions, and those of Murayama Kaita and Sekine Shoji who were driven by their impulse to express short, passionate life.

Art of the prewar Showa period (1926-89)
Artists in the modern city

The 1923 Tokyo Earthquake devastated and completely changed the city, leading to the subsequent rise of new middle-class citizens. Murayama Tomoyoshi applied Russian constructivism in his own way to his avant-garde art that extracted conflicts and episodes from urban life. Prewar avant-garde art had two major trends: surrealist movement from Koga Harue's Sea (1929) to Fukuzawa Ichiro; and abstract expression of Okamoto Taro and Eikyu. In addition, proletarian art flourished in the prewar period. An increasing number of artists studied and lived abroad, including Fujita Tsuguharu and Saeki Yuzo in Paris, and Kuniyoshi Yasuo in New York. Their works displayed some characteristics free from restraint of national boundaries.

Art of the prewar Showa period (1926-89)
Maturity of Japanese-style and Western-style paintings

After the individualist trend in the Taisho period (1912-26) and the subsequent rise of modernism, some artists extended the trend and pursued avant-garde expression, but others negatively reacted and turned their eyes to Japanese traditions and classics, emphasizing Japanese and Oriental tradition as the starting point of creative activities. Many Japanese-style painters strongly inclined toward classicism, typified by Yasuda Yukihiko and Kobayashi Kokei who often tackled historical subjects using strictly controlled lines following ancient Chinese examples. Western-style painters such as Umehara Ryuzaburo and Yasui Sotaro gradually established lucid and decorative styles that might be called "Japanese oil painting" In short, it can be said that modern Japanese painting reached its maturity around this period.

Art during and after the War

Soon after the 1929 Great Depression resulted in economic protectionism in many countries, the second Sino-Japanese War broke out in 1937, leading to the enforcement of the National Mobilization Law next year. It was a difficult situation for "modern" artists who were thought to ground their activities on individuality. In addition to usual military painters, leading artists began producing war record paintings by commission from the military press section. On the other hand, younger painters such as Ai-Mitsu, Matsumoto Shunsuke, and Aso Saburo created realist works aiming at leaving evidence of humanity at a narrow margin of wartime statism--rare legacies handed down to postwar art. This section centers on realist paintings of the 1940s and 1950s, including those artists who began their careers after the war.

Art in the 1950s and 1960s

In 1952, the Treaty of Peace with Japan went into effect and the country regained its sovereignty. The 1950s saw strong economic revival, and the 1960s unprecedented level of economic growth. In the 1950s, Higashiyama Kaii and Takayama Tatsuo introduced profound color planes, leading the transformation of Japanese-style paintings to presentation of internal image. Including abstract paintings and sculptures, Japanese art in this period in general had a strong tendency toward direct revelation of the origin of life, or the bosom of Nature or the universe. After rapid improvement of the social system and urban infrastructure began for the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games, modern thinking revived to highlight the relationship between forms or the framework of artistic expression. Those artists who began their careers after the war, such as Domoto Hisao, Kusama Yayoi, and Miyawaki Aiko, produced new types of abstract paintings.

Contemporary Art after the 1970s

From the late 1960s when the mood for changes of the society and consciousness heightened, artists began extensively incorporating in their works letters, signs, photographic images, and natural objects such as stones, trees, and water. In the 1970s, it seemed that paintings and sculptures in traditional forms disappeared from the center stage of contemporary art. It was only in the late 1970s that, as artists tried to reconsider the meaning of the act of producing (or painting), the space of the painting deepened and revived, and sculptures restarted. This section focuses mainly on achievements after the 1980s: paintings, sculptures, and photographs aiming at disclosing, through presentation of pure forms, the "depth" of visual experience as the space where various functions of consciousness, such as memory, association, and language, entangle each other.

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