Art Deco’s Exoticism On Display

One could argue that Art Deco, which takes its name from the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes held in Paris in 1925, is a European–particularly French–style.  But one of the distinctive features of Art Deco is the way in which it drew on influences from around the world, particularly Africa and the near and far East, places that were relatively novel at the time when viewed from European eyes.

These “exotic” influences are the central feature of “Exotic x Modern”, the latest exhibition at the Tokyo Teien Metropolitan Art Museum, which opened yesterday and runs through January 14, 2019.  (See end of this post for details on a ticket give-away.)

Housed in the former home of Prince Asaka and Princess Nobuko (a daughter of the Emperor Meiji), itself heavily influenced by Art Deco, the Tokyo Teien Metropolitan Art Museum is the perfect venue for this exhibition, which includes a number of items on loan from Musée des années 30, the Musée des Arts Décoratifs, and the Mobilier National in France.

One feature of Art Deco was the way it influenced not only architecture and interior design, but also dress and accessories.  The exhibition includes a number of garments, showing Asian and Islamic influences, displayed in the reception and dining rooms.  In these settings, one can imagine them on a hostess entertaining guests.

Jewellry and accessories with similar influences are another joyous feature of this exhibition.  One almost feels as if one has stepped into an episode of Poirot!

Even advertising posters of that time period were designed with Art Deco in mind.

Furniture with designs echoing deepest Africa, or reflecting Asian or African motifs (exotic African flora and fauna are particularly popular), are also included in the exhibition.

The princess’s suite of rooms contain a special exhibit of items relating to Josephine Baker and Nancy Cunard, two woman of the inter-war period who were known as advocates for racial integration.  Although many of the African images used in Art Deco might today be viewed as inappropriate caricatures, their role in earlier times to open people’s minds to possibilities never before imagined, must be credited.

In addition to its use of exotic images, Art Deco is also a genre that used materials and methods in new ways.  The use of Asian-style lacquer to produce large images is a great example.

The various exhibits are arranged to optimal advantage using the Art Deco features of each room of the museum building itself to set them off.

Additional exhibits are displayed in the gallery behind the main building, a new structure only opened in 2014 that also houses a gift shop.

Among the items on display in this gallery are figurines displaying exotic animals and …

This review only scratches the surface of the many wonderful items displayed in this exhibition.  It is by far the best exhibition I have been privileged to attend at this museum, simultaneously exotic and modern and completely natural, perhaps because the Art Deco house shows off the displays to best advantage while the displays only make the Art Deco house that much more authentic.

The Tokyo Metropolitan Teien Art Museum is less than a 10 minute walk from either Meguro or Shirokanedai stations.  Hours: 10 am to 6 pm (upon until 8 pm on November 23, 24 and 30, and December 1, 7 and 8).  Closed the 2nd and 4th Wednesdays of every month and December 28 through January 4.

Admission to this exhibit is JPY1,200 (half price for students junior high school and below and those over 65).  Seniors! The 3rd Wednesday of every month is “Silver Day” at all Tokyo Metropolitan museums–patrons over 65 get free admission to any special exhibition, including this one.

Giveaway:  Jigsaw-Japan is pleased to give away a pair of tickets to “Decoration never dies, anyway”.  To enter your name for the random prize draw, please use “contact” to email your name and postal address.  Winner will be drawn on October 14, 2018 and the tickets will be mailed to the lucky winner.

© 2018 and Vicki L. Beyer
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