The Japanese word kogei has been translated as “craft” by art historians. The term appeared in Japan during the process of modernization in the early years of the Meiji period (1868–1912). Thus, Japanese handicrafts were exported to the West to satiate the demand among urban middle-class audiences, who loved Japanese art.
Now, the Museum of Arts and Design (MAD) in New York presents Japanese Kōgei | Future Forward, showcasing the work of 12 kōgei artists, and examining the changing role of this discipline within Japanese culture today. The exhibition runs from October 20, 2015 to February 7, 2016.
“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.”