A Study of Modern Japanese Sculpture displays nine sculptures from the Taisho and early Showa periods (1912-41), bringing work from this period to British audiences for the first time. It features works by Tetsuya Mizunoya (1876-1943) and Risaburo Miyamoto (1904-98), as well as the master sculptors Kotaro Takamura (1883-1956), Heihachi Hashimoto (1897-1935) and Chozan Sato (1888-1963).
The exhibition focuses on representations of nature, and includes polychrome carvings of dried fish, birds, a crustacean and a hibernating toad; a stone carved in wood; and a hand modelled in clay and cast in bronze. These sculptures celebrate small things and fragments, treating inanimate objects, living creatures and human subjects in much the same way. The majority of the selected works are articulated in the round, meaning that they read as 'objects' rather than as 'sculptures', asking to be handled and turned to be fully appreciated. Where possible, they are displayed alongside their original storage and carry cases, signed by the artists.
All but two of the objects are carved in wood and have some kind of applied colour, whether a light, subtle wash or a dense, rich layer with detailed surface effects. The choice of material is often pragmatic, but in 'About the Stone' (1928) by Heihachi Hashimoto and 'Hand' (1918) by Kotaro Takamura the material becomes part of the subject matter. 'About the Stone' is accompanied by the stone it depicts, whilst 'Hand' was modelled in clay before being cast in bronze and can be seen here supported on a carved wood base that extends into the core of the work.
The term 'modern Japanese sculpture' in the title refers to sculpture made in Japan after the Meiji Restoration of 1868, a period when sculptors turned their attention to western sculptural practices. Limited research has been conducted into this area and the title of the exhibition reflects its intention to initiate further studies and new discussion around the subject.
On Saturday 31 January a one-day seminar is dedicated to this topic, with papers by Hirotake Kurokawa (Musashino Art University, Sculpture Department), Akira Fujii (Hirakushi Denchu Art Museum), Shuji Tanaka (Oita University), Clare Pollard (The Ashmolean Museum), Rosina Buckland (National Museum of Scotland), Edward Allington (Slade School of Art) and Sophie Raikes (Henry Moore Institute).
A Study of Modern Japanese Sculpture is curated in partnership with Edward Allington of the Slade School of Art and with Musashino Art University Museum & Library, Kodaira, Tokyo where the exhibition will be on show May to August 2015. The exhibition is supported by the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation, Japan Foundation and Great Britain Sasakawa Foundation.
Musashino Art University Museum & Library was established through the reorganization of an associated library that had existed since the time of the Imperial Art School and opened as the University's educational and research infrastructure in 1967. In addition to functioning as the University’s main library and art museum, the facility also houses the Folk Art Gallery and Image Library. It is being developed as a specialised university research facility that is also accessible to the wider public.