Japanomania was a brilliant exhibition that I had the pleasure of visiting on a trip to Oslo, Norway. Carefully curated, the art and design pieces on display demonstrated how Japanese culture has influenced the arts and crafts movement in Scandinavia. Is there any culture that has not been artistically influenced by Japanese aesthetics?
I personally have been obsessed with Japanese aesthetics since I can remember. When I was in college I remember learning about the Asian influence in European visual arts and how popular the "exotic" themes became at the turn of the 19th century. I loved the outfitting of French ladies in Japanese clothing with stylized artifacts to recreate a setting. My Impressionist Art professor Willy Montero would say the significant influence of the Uu-key-yo-e is essential to understanding the whole period. The Ukiyo-e, also known as the Japanese wood block print, circulated as a postcard of Japanese imagery around large European cities, particularly Paris. Artists such as James McNeill Whistler to Vincent Van Gogh to Edward Manet had all seen and studied Japanese aesthetic through such memorabilia.
In studying design history it's interesting to see here the strength of Japanese influence as well. French designer and architect Charlotte Perriand was very inspired by Japanese proportions and the use of the tatami mat as a standard measure for her furniture and architecture, Charles and Ray Eames were influenced with Japanese low living lifestyle reflecting this in the LTR (low table rod) series of tables and chairs. I digress to reach the point that in many cultures around the world, Japanese aesthetics, have been extremely influential.
My second aesthetic obsession happens to be that of Scandinavian design and it is not surprising to learn that Japanese aesthetics were influential as well. I always thought I enjoyed both Japanese and Scandinavian design just the same due to their clean line, use of natural materials, mute color tones and inspiration in nature. However, I know now the similarities are deeper and the influences date earlier than mid twentieth century design. The exhibition Japanomania sheds light on a whole era of Japanese influence in the Nordic countries. The survey of art and artifacts carefully depicts inspirations in the fields of painting, textile, ceramics and furniture dating from 1875 to 1918. An era that developed right after the Universal Exposition in Paris in 1867 from which Japonisme began to spread. It is said that there has been no other influence in European visual arts that is as encompassing nor as long lasting as Japonisme.
The exhibition was co-curated by the Finnish National Gallery, Helsinki, Finnland and the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design, Oslo, Norway. It will also travel to Copenhagen, Denmark in 2017. It's quite shocking to learn that never before had these influences been researched beyond the individual artist cases. The exhibition is an impressive overall picture of the times. It's such a privilege for this traveling exhibition to be available for the Nords. For those who can not visit the show personally, the exhibition catalog in English contains images on all the contents of the show and more so. It is available through Yale University Press and I highly recommend it for any design obsessed.
If you’d like to learn about a coffee shop in Oslo, Norway that does an amazing job at decorating an old Japanese tea house with mid-century Norwegian furniture read next Fuglen: The Bird.