Current Institutional Affiliation
ABD, History of Art, University of Pennsylvania

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Confronting Modernity: Shirakaba Magazine and the Japanese Avant-garde

In April 1910 a group of artists founded the magazine Shirakaba (White Birch), in an effort to instigate an artistic rebellion that sought new modes of representation while also retaining a sense of its native identity during Japan’s rapid modernization period. Subverting established hierarchies of production and exhibition, the art journal Shirakaba served as a platform to advocate a new painting style that valued individuality and emphasized subjective expression. Using the magazine as my primary archive this dissertation will reframe the current scholarly discourse regarding key moments in modern Japanese art during the years 1910-1920 by focusing on the power of Shirakaba to emphasize expression of the “self” through its enthusiastic endorsement of Post-Impressionism. For Shirakaba, Post-Impressionist artists like Cézanne, van Gogh, and Matisse exemplified the discovery of self within the chaos of the modern period. I will argue that Shirakaba’s dialogue with the international modernism revolutionized the way in which art was being produced and exhibited during early twentieth-century Japan, providing a critical space that allowed the most important Japanese artists of the modern era, Takamura Kōtarō, and painters Kishida Ryūsei and Umehara Ryūzaburō, to explore their changing social roles as they negotiated between the local and universal elements within their work.