Serizawa Keisuke at the Japan Society

Editorial Staff Exhibitions

Serizawa: Master of Japanese Textiles, which opens tomorrow at the Japan Society in New York, is an exhibition that will win many people over many—from the devoted connoisseur of fiber arts to those with an eye for graphic design to the Japanese art aficionado. In this display of one hundred works that span Serizawa Keisuke’s (1895-1984) career—the first large-scale museum exhibition of his work in the United States—the full achievements of his art unfold.

There is an entire room of kimonos, some with bold abstracted designs and others that include playful thumbprint shapes and hand drawn elements; a room of strikingly graphic entrance curtains or wall hangings; small cases that display books with Serizawa-designed covers and albums of designs including those for ceramics and fans; traditional screens transformed with whimsical motifs and calligraphic characters; and framed works on paper or silk that document his love of nature and everyday objects. The works on display exemplify the natural affinity between Japanese aesthetics and mid-century modern design. At the same time, the intimate arrangement of the exhibition space and the warmth of the colors in the galleries reminds visitors that most of the objects were for domestic decoration and use.

Serizawa, who was named a Living National Treasure in 1956, came from a family of drapers and studied design at the Tokyo Technical College. In the 1920s he began to experiment with stencil-dying textiles, a technique that he observed in Okinawa. At this time, Serizawa became part of the circle of mingei (folk or people’s crafts) artists led by Yanagi Muneyoshi that aimed to preserve Japanese craft traditions and to make beautiful everyday objects. But, breaking with tradition, Serizawa also incorporated other cultures in his work—particularly Korean—and avidly collected art and objects from around the world. Today more than 4,000 items he amassed including African masks, toys, and pottery can be seen at the Serizawa Keisuke Art Museum in Shizuoka City.

This fascination with everyday objects and activities can be seen in several works in the Japan Society exhibit such as a large hanging scroll depicting the Great Market in Naha City, Okinawa, and a two-part screen of Japanese books and scrolls. One charming stencil-dyed design on silk (above) shows an irregular grouping of Korean boxes—Serizawa was particularly fond of mother-of-pearl inlaid lacquerware. Here the precision of the geometric patterns on the boxes is contrasted with uneven hand-drawn lines that emphasize their maker. In this spare composition Serizawa’s playful and distinctive color palette is emphasized, resulting in a poetic and thoughtful appreciation of beauty in mundane things.

Serizawa: Master of Japanese Textiles is presented from October 9 to January 17, 2010. For more information or to purchse the exhibition catalogue visit www.japansociety.org.

Image: Korean Boxes by  Serizawa Keisuke, 1965. Tohoku Fukushi University, Serizawa Keisuke Art and Craft Museum.