Japan Travel Poster, 1930s. Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

The Dayton Institute of Art in Dayton, Ohio, is currently hosting “Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture, 1920-1945,” an intriguing exhibition that explores the influence of the Art Deco movement on Japanese culture. The show, which has been on view at a number of institutions, including the Seattle Art Museum in Washington, the Tyler Museum of Art in Texas, and the Columbia Museum of Art in South Carolina, is the first traveling exhibition outside of Tokyo dedicated to Japanese Art Deco. Drawn from the private Levenson Collection of Japanese art in Clearwater, Florida, “Deco Japan” features nearly two-hundred objects, including sculpture, ceramics, glassware, jewelry, textiles, prints, lacquerware, furniture, and paintings, including five works from Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts.

Art Deco emerged in Paris in 1925 at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, where the style was first exhibited. The aesthetic quickly spread throughout Western Europe and by the 1930s, the movement had caught on in the United States and beyond. In the midst of the Machine Age, with World War I behind them, designers favored the style because it sought to infuse jaded traditions with new life – creating a modern style that was elegant, sophisticated, glamorous, and exuberant. The movement also had great reverence for the social and technological progress happening at the time.

As much as Art Deco looked to the future, the movement was significantly inspired by the past, especially the distant and ancient cultures of Africa, East Asia, and early Egypt and Mesoamerica. Art Deco integrated many motifs, materials, and forms from these cultures into the movement’s art, design, and décor. What resulted was an eclectic and exciting style, typified by bold colors, lavish ornamentation, streamlined forms, geometric shapes, and modern materials such as aluminum, stainless steel, Bakelite, chrome, and plastics. From fine and decorative arts to fashion, film photography, and commercial design, Art Deco affected all forms of artistic output during the inter-war years. 

“Deco Japan” is organized to highlight the cultural, formal, and social aspects of Japanese deco. Divided into seven sections, the exhibition progesses sequentially, focusing on Japan’s contributions to the movement. According to a release from the museum, Dr. Aimee Marcereau DeGalan, The Dayton Art Institute’s Curator of Collections and Exhibitions, said, “Art deco was an eclectic style that drew on many international sources… Japan embraced the style enthusiastically, as the combination of visual strength operated in support of Japan’s expanding empire.”

The Dayton Art Institute is the only Midwest stop for “Deco Japan.” The exhibition will remain on view through January 25, 2015.