Japanese Artists During the Prewar Period in new York City

- Artistic Trace from the 1910s to the 1940s -


Most of the painters featured in this exhibition are unknown and most of the works cannot be located except for a limited number of artists, such as Yasuo Kuniyoshi and Eitaro Ishigaki. By searching the exhibition catalogs and the art columns of Japanese and English-language newspapers, this project rediscovered the stories of the Japanese artists that were buried in history. This digital exhibition is a meticulous effort to uncover the traces of Japanese painters in New York who have been forgotten.

The digital exhibition, Japanese Artists who worked in New York City – Artistic Traces from the 1920s to the 1940s -, reveals the life of Japanese artists, their artwork, and the context in which their works were created. Through in-depth research into the newspapers, magazines, and other print media of the period, as well as paintings, sculptures, and exhibits, it tells the vibrant creative activities of those who came to New York as Japanese immigrants living in New York as artists. In particular, the relationship between Japanese society and the local communities will be discussed through the exhibition catalogs and illustrated books of various exhibitions.

The exhibition also introduces episodes of Japanese painters’ involvement in responce to the “anti-war, anti-fascism” movement, the Federal Art Project during the Great Depression, and their protests against Japanese militarism.

About this Exhibition

The exhibition will examine how Japanese artists were evaluated by the newspapers published in New York at the time, the differences between the views of Japanese-language and local newspapers, the historical context of the period, and how Japanese artists earned recognition from the New York art world.

This exhibition includes over 140 digital images from more than 20 museums and archives in Japan and the U.S. The illustrations found in exhibition catalogs and other sources, and a wealth of bibliographic information, including sources of illustrations and cited references, are on display.

This is the first exhibition of its kind to present articles originally written in Japanese translated in English, and this is the result of years of diligent research by the guest curator, Mai Sato.

The New York Council on Japanese History preserves and archives these materials and stories by digitizing and presenting them in an exhibition at the Digital Museum Of The History of Japanese In New York.

The U.S. without a background, the Americans who intuitively imagine communalism, the U.S. surrounded by this atmosphere – it does not demand art. How can art be born in the United States? My friend argued that artists cannot be created in a country that does not require art.

Of course, it is his personal opinion that it is not demanded. However, if you think about it in a broader sense, there isn’t a place in the world that doesn’t appeal to the true essence of the arts. The world today, or at any time in history, has always been hungry for true art. If something is manifested, the world will not miss it.

But even in this business-minded America, we have had Walt Whitman and painters like Albert Bierstadt. If only we could appreciate the beauty of nature with a little more open-mindedness, rather than treating the U.S. as a non-artistic country, the atmosphere in the U.S. would allow its researchers to appreciate the extraordinary beauty of nature in the same way it did with Whitman and Bierstadt.

(Yasuo Kuniyoshi, “Bijutsu Gaikan,” New York Shimpo, February 18, 1922)