June 1938
New York Municipal Art Association Exhibition

Fig. 114. Chuzo Tamotzu, "Gas Tanks and Flowers"
Fig. 115. Eitaro Ishigaki, "Victim of War"
Fig. 116. Eitaro Ishigaki, “Flight”
Fig. 113. Yasuo Kuniyoshi, "Lay Figure"
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In addition to the government-sponsored WPA art projects during the Great Depression, New York City organized opportunities for artists. NYC started the Municipal Art Exhibition, a city cultural program designed to revitalize the city through the exhibition of artworks and to promote interest in art and the desire to purchase art. The first Municipal Art Exhibition was held at the Rockefeller Center in February 1934. However, just before the exhibition was supposed to open at the Rockefeller Center, the Mexican artist Diego Rivera’s mural “Man at the Crossroads” was destroyed because a communist was depicted in it. In protest, the painters proposed to the mayor to organize an Artists’ Committee of Action and to open a municipal art gallery.

In June 1934, the New York Municipal Art Committee was established to promote the fine arts, theater, and music. In 1935, the Temporary Gallery hosted a series of exhibitions organized by the New York Municipal Art Committee. The exhibition, which started with the intention of changing exhibits every three weeks, was initially limited to those who had U.S. citizenship. However, after Kuniyoshi Yasuo participated in the exhibition, the terms were modified to allow non-citizen artists to exhibit.

In June 1938, a group of Japanese artists participated in the 31st exhibition of the Municipal Art Committee. The details of this exhibition are unknown, but newspaper articles of the time indicate that the exhibition included works by Eitaro Ishigaki, Roy Kadowaki, Yasuo Kuniyoshi, Kaname Miyamoto, Thomas Nagai, Fuji Nakamizo, Sakari Suzuki, Chuzo Tamotzu, and Takeo Watari. At least 16 works by 9 artists were exhibited.

“All nine artists in the group were born in Japan. Of the 16 works in the exhibition, Thomas Nagai’s two watercolor landscapes allude to traditional Japanese art. At the same time, Roy Kadowaki’s ‘Botanic Garden’ is the only Japanese subject. Fuji Nakamizo’s ‘Tudor City’ depicts people experiencing poverty on the Upper East Side cooling off on a rooftop on a summer evening. Yesterday, at the exhibition, Nakamizo said he painted the New York scene using American techniques because Japanese paintings do not sell. The most un-Japanese works in the exhibition are Ishigaki Eitaro’s ‘Flight’ and ‘Victim of War,’ which compassionately depict Chinese people caught up in the Sino-Japanese war.”

(“Japanese Artists Have City Exhibit: Nine Show Works Here Slight Traditional Influence Seen,” New York Times, June 23, 1938)

The New York Herald Tribune wrote, 

“Several works are anti-war. Eitaro Ishigaki’s dramatic ‘Flight’ and ‘Victim of War’ are about bombing and looting by the Imperial Japanese Army. Other works tend to be more lyrical. Suzuki’s ‘Remembrance,’ an imaginative composition of past and personal connections; the gently whimsical ‘Gas Tanks and Flowers’ by Tamotzu Chuzo; and the exquisitely colored ‘Reclining Figure’ by Kuniyoshi Yasuo. In addition, works by Roy Kadowaki, Kaname Miyamoto, Thomas Nagai, Fuji Nakamizo, Takeo Watari, and Chikamichi Yamasaki are also on view.”

(“Notes and Comment on Events in Art: Municipal Show,” New York Herald Tribune, June 26, 1938).

Japanese artists applied to present their work at the 31st exhibition of the New York Municipal Art Committee. However, due to the growing tensions surrounding the outbreak of the Sino-Japanese War, some artists who had originally planned to participate in the exhibition canceled their participation. Issei artists, who were unable to hold U.S. citizenship, still participated in the exhibition. Despite their difficult circumstances without citizenship, these artists showcased their precarious status and complex lives in the U.S. by exhibiting their anti-war-themed paintings and lyrical American scenes in the New York City-sponsored exhibition.