Museum exhibit reveals an unusual place where the Jazz Age thrived — Japan

acoyne@thestate.comFebruary 5, 2014 

  • If you go

    ‘Japan and the Jazz Age’

    WHEN: Opening Friday through April 20

    WHERE: Columbia Museum of Art, 1515 Main St., Main and Hampton streets

    INFO: www.columbiamuseum.org

When most people think of jazz, their minds do not tend to jump to interwar Japan.

“We think of the ’20s and ’30s and you think of the Jazz Age,” said Dickson Monk, the Columbia Museum of Art’s communications manager. “You think of New York City. You think of Paris. You think of the West. You don’t really think about this happening in Japan.”

But the explosion of changes in music, fashion and culture that came with the popularity of jazz in the early 20th century did reach to the far east. Now, almost a century later, the Columbia Museum of Art is bringing Japan in the Jazz Age back to life.

The exhibit, opening Feb. 7, goes beyond just art. The collection of more than 120 pieces includes everything from posters and postcards to sheet music and kimonos.

“What is really interesting is the way these artists retained traditional Japanese culture ... but changed it into a Western art deco style,” Monk said.

The Jazz Age was a time of intense social and political change in Japan. It had adopted a Western style of government just a few decades before and had begun engaging in international conflicts. With those conflicts came an influx of foreign culture, including jazz.

“It was all pretty revolutionary for a traditionally Japanese culture who, only 20 years before, had been shut off from the rest of the world,” Monk said. “Before, it had mostly been them exporting their traditional culture.”

But that traditional culture and the social change of the roaring ’20s melded; Japan even had their own versions of American flappers called “mogas.” Music was arranged to appeal to Japanese audiences while still preserving its jazz style. Everything from clothing to furniture was influenced by this influx of Western culture.

Just as Japan was transformed by the Jazz Age, so will the museum. Its walls have been “drastically repainted” in dark red, black and gold in an art deco style.

“We put a lot more into making it a really jazzy, compelling exhibit, and that’s spilling out into the performance center,” Monk said.

An installation in the museum’s Jazz on Main series will be tied in with the exhibit in April. The Noel Freidline Quintet will perform an “East meets West” set of Japanese-style jazz, arranging some classics to have more of an Eastern feel while also pulling pieces from the Japanese repertoire.

The Eastern focus fits in well with the museum’s permanent collection, Monk said, as it includes the largest collection of East Asian art in South Carolina and “possibly the Southeast.” The museum hosted another exhibit focusing on the dialogue between Eastern and Western cultures in 2013 when it exhibited artist Stephen Naifeh’s Middle Eastern-inspired paintings and sculptures.

 

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