Last month Yale published Bye Bye Kitty!!! Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art, a fascinating look at the work of contemporary Japanese artists who aim to challenge the country’s mainstream aesthetic. In light of this recent publication, we look at a variety of Yale books on Japanese art, textiles, fashion, sculpture and photography.
In recent decades Japanese art has achieved immense popularity in the West while being little understood. Critics have focused on the superficiality and infantilism they find prevalent in much of the work, while many Westerners are familiar with the country’s artistic side solely through manga and anime. Bye Bye Kitty!!! offers a more incisive and wide-ranging view of the contemporary Japanese art scene, depicted through the works of fifteen artists, ranging in age from twenty-seven to forty-five and working in painting, sculpture, installation, photography, and video. The book’s title invokes the subtle irony and subversive techniques adopted by this new generation of artists in their rebellion against the kawaii, or ‘cute’, aesthetic of mainstream Japanese culture. Bye Bye Kitty!!! explores many of the societal questions, such as the role of feminism, the rise of the ‘salaryman’, and reflections on the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, featured in their works. The artists featured in “Bye Bye Kitty!!!” demonstrate that they have the power not only to reconfigure international stereotypes about the current state of Japanese art but also to shape the very landscape of contemporary Japanese art itself.
But what of photography? Over the past 150 years, Japanese photographers have created an impressive body of work that ranges from dignified imperial photographs to sweeping urban panoramas, from early ethereal landscapes to modern urban mysteries. Despite the richness, significance and variety of this work, however, it has largely been neglected in Western histories of photography. The History of Japanese Photography is a comprehensive account of Japanese photography from its inception in the mid-19th century to the early 21st century, designed to reveal to English-speaking audiences the importance and beauty of this art form. Written by a team of Japanese and Western scholars, the book establishes that photography began to play a vital role in Japanese culture soon after its introduction to Japan in the 1850s. Illustrated essays discuss the medium’s evolution and aesthetic shifts in relation to the nation’s historical and cultural developments; the interaction of Japanese photographers with Western photographers; the link between photography and other Japanese art forms; and photography as a record and catalyst of change.
Fashion is another important Japanese art form, whose influence can be observed around the world. Scholars have long acknowledged the significance of the Japanese ‘fashion revolution’ of the 1980s, when avant-garde designers Issey Miyake, Yohji Yamamoto, and Rei Kawakubo of Comme des Garcons introduced a radically new conception of fashion. But what has happened in the years since then? Japan Fashion Now is the first book to explore how Japanese fashion has evolved in recent years. During this time, Japanese pop culture has swept the world, as young people everywhere read manga, watch anime, and play video games. Japan has had a profound impact on global culture, often via new media. With essays by Valerie Steele, Patricia Mears, Hiroshi Narumi and Yuniya Kawamura, Japan Fashion Now explores how the world of fashion has been transformed by contemporary Japanese visual culture.
Yale also publishes the Japan Society Series, a collection of books that look at Japanese art from a variety of different perspectives (Bye Bye Kitty!!! is in this series). Other books in this series include Serizawa: Master of Japanese Textile Design, a look at the work of Serizawa Keisuke (1895-1984), one of the greatest textile artists of 20th century Japan; New Bamboo: Contemporary Japanese Masters, which examines contemporary Japanese bamboo masters who work in sculptural forms; and Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York, a compelling book which showcases work by 33 New York-based contemporary Japanese artists.
All of these books are available from Yale University Press