This week I visited the Yamatane Museum of Art to view the exhibition Kawaii (Cute) in Japanese Art. The show aimed to trace 'cute' in Japanese art from the 16th-19th centuries, and was divided into three sections: cute children, cute animals, and cute little objects. The theme was interesting, but quite broad, and many of the objects were loosely linked to the theme and to each other. The works in the show were fantastic though, and it was particularly wonderful to see Ito Jakuchu's Birds and Animals in the Flower Garden, an amazingly progressive 18th century work that uses a grid technique, as well as a variety of paintings by Uemura Shoen.
Front entrance to the museum.
The cute theme was extended to the catalogue, which is half the size of a regular exhibition catalogue, and which includes little conversation bubbles about the objects. The museum cafe also featured cute treats based on the artworks in the exhibition, but at around 1100 yen for a treat and some tea, I abstained. Some of the marketing for the show also targeted women, saying that the female staff was able to create an exhibit with female sensibilities. This was probably the most troublesome part of the show- why does cute have to be associated with women or women with cute? Most the objects in the show were created by men, and marketing to women as the passive consumers of a cute culture of puppies and babies is quite insulting. Furthermore, the exhibition would have been stronger if it had included some of the contemporary kawaii culture that pervades present day Japan, or some of the artists that address this culture in their works, such as Murakami Takashi or Yoshitomo Nara. Overall, while I have some disagreements with the theme and the marketing, the exhibition did include a great variety of fantastic objects, and was decidedly worth the trip to Ebisu.
The catalogue- is it cute?