Many of us, when we picture kimono, envision the traditional Japanese garment covered in similarly traditional images: blossoming floral motifs, soaring or leaping animals, mountain peaks and cresting seascapes in Ukiyo-e style. But cross-cultural exchange between Japan and the West started in earnest during the Meiji period (1868–1912), causing the spread of different technologies and styles in both directions. By the time the Shōwa period rolled around in 1926, Japanese kimono looked quite different than they once had, with patterns that that were far more abstract and modern.
Opening on Saturday, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art’s (LACMA) exhibition Kimono for a Modern Age surveys this period of Japanese fashion innovation. The show presents 30 never-before-seen kimono from LACMA’s permanent collection. All date to the first half of the 20th century — chronology you might guess just by looking at the garments, which show a strong affinity with modern art of the period.
“By the early Shōwa period (1926–89), vibrant and dynamic designs inspired by art movements such as Art Deco, Surrealism, and Abstract Expressionism, as well as patterns commemorating an important arctic expedition and the beginning of space exploration, appear on kimono,” says LACMA’s press release. The designs have the bright colors swaths of Fauvism and the bold, geometric patterns of Art Deco; the “undulating vertical lines” of one recall the curving script in Cy Twombly’s paintings. But this isn’t just simple borrowing — it’s the shaping of Western modes of art making to fit a distinctly Japanese form. The resulting garments are both artifacts of their time and amazingly current. Herewith, a few of the kimono from the show.
Kimono for a Modern Age opens at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art (5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles) on July 5.