It would be hard to overemphasize the influence that Japanese design has had on the development of modern architecture in the West. Nearly 400 years after the Katsura Imperial Villa was constructed in Kyoto, for example, modern architects are still in awe of the precise geometrical forms of its sukiya-style buildings and the abstract beauty of its gardens. Indeed, as local author Patricia Graham reminded a group of more than 100 who gathered on January 11th at the Lawrence Public Library, much of what we now view as modernist architecture has its origins hundreds of years ago in Japan. This truth has not been overlooked—the great German architect Bruno Taut wrote three incisive books about the contributions of Japanese architecture to modernism a century ago—but it bears repeating and humble respect.
Graham’s talk, which was coupled with the recent publication of her book, Japanese Design: Art, Aesthetics & Culture, celebrated not only Japan’s architecture and fine art but how Japanese refinement extends to even the most mundane objects, such as utensils and snack food packaging. She explained the origins of this refined aesthetic sense—clarifying the meaning of words like wabi, sabi and shibui, which are often carelessly used to describe it—in the context of Japan’s religious and cultural history. As an art historian and appraiser of Asian art, Graham also gave a bow to curators of Japanese art such as Langdon Warner, an art historian who traveled extensively throughout Japan in the early 1900’s, purchasing rare objects that are now preserved in museums. Another, of course, was Frank Lloyd Wright, who collected more Japanese woodblock prints than anyone in history and also was obsessed with Japanese art, design, and architecture. What goes around comes around.
It was an interesting presentation by Dr. Graham. Lawrence Modern appreciates her work and wishes her success with her new book. Arigatou Gozaimasu!