Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Exhibition Fever

By the early 1920s, major newspapers in Japan began highlighting in their reporting the so-called “newcomer” artists (shinjin) and those who had received their “first acceptance at the exhibition” (hatsu nyūsen). The press helped shape the popular image of an artist as a successful exhibition participant. Also, exhibition participation promised an opportunity for sales and elevating an artist's standing in the art market. As an acceptance of one's work at a major exhibition became a decisive moment in launching a career, some artists began to enter their works when still in art school.

With the acceptance of an oil painting by the Taiwanese-Chinese oil painter Chen Chengbo to the Imperial Academy of Fine Arts Exhibition in Tokyo in 1926 and the opening of the first Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition in Taipei in 1927, the young generation of artists in Taiwan also began to envision their careers through the lens of exhibitions.

Many young artists must have held their breath as they crowded outside of the museum to catch a peek at the list announcing the selected names and the titles of the admitted works. Within a few hours, the names of admitted artists were announced on the radio and published the next day in all major daily newspapers. Art career guidebook writer Ishino Takashi (1897-1967) described how these artists would hear with excitement their name on the radio, have journalists arrive at the door, and receive greetings from acquaintances exclaiming “Congratulations!” when randomly met on a train (Ishino 1934, 108).

More senior artists sympathized with the ambitions of the young artists, yet at the same time they viewed them as prone to the “exhibition intoxication” (tenrankai kaichūdokushō) and cautioned against it (Ishino 1942, 115). For example, painter Ishii Hakutei (1882-1958) encouraged aspiring artists to take art seriously and not to aim at only the benefits resulting from participation in exhibitions (see afterword to Ishino 1934, 143-145). Elsewhere, painter Arishima Ikuma noted that aspiring painters submitted their works to exhibitions after only two or three years of study and then became very disappointed and would stop painting when rejected (Arishima 1920, 44). With the art world organized around competitive exhibitions, senior artists acted as jurors and gatekeepers, and were eager to protect their exclusive status.

Soon, a small industry developed catering to aspiring artists. Art supply companies such as Ōsama shōkai began organizing correspondence courses and in-person instruction under the guidance of exhibition jurors (Kolodziej 2020, 173). They also provided a special delivery service for artists living outside of the metropolitan area and aiming to submit their works to a juried exhibition. By securing discreet transport and submission to juried art exhibitions, they advertised that they were able to protect the name of the artists in case their work was rejected (Yoshida 1918, 316; Ishino 1934, 99).

Little research exists on the artists’ use of such delivery services. Based on the exhibition catalogues, we can gauge that the number of artists living outside of the metropolitan area participating in the official salon in Tokyo grew only slowly in the prewar period. This research is made complicated by the fact that some artists moved to Tokyo temporarily and submitted their works under a Tokyo address, and so the number of participants from Tokyo is inflated. However, it is clear that art supply companies, which also targeted school children, were well positioned to early recognize this new demand and to step in and provide delivery and educational services extending well beyond Tokyo.

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