Kuniyoshi emigrated to America from Japan as a teenager, rising to prominence in the New York art world during the 1920s to become one of the most esteemed artists in America between the two world wars. He drew on American folk art, Japanese design and iconography and European modernism to create a distinctive visual style. Kuniyoshi defined himself as an American artist while at the same time remaining very aware that his Japanese origins played an important role in his identity and artistic practices.
His inventive, humorous early works often included subtle color harmonies, simplified shapes, oddly proportioned figures and an eccentric handling of space and scale. His work became more sensuous and worldly after two long stays in Paris, as he painted moody, reflective women and still lifes with unusual objects.
Kuniyoshi was thoroughly integrated into American life and the art world, but immigration law prevented him from becoming an American citizen. Classified an “enemy alien” after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, he remained steadfastly on the side of his adopted country during the painful war years, working with the Office of War Information to create artworks indicting Japanese atrocities. After the war, Kuniyoshi developed a compelling late style, with bitter subjects and paradoxically bright colors.
The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi is the first comprehensive overview of his work by a U.S. museum in more than 65 years. The exhibition traces Kuniyoshi’s career though 66 of his finest paintings and drawings, chosen from leading public and private collections in America and Japan. The guest curator is the leading Kuniyoshi scholar Tom Wolf, professor of art history at Bard College. Joann Moser, deputy chief curator at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, is co-curator.
The Artistic Journey of Yasuo Kuniyoshi is organized by the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
American Honda Motor Co., Inc., provided leadership support for the exhibition.
We are especially grateful to Mr. Soichiro Fukutake for his major support of the book and exhibition, for his generosity in lending artworks from the Fukutake Collection in Okayama, and for his long advocacy for this artist.
Additional generous contributions have been provided by: All Nippon Airways Co., Ltd., E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, Fukutake Foundation, Raymond J. and Margaret Horowitz Endowment, The Japan Foundation, Japan-United States Friendship Commission, Peter and Paula Lunder, Friends of Franklin Riehlman, Sara Roby Foundation, Share Fund, and Yasuda Fine Arts Inc.
This is the first in a series of guest blog posts by the Archives of American Art's Mary Savig and Jason Stieber focused on the life of the artist Yasuo Kuniyoshi.