“The Avant-Garde of Nihonga 1938-1949” at the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto takes issue with nihonga (Japanese-style painting) of the period as a reaction to what has been passed down to the present as the traditional aesthetics and thematics of the genre. These include the conventional materials of mineral pigments and their binding agent nikawa and the long-held respect for themes such as kacho-fugetsu (beauties of nature) and historical and mythological subjects. It also refers to the emergence of a divide that posited nihonga, the amalgamation of Japan’s various traditional schools of painting, up against yoga (Western-style painting), which represented the newly imported trends from the West.

The strength of the exhibition is that it lets the artworks tell the story and gives little attention to art-history texts, impractical applications of terminology and the misconstrued essentialism that has come to characterize the nihonga/ yoga gulf.

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