By focusing on Art Deco paintings and sculptures that have received little attention in the past, Fantaisie Merveilleuse: Classicism in French Art Deco will shed light on the rich diversity and narrative qualities of work created in the interwar years, which were not completely dominated by to Modernism. Yamagata Yoshikazu, a designer who devises his creations on a narrative dimension and is constantly bringing the meaning of fashion up to date, shares thoughts on the essence of design and the significance of the stories and classics that communicate today with Seki Akio, who planned the exhibition.
Seki (S): Fantaisie Merveilleuse will introduce the pavilions of the 1925 Paris Exhibition, nicknamed the Art Deco Expo, which inspired the former Prince Asaka residence; the interiors of the Normandie and the Ile de France luxury ocean liners, which were referred to as “embassies on the seas” because of their ability to carry cultural messages from France to the world; and the artists who were involved in a variety of public construction projects. The interior designers who supervised these projects, coordinating with sculptors and painters, played a particularly vital role. The leading lights included Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, who was also a furniture designer, and Henri Rapin, who worked on the interiors of the main building of the Teien Art Museum. Art Deco was their mode of expression, mingled with complex elements such as Cubism and other Modernist trends that flourished in the early twentieth century. Exoticism figured not only in the motifs but also in their use of ebony, ivory and other materials imported from Asia and Africa. Add to that distinctively French preferences . . . here, the focus is on Classicism. Classicist styles have appeared repeatedly in the history of art. For example, Ruhlmann’s furniture was inspired by Classicism in the eighteenth-century taste. His furniture incorporates curved surfaces, instead of the usual planes, and extremely slender legs reminiscent of eighteenth-century pieces. It is quite an aristocratic taste, but the way he used his materials and the graphic charm of the inlays were completely new. While his work is Classicist, it is also modern in sensibility and also includes ethnographic aspects. The Serpent, an oil painting by Robert Poughéon,a member of the Bordeaux Group, features a similar wonderfully charming mix of very classical elements and modern expression.
Yamagata (Y): The painting is interesting, isn’t it? The man on the right has a tailored jacket draped over him, but it doesn’t look like he is actually wearing it. It looks tailored, but quite loose, almost shapeless; it reminds me of an ancient Greek or Roman toga. It is very interesting how the artist has used shadows to bring out flow in the material. The Serpent has something to do with Adam and Eve, doesn’t it? But they have taken their clothes off. Why have they unsaddled the horses? It is like a riddle waiting to be solved.
S ：I think the theme has something to do with a sense of morality, but not in the dogmatic manner of the nineteenth century. At a push, I would say that it is about impropriety and that it cannot be understood by simply deciphering traditional allegories. Even though it relies on classical themes, the contemporary and personal expression is sublime. Yamagata-san, you also incorporate story-telling mechanisms in your works. Some of your pieces bring to mind classical storytelling, and even a sense of constructing myths. Where do the ideas come from?
Y ：: For my 2012 show, THE SEVEN GODS – clothes from chaos, I conceived a story where the hero, Adam, goes on a long journey to find the essence of fashion; but my inspiration came from Japanese mythology and folklore. Recently, I have been thinking a lot about the flow of history and how the twentieth century developed at an unthinkable breakneck speed to suddenly arrive at Modernism. Until a mere hundred years ago, things that had been protected over long periods of time were suddenly assimilated, made the same, around the world. I feel that most keenly where national costumes are concerned. For hundreds, if not thousands, of years, national costumes developed in association with specific places. Those costumes were very powerful and convincing, but they were all sacrificed in an instant. To me, they embody treasures that we have forgotten. It is important for my creations to research and draw on classical Japan, where my own roots as a Japanese person are located. Of course, we need clothing that is suitable anywhere as a kind of global costume, but, today, when I think about what new luxuries should be, I keep coming back to local qualities and local classics, and I wonder about the importance of recognizing and updating the strengths that have survived for such a long time. Things have been discarded too easily in exchange for Western values, not just in the fashion world; there is much more that we need to remember.