Katsura: Picturing Modernism in Japanese Architecture, Photographs by Ishimoto Yasuhiro, Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Houston, TX

Ishimoto Yasuhiro, Untitled (from the series “Katsura”), 1953-54
Gelatin silver print, printed 1980—81

June 20 – September 12, 2010

Photographer Ishimoto Yasuhiro (born 1921) is one of the most influential figures in post-World War II Japanese photography. Among his most celebrated bodies of work are the photographs he took during 1953 and 1954 of the legendary 17th-century Katsura Imperial Villa in Kyoto. These images infuse the iconic structure with a modernist Bauhaus aesthetic. Katsura: Picturing Modernism in Japanese Architecture presents 70 of these photographs, for the first time uncropped and as Ishimoto had originally intended them to be seen.

For the last 50 years these photographs have been known only from the landmark 1960 book Katsura: Creation and Tradition in Japanese Architecture by architect Tange Kenzo with an introduction by Walter Gropius. For that publication, Tange rigorously cropped and sequenced the photographs to promote his agenda in a debate that consumed post-occupation Japan´s cultural elite in the mid-1950s: that of the vital relevance and existence of tradition in their efforts to define modernity. Against this backdrop, the exhibition explores the nuanced and complex relationship between architecture and photography, and the profound impact these photographs had on the public´s interpretation of Japanese tradition in modern architecture.

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