Befitting an art history book, Erin Schoneveld
’s Shirakaba and Japanese Modernism: Art Magazines, Artistic Collectives, and the Early Avant-Garde
(Brill, 2019) is a beautifully packaged analysis of the early twentieth-century Japanese modern art collective Shirakaba and its eponymous coterie magazine (1910-1923). Shirakaba, which means “white birch,” is recognized as the most significant art movement of the period, and had a lasting impact on the discourse and practice of art in modern Japan. The group’s journal was among the first and most important Japanese art magazines to include the works of prominent European artists, and doing so shaped the contours of the art world of twentieth-century Japan.
Schoneveld shows how Shirakaba arose in opposition to the statist art of the young Meiji state, the strategies deployed to promote its artistic agenda, how the group established sometimes tangible and direct personal, artistic, and ideological connections to the European artists who represented the ideal of individualism, and how the movement changed over time from an avant-garde bastion to become central to the mainstream of the Japanese art scene in the early 1920s. In addition, the book reveals dynamic tensions between statism and Shirakaba’s individualism, between the group’s ethos of individualism and the realities of being a collective, between being avant-garde and establishment, and between different generations of Shirakaba artists themselves, as well as between virtual and physical exhibition spaces and the status of original versus reproduced art. Shirakaba and Japanese Modernism
is an important contribution not just to Japanese art history, but to rethinking the global spread, reception, and adoption and adaptation of modernity and modernism.