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Japanese Design: A Survey Since 1950

Start Date 25 September 1994
End Date 20 November 1994
Venue Philadelphia Museum of Art
Location Philadelphia, USA
Curator Felice Fischer and Kathryn Bloom Hiesinger

The Philadelphia Museum of Art will exhibit over 250 objects–ranging from furniture, housewares, and consumer electronics to posters, packaging, and clothing–in the first comprehensive survey anywhere of Japan’s original and important contribution to modern design. 

In recent decades, Japanese products have become familiar sights to consumers on virtually every continent. Yet they are often discussed and appreciated more for the technology they embody than for their striking form and design. This exhibition for the first time surveys the post-war period as a continuous development and records the achievements of artists, designers, and design teams still largely unknown even in Japan. In some cases, new technology has allowed for or even dictated bold new designs: robot transformers, hand-held TVs and computers, a plastic bustier, new textile fibers, and the like. Other designers have embraced the challenge of bringing a fresh, contemporary approach to such traditional icons of Japanese culture as tea pots, soy sauce bottles, lacquerware and paper lamps. 

This exhibition not only surveys design for the broadest possible range of purposes–posters for the 1964 Olympics that represent the first commercial use of stop-action photography, inventive package designs for a country squeezed for space, a Tokyo firefighter’s uniform, toys from the traditional to the ultra high-tech, and even a beautiful and innovative wheelchair–but also places them in their cultural and historical context. The installation will include two rooms: a tatami room (named for the traditional Japanese floor covering of thick, woven straw mats) from around 1960 with a TV and other electrical appliances to suggest the juxtaposition of traditional culture with the new industrial technology; and a more recent “one-room mansion,” an example of a self-contained studio apartment designed for single working people living in urban high rises. A curved theater with a continuous presentation of videos about Japanese designers and firms will occupy the center of the space, and TV monitors at intervals throughout the installation will show examples of both Japanese commercial advertising and various manufacturing techniques. 

Japanese Design: A Survey Since 1950 is accompanied by the first fully illustrated book-length history of this exciting period in Japanese design. It was written by the exhibition curators with contributions from 15 Japanese critics, historians, and designers, and was designed by Mitsuo Katsui, one of Japan’s famous graphic designers. The installation design is by the noted architect and theorist Dr. Kisho Kurokawa. Katsui and Kurokawa in themselves constitute a special contribution to the field of contemporary Japanese design. 


This exhibition was organized by Kathryn B. Hiesinger, Curator of European Decorative Arts after 1700, and Felice Fischer, Curator of Japanese Art, Philadelphia Museum of Art, in cooperation with a team of Japanese scholars. 


  1. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation
    The Pew Charitable Trusts
    The National Endowment for the Arts
    The Japan Foundation
    The Japan-United States Friendship Commission
    A grant from The Commemorative Association for the Japan World Exposition (1970) to promote world peace 


Felice Fischer, Curator of Japanese Art
Kathryn Bloom Hiesinger, Curator of European Decorative Arts after 1700 


Dorrance Galleries 


Philadelphia Museum of Art
Galleria dell’Triennale, Milan
Stadtische Kunsthalle Dusseldorf
Centre Georges Pompidou, Musee National d’Art Moderne, Paris
Suntory Museum Tempozan, Osaka, Japan