Dissertation/Thesis Abstract

Art into everyday life: Department stores as purveyors of culture in modern Japan
by Oh, Younjung, Ph.D., University of Southern California, 2012, 377; 3513823
Abstract (Summary)

This study examines the artistic practices of Japanese department stores, which have been obscured in the discursive realm of modern Japanese art history despite their pronounced and lasting manifestations in the praxis of modern Japanese art history. Since the turn of the twentieth century, when department stores first emerged in Japan, prominent artists of the day have engaged in various artistic projects of the stores, ranging from window displays to advertising to building design. The department stores also have constituted primary venues for displaying works of art since Mitsukoshi department store established its art section in 1907, motivated by the inauguration of the official annual salon Monbusho Bijutsu Tenrankai (Ministry of Education Art Exhibition) in the same year. From established artists to fledging ones, from central figures of the art establishment to avant-gardists challenging it, a diverse range of artists showcased their works at the department stores. Indeed, by stimulating public interest in art, the department stores contributed significantly to cultivating an audience for art in modern Japan.

Nonetheless, the critical role that the department stores have played in the production, circulation, and consumption of art has not been a focus of research in the literature of modern Japanese art history. The main reason for this disregard is neither that the caliber of the artists and works that department stores sponsored was not high enough, nor is it that department stores were not valued enough as cultural institutions, but rather that the official inclusion of department store artistic practices in art history would undermine the concept of "fine art" which the modern institution of art has been predicated upon. The discipline of modern Japanese art history, under the sway of the notion of aesthetic autonomy, has been reluctant to look at artistic realities in which art was extensively involved in commercial interests, works of art became objects of conspicuous consumption, and the aesthetic autonomy of art itself was commodified. The artistic practices of the department stores epitomized the very aspects of art that the modern institution of art has attempted to efface in its history, exposing the meanings and functions that were assigned to art by bourgeois capitalist society but that were cloaked in the discourse of "fine art."

The goal of this dissertation is not to recuperate the department stores as pivotal agents within the history of modern Japanese art, but to dismantle the false topos of "fine art," which constructed and manipulated the language, categories, and values that still structure our understanding of art, through a close examination of department store art practices that have been virtually ignored in the course of the formation of modern Japanese art history.

Indexing (document details)
Advisor: Reynolds, Jonathan M., Lee, Sonya
Commitee: Bialock, David, Lippit, Miya Mizuta
School: University of Southern California
Department: Art History
School Location: United States -- California
Source: DAI-A 73/11(E), Dissertation Abstracts International
Subjects: Asian Studies, Art history
Keywords: Art, Department stores, Everyday life, Japan, Japanese, Modernity
Publication Number: 3513823
ISBN: 978-1-267-44419-6
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