Saturday, October 8, 2022 - Monday, January 9, 2023
The Japanese railway celebrates its 150th anniversary this year as the line between Shimbashi and Yokohama commenced in 1872. Curiously enough, it was also in 1872 that the Japanese word “bijutsu” (fine art) first made its appearance. (*) The railway and art have both been closely entwined with the modernization of Japan over the past 150 years, and have at times been buffeted by its waves.
This exhibition explores 150 years of art and railway, focusing not only on their histories but also on elucidating the relationship between them by analysing it from perspectives such as politics, society, war, and cultural customs.
Tokyo Station Gallery has made tremendous efforts to bring together under one roof masterpieces of “railway art,” much-discussed and controversial works for this exhibition, which consists of roughly 150 items gathered from around 40 locations throughout Japan.
(*) Up until then terms such as “shoga” (paintings and calligraphic works) were used. Kitazawa Noriaki, “Me no Shinden,” (Bijutsu Shuppan-sha, 1989)
The railway has always inspired art. Many artists depicted steam trains and stations in nishiki-e (woodblock prints) around the time the railway opened. After a while Western-style and Japanese-style artists started to adopt the railway as a motif, something that has continued to the present day. Soul-stirring locomotives, rails gleaming in the evening sun, the hustle and bustle at stations... Railways offer an abundance of subject matter to get an artist’s creative juices flowing.
The railway network gradually expanded nationwide, and then even overseas in the early Showa era. This instantly opened up wider vistas for artists. Many impressive works of art attest to how they would go on painting trips to outlying regions, and would use the railway to go and study abroad or when accompanying the troops.
However, art does not simply depict the railway; one could say that art also stimulates railway by driving it into their creative process as a subject. Prior to the opening of the first line, artists gave free rein to their imagination when depicting the as yet non-existent railway and fired up people’s interest in it. In the 1960s, performance art and Happenings were staged in stations and on trains, which is highly acclaimed innovative. After both the Great Hanshin Earthquake and the Great East Japan Earthquake, art works transmitting powerful messages were left guerrilla-style along railways and stations.
The railway inspires art, and art stimulates the railway. This thrilling relationship is a vital element of this exhibition.
The roughly 150 items on display include some truly fascinating works, ranging from a scroll depicting a miniature steam locomotive train presented to Japan by America in 1854 to the train name plate designed by Hibino Katsuhiko in 2021.
The exhibition includes such masterpieces of Meiji Era art as A Steam Locomotive Bound for Heaven from Journeys through Heaven and Hell by Kawanabe Kyosai, View of Takanawa Ushimachi beneath a Shrouded Moon by Kobayashi Kiyochika who depicted the recently discovered and much discussed Takanawa Embankment railway structure, and Utagawa Hiroshige III’s famed Steam Locomotive on the Yokohama Waterfront, considered to be a masterpiece amongst the many railway-themed nishiki-e he worked on.
It also brings together an array of masterpieces of modern railway art: Goseda Yoshimatsu’s Suruga Bay, Tsuji Kako’s Train Picture Scroll, Akamatsu Rinsaku’s Night Train, Kawakami Ryoka’s Railroad, Kajiwara Hisako’s Coming Home, Hasekawa Toshiyuki’s Engine House, Nakamura Gakuryo’s Rushing Ahead, and Kazuki Yasuo’s Smoke.
The field of post-war art contains an array of idiosyncratic works. Contemporary art works by Nakamura Hiroshi, Tateishi Tiger, Miyajima Tatsuo, Yanagi Yukinori, SHIMABUKU, and Chim↑Pom are sure to indicate unexpected connections between railways and art.
Another fascinating element of this exhibition is the display of photographs that distill the varied countenances of the railway, taken by unique photographers such as Fuchikami Hakuyo, W. Eugene Smith, Ono Genjiro, Nagano Shigeichi, and Honjo Naoki.
This is a must-see exhibition in the year that marks the 150th anniversary of Japan’s railway. With works ranging from famous nishiki-e created around the time the railway first opened, modern masterpieces of railway art with ingenious and various perspective, and the creative approaches of contemporary artists to the railway, the exhibition illuminates 150 years of railway and art from a variety of angles and explores the complicated relationship between them.