When is a doll art? For the Japanese doll maker Hirata Gôyô II (Tsuneo, 1903-1981), that moment of transcendence comes when the artisan first comes to view themselves as an artist, and the doll being made no longer conforms to a simple repetition of type and technique. In his quest for what he referred to as “junsui bijutsu” (pure art), Gôyô once famously stated: “Creativity must be the focus. Technique is secondary. The purpose or reason behind the work comes first, and then the technique to accomplish it. What is important is the intent revealed in the work.” Gôyô was a pioneer leading a country of craftsmen into the limitless world of “pure art,” in the guise of a doll.
Gôyô’s own father, Tsunejirô (Gôyô I, 1878-1924) was a master doll maker whose works followed time-honored traditions, utilizing skills he himself learned from earlier makers. When the younger Gôyô was given the opportunity to participate in the important Friendship Doll exchange of 1927, he jumped at the chance and ultimately created five dolls for the project, each of which was declared a “revelation.” The fame his success brought him allowed him to forge ahead with his dream of creating works that allowed the Japanese themselves to view ningyô (dolls) as an art form, on an equal footing with painting, sculpture, and other traditional fine art forms.
This exhibition, the first of its type outside of Japan, explores the evolution of traditional Japanese dolls into Gôyô’s larger vision, that of sôsaku-ningyô or “art dolls.” Using examples drawn from the Barry Art Museum collection and selected borrowings from the Blewis Collection we trace the contours of this transition through the specific lens of the ichimatsu-style doll. Displaying works of master craftsmen in the field, we can trace the transformation of ichimatsu from craft to art, and the stimulus given to the entire genre through Gôyô’s singularly creative vision.
On View: February 10-July 31, 2022
Curated by Alan Pate, Japanese doll (ningyô) Researcher and Expert