Download Full Issues of MAVO, the Japanese Avant-Garde Magazine That Announced a New Modernist Movement (1923–1925)

The ear­ly 20th cen­tu­ry artis­tic and lit­er­ary rev­o­lu­tion called Mod­ernism appears in his­to­ry as an almost entire­ly Euro­pean-Amer­i­can phe­nom­e­non. Text­books and syl­labi tend to leave out impor­tant mod­ernist move­ments on oth­er con­ti­nents, which means we miss out on impor­tant cross-con­ti­nen­tal con­ver­sa­tions. Though, to be fair, very few Eng­lish-speak­ing text­book writ­ers and teach­ers have known much about the work of, Mavo, an avant-garde group of Japan­ese artists from the 1920s.

Scant lit­er­a­ture has been avail­able in trans­la­tion. Crit­ics “were often dis­mis­sive of the group,” notes Mar­garet Car­ri­g­an at Hyper­al­ler­gic, “and art his­to­ri­ans have all but ignored them in favor of larg­er con­tem­po­ra­ne­ous move­ments, like Ger­man Expres­sion­ism.” What­ev­er the rea­sons for the slight­ing of ear­ly Japan­ese mod­ernism, we can now try to rec­ti­fy the imbal­ance thanks to online sources cov­er­ing the fas­ci­nat­ing his­to­ry of Mavo—both its inter­est­ing par­al­lels with Euro­pean Mod­ernism and its impor­tant dif­fer­ences.

Or we can begin to get an intrigu­ing sense of these things, more or less, depend­ing on our lev­el of famil­iar­i­ty with Japan­ese lan­guage and cul­ture. MAVO mag­a­zine, edit­ed by Tat­suo Oka­da and Tomoyoshi Muraya­ma, “appeared in 7 issues between July 1924 and August 1925,” writes Mono­skop, who host six of those issues in high res­o­lu­tion scans. (Click on the PDF link under the image of each cov­er.) “By the third issue, the mag­a­zine was thick with adver­tise­ments and the usage of actu­al news­pa­per as its pages.” The orig­i­nal linocuts and “pho­to­graph­ic repro­duc­tions of assem­blage, paint­ing, and graph­ic works” are small and some­times inscrutable in grayscale.

There are many affini­ties with Euro­pean modernisms—dichotomies of play­ful­ness and pre­ci­sion, the love of col­lage and indus­tri­al machin­ery. The his­to­ry of Mavo, like that of mod­ernists world­wide, is a his­to­ry of anar­chic, con­fronta­tion­al art, charged with con­tempt for tra­di­tion. In 1923, the Shin-aichi news­pa­per, notes The Japan Times, cov­ered the sto­ry of a Mavo exhib­it in which artist Takamiza­wa Michi­nao tossed rocks through the win­dows of a state-spon­sored, tra­di­tion­al art exhib­it while Mavo artists dis­played their own abstract can­vas­es out­side the gallery.

Mavo came about as the rebrand­ing of an ear­li­er group, “Japan’s Asso­ci­a­tion of Futur­ist Artists, which became the local off­shoot of the Euro­pean Futur­ist phe­nom­e­non that began in Italy in 1909.” They were eclec­tic, pub­lish­ing crit­i­cism, design­ing posters, build­ings, and dance and the­ater pieces, incor­po­rat­ing Cubism and Dadaist ten­den­cies. Unlike the Ital­ian Futur­ists, who became increas­ing­ly fas­cist in their ori­en­ta­tion, Mavo opposed the con­ser­v­a­tive state. “The Great Kan­to Earth­quake of 1924 brought about a pro­le­tar­i­an and social­ist bent to Mavo activ­i­ties.”

See more of MAVO mag­a­zine at Mono­skop, and learn more about the move­ment at The Japan Times, Hyper­al­ler­gic, and Monoskop’s bib­li­og­ra­phy of a few schol­ar­ly sources in Eng­lish (and Japan­ese, if you read the lan­guage). Also see Gen­nifer Weisen­feld’s book, MAVO: Japan­ese Artists and the Avant-Garde, 1905–1931. If the phrase Japan­ese avant-garde calls up names like Yoko Ono and Yay­oi Kusama, now it may also bring to mind the ear­li­er Mavo and the many artists under its umbrel­la who adapt­ed Euro­pean influ­ences for Japan­ese modes of artis­tic rev­o­lu­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:  

A Dig­i­tal Archive of Mod­ernist Mag­a­zines (1890 to 1922): Browse the Lit­er­ary Mag­a­zines Where Mod­ernism Began

Exten­sive Archive of Avant-Garde & Mod­ernist Mag­a­zines (1890–1939) Now Avail­able Online

Down­load Influ­en­tial Avant-Garde Mag­a­zines from the Ear­ly 20th Cen­tu­ry: Dadaism, Sur­re­al­ism, Futur­ism & More

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.