Hiroko Koshino: A Touch Of Bauhaus
Curated By Kyoko Sato
November 1- December 1, 2018
BY MARK BLOCH, NOV. 2018
Post-War Japan woke up amid a radical economic and cultural transformation with technology and fashion shooting to the forefront. Young people rebelled, breaking stride with time-honored traditions, and celebrating individualism. One group, known as the "Miyuki Tribe", with Hiroko Koshino at the helm, became talented young fashionistas, influenced by the street and various new incoming art ideas ranging from Abstract Expressionism to the homegrown and subversive Gutai movement.
This fresh shift in perspective made way for a wave of artistic leaders that included Hiroko Koshino and her two sisters. The classically trained Hiroko, building on her belief in the unity of all forms of art—a Bauhaus tenet—propelled her to use her paintings and sumi-ink masterworks as the basis for stunning fashion designs and recognition as one of the foremost couturiers in Japan.
Hiroko Koshino: A Touch Of Bauhaus, at WhiteBox, reveals how Koshino's visual artworks informed her high fashion designs, leading her to her own unique path. The show, curated by Kyoko Sato, include the most inventive runway pieces by the eldest of the three famous Koshino sisters, side-by- side with her signature abstract paintings and sumi-ink works, including—in WhiteBox's project space—a site-specific, eighty- foot-long ink scroll, epitomizing her art-design hybrid as Gesamtkunstwerk, the Bauhaus approach towards a total artwork.
Experiencing this sophisticated show does evoke an all-encompassing aesthetic resourcefulness that communicates at the high level of a Gesamtkunstwerk. The curator, with a vision of wanting to take visitors "beyond people’s imagination," secured mannequins from the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Costume Institute, but requested of WhiteBox founder and master organizer Juan Puntes that they not employ too many of the mannequins, "an all-too-familiar device in fashion exhibits," when installing the garments. He complied, and the collaboration between artist, curator and Puntes' skillful team expertly manifests Sato's chic, tasteful but jolting phantasmagorical dream of an encounter between art and couture rarely seen.
The Bauhaus School emphasized simplicity, a focus on mass production and sensitivity to practical concerns. It began when Walter Gropius founded a school in 1919 Weimar Germany with a vision of closing the gulf between art and industry, crafts and fine art. Bauhaus artists such as Walter Gropius, Josef and Anni Albers, László Moholy-Nagy, Marcel Breuer, Oskar Schlemmer and Johannes Itten, the man who designed their famous introductory course, all emerged, known for working from nature to create designs that real people could utilize.
Koshino's art and design are deeply intertwined and that is the focus of this exhibition. However, "the process of production in fashion and art is very different," she explained. "When I make art, I can express my spirit directly. It is very personal. When I create fashion, I need to think about what people want, and I need to design what people will buy, so it unequivocally contains a business aspect."
Similarly, after years of being inspired by artists like Matisse, Gustav Klimt, and Jackson Pollock, Koshino experimented with the art-fashion connection, applying sumi-ink directly onto fabric, to push new boundaries. It is this type of artistic ground breaking that separates Hiroko not just from the other members of her famous family, but also from other designers who are forced to collaborate with artists to create inventive collections. Both designer and artist, that "touch of Bauhaus" live in Hiroko Koshino.
Though her work has not been featured in this city before, the show begins with a New York connection. For the completion of a book, Book HK 2001, Koshino invited collaborations with five photographers, including the well-known Andres Serrano, who snapped a photo of a model in a heavy knit garment from Koshino’s 1995-96 Autumn Winter Collection submerged in liquid. The image, shot in Kyoto, looks down from on the WhiteBox vestibule next to a black, blue and gold triptych of paintings from 2013 that combine gold acrylic gesso and vivid acrylic to a sumi-ink series.
Three 2005 kimonos, bridal costumes in black, bamboo (red) and plum tree (white) create a tent-like enclosure on the ceiling. A black (pine tree) paper textile garment depicts palm trees that are painted meticulously with a technique normally reserved for formal robes. The other long-sleeved kimonos are adorned with patterns featuring family emblems and Arabesques.
In a black and white square series on the left called #1475, instead of painting with a brush, we see the 2015 work shown in public for the first time in which Koshino used a décalcomanie technique by accidentally putting two wet canvases face to face, creating what look like geological formations. These scientific-looking strata textures are reminiscent, in a strange way, of Koshino's use of layering in her work with the traditional Kimono form.
As we enter the main room, two mannequins and a circle of light draw the viewers attention to a striking series of 22 modular acrylic, charcoal, fabric and paper on wood boxes, inspired by the graffiti that Koshino witnessed on a 2014 trip to Greece. The themes that arose in her magical paintings later reappeared, taking “Colors” from the street to the canvas and onto the runway via garments, and finally presented as paintings in several venues, including previously at the 2015 Awaji Flower Expo in Japan. Each box is about one and a half by one foot and about 6 inches deep with interchangeable lids.
A red zippered piece is from Zen Graffiti, her 2018-19 Autumn Winter Collection in Tokyo, echoing a similar yellow garmet in the previous room. A quote explains both pieces: “Zen is an important hint to live such life… You can feel different winds… yourself you have never imagined.”
The second mannequin in front of the twenty two Colors boxes show a piece from her 2014 Spring Summer Collection, Story of Light and Shadow in Tokyo.
Next to a large black and white piece painted in 2004, displayed in the living room of her Tadao Ando-designed home until 2013 when the building became a gallery, is a skirt and kimono from her 2000 Circle & Line Spring Summer Collection, regenerated from Cubism as this century turned just as it had 100 years earlier. Here it is impeccably lit with masked theatrical lighting. The entire show is illuminated by otherworldly brightening effects achieved by using theater lights and not traditional light situations found in galleries. Furthermore, “the hemline is curved dramatically like cutting circle,” the artist’s text says, “The textile folded with straight lines like Origami, holds the body.”
The artwork and strong fashion statements hold our attention.
On the back wall, a 2005 lotus flower painting with sumi-ink and acrylic transforms a six panel screen on Japanese paper into an alien procenium arch. Twin pieces in both back corners are from her Beyond And Returning Japonism 2009-10 Autumn Winter Collection and displayed with a dress in the foreground from her 2017 Spring Summer Collection Boundary: Challenge The Stereotype with colors as powerful as the boxes across the room and reminiscent of the European colorist Sonya Delaunay. Hiroko Koshino asks “It was a big sensation when Cubism was born 100 years ago, contradiction of the... two dimensions, how we can show the real nature... that was their realism?”
A large sumi-ink and acrylic work seen at Koshino’s solo show at Ashiya City Museum of Art and History in 2004 and her solo exhibit in Hiroshima City in 2008 appears to the left, with an example in red of one of her signature "origami"-like dresses from her 1994-95 Autumn Winter Collection, spilling creatively onto the floor as if it poured off the painting.
Finally, also lit in a breathtaking way, Koshino made a stunning work, #757, tracing the shock she felt following the Great East Japan earthquake of 2011, which left 16,000 dead and the Tohoku area completely devastated. With a kimono casting a magnificent shadow onto a sumi-ink and acrylic 7.5 x 9 foot painting, it projects almost a religious effect.
In front of it, a white “flower dress” inspired by the “the shapes and color” of Matisse from Koshiono's collection, A Book Of Surrealism, in which the artist created “obscured color, floating curbs and elaborate cut-works” that manifest themselves as a puffy paper fabric explosion, hang above eye level, crying out to be worn. It is a beaufiful object and an inviting piece of women’s clothing.
And in the center of the room, four paper fabric dresses are elegantly displayed, lit from above with more theater lighting, casting sharp shadows on the floor. These garments appeared when Hiroko and her two younger sisters displayed their respective talents in a 2001Spring Summer Kishiwada Collection show in the section of Osaka where their family came from, Kishiwada-city.
Hiroko Koshino’s mother, also a celebrated designer, died five years later at age 92.
The daughter of a kimono retailer in Osaka Prefecture, the matriarch Ayako Koshino dropped out of school to study dressmaking and opened a dressmaking shop in her home town in 1934. Her own career spanned from the kimono to the boom in Western clothes but she became most famous in the 21st Century as the centerpiece of what might be called a Japanese soap opera, based on her own life after her emergence during the Taisho Era (1912-26).
The 1913-born designer raised three famous female fashion designers: Hiroko, Michiko and Junko Koshino alone as a working single mother after her husband, Takeichi, fought and died in World War II.
In addition to Hiroko, Ayako's oldest, her youngest daughter, Michiko, moved to Britain, established her own label, a fixture on the London Fashion Week schedule and went on to be a trendy mover and shaker.
In 1987, Michiko began a line of menswear called Motorking, now collector’s items, worn by David Bowie and Moby. She also created a line of women’s urban street wear and branched out to include cosmetics and accessories now sold globally. Then she created three more brands, also seen on celebrities, and also that included cosmetics and accessories but with a reach that overlaps into bomber jackets, condoms, fanzines, DJing, record labels, and even a green-friendly scooter for Honda. She even experimented with the first inflatable fabric.
While Hiroko spent time with the local punky creatives in the early 60s, hanging around Miyuki Street in Ginza, Tokyo’s future fashion mecca, then more edgy, fronting the group later known as the Miyuki-tribe, her middle sister Junko Koshino’s fashion empire became a landmark of cool Japan on Kotto Dori, another one of Tokyo’s most elegant streets where she was “unable to outdo my mother or sisters” until she moved to Tokyo herself at age 18. “There was no camaraderie thing. It was a race between us” she said of her family. “In my mother’s case, I saw someone constantly, endlessly, working and someone who never stopped pushing forward.”
Indeed, the mother of the three ambitious sisters designed clothing right up until her death, continuing to make garments at her own shop, active in her final years designing for the elderly.
But what really put the mother over the top was Japanese public TV. NHK’s six-month asa-dora (morning drama series) called “Carnation,” a fictionalized version of the early life of Ayako as the daughter, herself, of a prominent kimono seller in Osaka, who knows in his heart that the kimono business is on its way out. The protagonist is attracted to Western apparel and her obsession is the sewing machine, an object of which her father strongly disapproves. The character decides that she will quit school and work for a company located not far from her family’s establishment, just so she can get her hands on the device. The iron will and defiance of the mother-as-daughter character inspired 151 episodes of the drama in 2011-12, making the Koshino family known to all generations.
In real life, the mother liked competing with her fashionable daughters. "I'm trying to make something better than my daughters' work," she was quoted as saying in Vogue. “You'll never beat me."
Hiroko, the oldest Koshino daughter, who considered herself an artist since childhood, drew characters from Manga and Anime as a girl, attending Kabuki plays and the Bunraku national puppet theater of Japan.
In her 20s, Hiroko became a leader of the offbeat Ginza crowd, influenced by American culture and basking in the creative wave after the war, dressed in an avant-garde style popularized on Miyuki-dori Street off the Ginza.
In 1977, she joined the cutting-edge group "TD6" (Top Designers 6), presenting her fashion collection in Tokyo for the first time showcasing there twice a year ever since. In 1978, she became the first Japanese designer to join Alta Moda in Rome, a sensational show earning her a thirty-page article in the Italian edition of Harper's Bazaar.
In 1982, Hiroko led the "Designer's Character Brand" boom that turned fashion into a top industry in Japan, then debuted her brand and her signature prêt-à-porter collection at Paris Fashion Week, to great success.
Her designs have reconstructed the strata and bulkiness of the Japanese kimono, removing it from its 20th-century role as formal wear for weddings and ceremony, and reintroducing the rectilinear 2D, shapeless kimono for everyday use. The body all but disappeared during the now ancient days of the Japanese court when status-conscious exaggeration consumed giant amounts of fabric only because they could.
Hiroko’s modular units used volume, modular cuts and asymmentry in ways other than what tradition allows and she is also known for utilizing bright colors for decoration usually reserved for the young, stylized and made more graphic, transforming it in the direction of Western female clothing and using natural fibers that fit the body, emphasizing its shape.
Indeed, a vest crafted using ancient Japanese texturing techiniques from the 1995-96 Autumn Winter Collection, Over-Lay: Shaping Up With Wearing was inspired by the “timeless traditional world” but is then displayed beside folded paper material that accentuate its simple geometric shape. Right next to that display is a black outfit from her 1993 Synapsis Work, as her Spring Summer Collection, two years earlier, was called and is also tailored with a single cut that then folds and wraps around the figure. “Nature and artificial, soft and hard, east and west, old and new” are flaunted, one on the mannequin, crowned with a folded hat, the other flattened on the wall with the folded paper surrounding it in various configurations that were actually used to transport the piece, accentuating its elegant construction.
Atop the mannequin figure, the amazing headdress that originated in her Surrealistic Small World, a 2010 Spring Summer Collection in Tokyo and Paris, helps the lower level of WhiteBox to blossom. As previously menitoned, an 80 foot long sumi-ink scroll surrounds the viewer on three walls. With the theme Synapsis Work, the concept of the Akashic Record is likened to a consuming panorama in which the world's collective imagination and memory are effortlessly but thoroughly recorded. Walking through this simple show made up of deceptively complex elements , we sense a profound intersection of art and fashion, “like feathers shining with light… gorgeous ornaments to inspire our imaginations,” as one wall text, written by Koshino, says.
Finally, two unusual pieces which almost resemble the headstall, bit and reins of a horse, but are actually a very human but daring bustier and a head and shoulder piece weaving strands of black and white from the 2009 Spring Summer campaign Koshino created in Tokyo and Paris, called Ridge Of Hug, flank two showcases and a hand-painted black and white "butterfly dress" in the middle of the room.
After taking in the astonishing fashion statments, closer examination of these vitrines reveal catalogues and Italian fashion magazines the viewer can peruse to learn of Koshino's magnificent home in Ashiya, Japan, built by the architect Tadao Ando some decades ago that included a serene studio created for her by the well-regarded architect. Far from Tokyo, Koshino occupied the space where she could blaze design trails while connecting with nature in her natural habitat. She still lives nearby, but eventually chose to move out of the majestic structure so it could become a museum for Ando. Koshino still blazes 21st century trails as evidenced by several sumi-ink and acryllic works, created recently, that hang in this show, her first in New York, and dated 2018 as well as the breezy lines of the scroll which resemble a dignified supernatural musical score, perhaps the soundtrack to a life spent dedicated to art and design like the artist's traditional Japanese music we hear upstairs piped into the gallery, once performed by Koshino, who learned the instrument, a shamisen, as a child.
Also upstairs, a dark contrasty picture of Hiroko Koshino with her trademark 1960s Miyuki Tribe look peeks out from under the exhibition's title also reminding us of the diverse youthful origins of this touch of Bauhaus.
Her artwork now breathes in New York as a fountainhead of artistic inspiration connected directly to her practical fashion design. "I can continue designing because I paint," Koshino explains. Indeed, her paintings are brainstorm drafts for what will later become "the architecture of the body, " as she calls it, carrying as part of her personal brand, the primal Japanese sense of sculptural 'high volume' in her unique couture.WM
Mark Bloch is a writer, performer, videographer and multi-media artist living in Manhattan. In 1978, this native Ohioan founded the Post(al) Art Network a.k.a. PAN. NYU's Downtown Collection now houses an archive of many of Bloch's papers including a vast collection of mail art and related ephemera. For three decades Bloch has done performance art in the USA and internationally. In addition to his work as a writer and fine artist, he has also worked as a graphic designer for ABCNews.com, The New York Times, Rolling Stone and elsewhere. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and PO Box 1500 NYC 10009.
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