Join historian and scholar Rachel Leibowitz for a keynote exploration of the Rise of Shibui and the Japanese Vogue: Understanding International Cultural Exchange in the Postwar United States.
Coinciding with the great rush to build new single-family homes in ever-expanding suburban developments, professional design publications and popular housekeeping magazines helped to foster a new appreciation for Japanese design among consumers in the postwar United States. Every imaginable type of household item—tapestries and floor coverings, tableware and decorative knick-knacks, furniture and new technologies such as tiny transistor radios and rice cookers—and even the house and garden themselves all began to show an affinity for “Japanese style.” This presentation connects the midcentury vogue for the Japanese aesthetic across the U.S. with a political gesture of goodwill by the federal government. Couched in a benign appreciation for a “sophisticated ancient culture,” the American media served to reintroduce a friendly, reasonable, useful, and harmless Japan to American consumers. Led by a variety of editor/tastemakers—including John Entenza and his Case Study House architects, individual designers such as Isamu Noguchi and Russel Wright, and Elizabeth Gordon and her staff at House Beautiful—the popular and professional shelter journals helped ease the way for the political rebirth of Japan as an ally of the United States. Purporting to continue a long-standing tradition of Japanese influence in American arts and architecture, these designers and the publications that featured their work aided the greater American political agenda to demonstrate that wartime antagonism was a brief aberration in the history of U.S. relations with Japan. The “sudden craze” for all things Japanese in the postwar era has had a lasting impact on suburbia, as observed in clipped hip roofs, panelized accent walls, and hibachi grills on the patio, tastefully screened from their gardens.
Rachel Leibowitz is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Landscape Architecture at the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry and a co-director of its Center for Cultural Landscape Preservation. She has taught courses in the history of architecture and landscape architecture at the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. Leibowitz’s past practice includes positions at two Chicago architecture firms, the Historic Preservation Division of the City of Chicago and the state historic preservation offices of Texas and Illinois. Most recently, she served for five years as the Deputy State Historic Preservation Officer for Illinois and Division Head of the State Historic Preservation Office there. Leibowitz earned BFA and MFA degrees in photography from Washington University in St. Louis and Tulane University in New Orleans, respectively; and a Master of Architecture degree and a Ph.D. in Landscape Architecture (History and Theory) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. She is a board member of both the Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation and the Preservation Association of Central New York and a past board member of the Vernacular Architecture Forum.
This is a free Tucson Modernism Week event and open to the public.