Deconstructing Japanese Avant-garde as Epigonism

Olga Isaeva


The aesthetic avant-garde is an international literary and artistic network and project, which arose in the early 20th century. The military and political origins of the term can be summarised into the more general meaning of the avant-garde as progressive and politically engaged art with a pioneering approach. This heterogeneous project is not a monolith but rather an ever-changing network, which is primarily characterised by its boundlessness and transgressiveness. This paper will argue that the avant-garde concept offered Japanese artists in the 1920s a method with which to overcome the legacy of the Meiji period (1868-1912), to “self-colonise” through Western concepts of art, and to enter a discourse of questioning the foundation of Japanese modern art as a transplantation and absorption of Western models. Beginning first with a general overview of the term avant-garde, this paper next examines roughly Meiji politics as one of the core reasons behind the perception of the early Japanese avant-garde in the 1920s as a simple imitation of the European model. Radical avant-garde groups such as MAVO and Sanka will be introduced as main examples for the movement, which questioned the foundation of modern art and avant-garde in Japan. Their tools for achieving this goal in the form of tendencies toward transgressions can be located in the diversity of artistic styles and genres, in the blurring of the boundary between the so-called high and low art, and in the passing from the visible to the invisible. The resulting performative act—of demonstrating the new movement in the form of a manifesto as an artistic practice and the elimination of the boundaries between the artwork and the audience—is outstanding.


Avant-garde; Meiji politics; Modern Japanese art; Taishō era; MAVO; Murayama Tomoyoshi; Montage technique; Sanka

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Mutual Images Journal by Mutual Images Research Association is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.