MFAH Presents Iconic Architecture Photographs by Ishimoto Yasuhiro
Photographer Ishimoto Yasuhiro (b. 1921) is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential figures in the development of postwar Japanese photography. Among his most celebrated bodies of work are the photographs he took during 1953-54 of the legendary 17th Century Imperial villa of Katsura, in Kyoto, which infuse the images of the iconic structure with a modernist Bauhaus esthetic.
Beginning June 20, the MFAH will exhibit 70 of these photographs, presenting the images, for the first time, un-cropped and as Ishimoto had originally intended for them to be seen.
For the last 50 years these photographs have been known only from the landmark 1960 book Katsura: Creation and Tradition in Japanese Architecture, by architect Tange Kenzo with an introduction by Walter Gropius. For that publication, Tange rigorously cropped and sequenced the photographs to promote his agenda in a debate that consumed post-occupation Japan’s cultural elite in the mid-1950s: that of the vital relevance and existence of tradition in their efforts to define modernity.
Against this backdrop, the show will explore the nuanced and complex relationship between architecture and photography, and the profound impact these photographs had on the public’s interpretation of Japanese tradition in modern architecture.
“The MFAH received a major gift of 300 photographs from Ishimoto Yasuhiro last fall, and the collection of some 400 photographs now includes work from all of the artist’s major series, including Katsura,” said Dr. Peter C. Marzio, MFAH director. “This is the first time that so many of Ishimoto’s famous photographs of Katsura will be on view in Houston, and the first time that the uncropped images will be shown in such depth.”
“The 1960 Katsura book is regarded as one of the most important books of an architect’s interpretation of built environments through photography in the 20th century – on par with
Philip Johnson and Henry-Russell Hitchcock’s The International Style: Architecture Since 1922 (1932),” commented Yasufumi Nakamori, assistant curator of photography, MFAH, and curator of the exhibition. “But the book also represented a perspective specific to postwar Japanese culture. Its images and ideas crystallized the Japanese interpretation of Bauhaus esthetics and functionalism, and gave a cue to a younger generation of Japanese architects in mid-century Japan, including Tange Kenzo and Horiguchi Sutemi, who had been struggling to locate tradition in their modern designs. To Tange, the book was a visual manifesto for his postwar design philosophy, and proved that the function-based expressions of pre-modern Japanese architecture were still relevant, coupled with new architectural technologies and materials.”
MFAH hours are Tuesday and Wednesday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Friday and Saturday, 10 a.m.to 7 p.m.; and Sunday, 12:15 to 7 p.m. The museum is closed on Monday, except for holidays.
Admission to this exhibition is included with general admission to the museum. General admission is $7 for adults and $3.50 for children 6 to 18, students, and senior adults (65+); admission is free for children five and under. Admission is free on Thursday, courtesy of Shell Oil Company Foundation. Admission is free on Saturday and Sunday for children 18 and under with a Houston Public Library Power Card or any other library card.