Metro Weekly

Tokyo Deco: Japanese Art Deco at Hillwood

A new exhibit at Hillwood shines a light on Japan's elegant take on Art Deco

Courtesy The Levenson

Courtesy The Levenson

Of course the Japanese did Art Deco. And of course they did it beautifully,” Estella Chung says. “There are already things in Japanese culture that are sleek and elegant and very refined in the same way as Art Deco.”

Tokyo is probably not the first place that pops to mind when one thinks of Art Deco, a style of architecture and design that flourished in the Jazz Age. Indeed, Hillwood’s founder Marjorie Merriweather Post was far more aware of the principal scenes in Paris, New York and Miami. Hoping to rectify that lack of awareness, Deco Japan shines a rare light on Japanese expressions of Art Deco style, boasting objects drawn from the collections of private citizens in Japan.

Kakiemon XII - Courtesy-The Levenson

Kakiemon XII – Courtesy-The Levenson

The traveling exhibit, organized by Art Services International, also offers a glimpse at the changing roles for women, particularly in Post’s time. “The exhibit features many pictures of women looking quite western, and at the same time quite modern,” Chung says. “Women then were experimenting with new roles and taking on new challenges.” There was even a Japanese equivalent of the flapper — a lifestyle epitomized by Post — called the moga. “[She was] a working woman who was out and about in the cities,” says Chung, noting that it marked “a new expression of freedom.”

Seiun - Courtesy The Levenson

Seiun – Courtesy The Levenson

Art Deco’s enduring appeal can’t be denied. “Many objects in your house are probably Art Deco,” says Chung, citing everything from glassware to picture frames to clothing accessories. “We still appreciate it today, to the point that we don’t even realize it.”

Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture, 1920-1945 runs to Dec. 31. Hillwood Estate, 4155 Linnean Ave. NW. Suggested donation is $12. Call 202-686-5807 or visit

Tansho - Courtesy The Levenson

Tansho – Courtesy The Levenson

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Doug Rule covers the arts, theater, music, food, nightlife and culture as contributing editor for Metro Weekly.