Following the dramatic opening of Japan to the West in 1854, courtesy of Commodore Matthew Perry and “gunboat diplomacy,” Japan emerged from 250 years of self-imposed isolation as a dazzling light of inspiration. On January 20, Karen A. Sherry—assistant curator of American Art at the Brooklyn Museum—will give a talk about the influence of Japanese art and design on American art in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Inspired by their encounters with the East, many American artists began incorporating Japanese motifs, aesthetic principles, and techniques into their work—a phenomenon known as Japonisme. For them, Japanese art offered a model both for revitalizing what was perceived as the moribund Western artistic tradition and for countering the deleterious effects of industrialization and urbanization on modern life.
Concurrent with the “Japan craze” was a renewed appreciation for graphic arts, such as watercolor, pastel, and etching. As artists experimented with these media, mounted exhibitions, and formed specialized organizations, works on paper gained esteem for their technical sophistication and expressive power. Japanese art also influenced this graphic arts revival—not only in style and iconography, but also in a philosophical approach that emphasized craftsmanship and beauty in all aspects of material life.
Ms. Sherry holds a bachelor’s degree in art history from Boston University. She received her master’s degree in art history from the University of Delaware, where she is currently a doctoral candidate. Since joining the Brooklyn Museum in 2005, she has curated exhibitions that include Small Wonders from the American Collections, Japonisme in American Graphic Arts, 1880–1920, and “Under the Open Sky”: Landscape Sketches by Nineteenth-Century American Artists.