Middlebury College Museum of Art

News & Events

Friday, March 11

Off the Wall: Informal Discussions About Art—Saitō Kazō’s “Synthetic Art”: New Designs for Modern Japan

Art & Lunch Discussion
Time: 12:15pm
Location: Mahaney Center for the Arts, Room 125 and Museum

Gennifer Weisenfeld, Professor of Art History and Visual Studies, Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, Duke University


Passage into modernity had profound implications for the organization of domestic space and the decoration of the domestic interior in Japan. The process of rationalization that began with the establishment of the nation-state and gained momentum with the country’s increasing industrialization presented Japanese designers with the dilemma of how to adapt native architectural forms to suit the exigencies of modern life. Some discarded these forms wholesale; others pursued hybridized forms of floor and chair culture.

In 1923, celebrated Japanese designer Saitō Kazō (1887–1955) proposed the theory of “synthetic art” (sōgō geijutsu) that advocated aesthetically coordinated interior and clothing designs based on the German concept of the “total work of art” (Gesamtkunstwerk) first articulated by Richard Wagner and later taken up in the European Modern movement. Saitō’s concept embodied a synthesis of Western modernist design practice with vernacular Japanese architectural forms, as well as an infusion of fine art aesthetics into the domestic sphere of daily life. His organic linear motifs, inspired by musical rhythms, provided a unifying gesture for the total environment, extending from the walls to the floor to the furniture, and even to the clothing of the inhabitants, thereby implicitly prescribing the lifestyle to be enacted within. By analyzing selected examples of Saitō’s projects, Gennifer Weisenfeld, Professor of Art History and Visual Studies, Trinity College of Arts and Sciences, Duke University will address how new initiatives in design theory negotiated between various polarities of modernization, demonstrating new applications of the art ensemble for the purpose of daily life.

Sponsored by the Middlebury College Museum of Art and the Committee on the Arts. Lunch is provided. $5 donation suggested; free to College ID cardholders.