It feels like a ground swell, a huge, silent breaker: our shores ae being swept by Asia - or, to be more precise, by the Far East.
Fashion Designers such as Issey Miyake, Rei Kawabuko (from Comme des Garcons), yojhi Yamamoto and Irie have already opened Westerners' eyes to pure lines, sober colors, simple materials, spare spaces. Their aesthetic approach burst onto the everyday scene in a combination of sophitication and simplicity, composed in a strange and yet familiar way. To a certain extent, exoticism was being tamed, domesticated.
Japanese designers furthermore demonstrated their ability to invent a formal idion that is astonishingly contemporary yet steeped in tradition, as seen in Sori Yanagi's ideographic stools, Isamu Noguchi's paper lanterns and Shiro Kuramata's curving storage units.
Then came the movies. From Taiwan, Japan, Hong Kong and Shanghai there emoerged an extraodinarily complex world (or rather, worlds) Martial arts and tea ceremonies, stateliness and violence, refinement and commonness, universality and specificity suddenly came together in a riot of emblems, objects and spaces - all of them remarkable. Soon the Japanese filmmaker Takeshi Kitano was being feted from one festival to another, while the sublimely beautiful Chinese actress Gong Li was seen on the cover of every magazine in the West.
Beijing, Taipei, Macao, Osaka, Vientiane, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur henceforth spark the imaginations of Western travelers whose dream destinations had formerly been Venice or New York, Seville or Nairobi, Prague or Machupicchu. Meanwhile, young artists from China, Korea and Japan have been setting the pace at museums of contemporary art and avant-garde art galleries.
The Far East should indeed be considered a paragon of modernity, a hotbed of contemporary experimentation, but this modernity has deep roots and the constant innovation is fed by an age-old classicism.
The pages of this book present an extraodinary view of world, based on clarity and simplicity, emotion and reason, sensitivity and lofty vision. They will illustrate everyday household objects and aspects of a lifestyle carried to an extreme level of refinement, becoming an art of living in which material and color, shape and pattern are interwoven with a genius for sketchiness, light touches, suggestiveness. Here, effects are so delicate and so universal that they enable every object to inhabit any interior space with harmony and balance, displaying an unmatched economy of means.
Leonado da Vinci reportedly assured King Francis I of France, "Sire, I will make you cannons as beautiful as they are good." the functional clarity so perfectly expressed by the Renaissance genius applies wonderfully to this series of objects originally from China and Indonesia, Korea and Thailand, Japan and Laos, and even Vietnam. It is accompanied by a kind of spiritual clarity that can be read between the lines of every decision, every gesture. As Goethe put it, "Objects slowly raised me to their level." It is perhaps this unique approach that represents the most accomplished expression of Asian creative geniu; a concern for spirituality and simplicity, once again, gives Far Eastern creations universal validity and authenticity.
Interior decorator Andree Putman, known for her refined, simple taste and her keenness for clarity and significance, recounts a story about Andre Breton: "Every time the woman who inspired Nadja visited Breton, she left behind a kid glove. This ritual oversight gave Breton the idea of making a cast of it, in its casual pose of abandon. This delightful, absurd object 'works' thanks to its history. Although the stiff cast projects signs of life and movement, you really sense that it sprang from a relationship rather than a mindless desire to be beautiful." Both function and meaning, then should be clear. Which leads straight to timelessness. Universalty and timelessness attune these objects to every place and every area. China, Korea and Japan were already highly fashionable at the French court in the eighteenth century, inspiring the commodes, chests and desks of master cabinemakers as skilled as Martin Carlin and Rene Dubos.
Strangely items from the Far East seem to reject decorativeness. Despite all their materails, patterns, colors and shapes, they project a minimalist stance, a desire for transparence, a concern with defining space through voids, emptiness, or light alone.
They also compulsively erase any sign of efforts, eliminate all trace of structure. As Henri Matisse confessed, "I worked for years so that people could say, 'That's all there is to Matisse.' " Matisse himself was highly influenced by Japan, by the elegiac grace of its screens and murals, the immateriality and presence of its marks. Attaining that degree of simplicity and sophistication required centuries of attentiveness to the outcome of given methods. It required both modesty and pride.
"Less is more," exclaimed architects Mies van der Rohe, who added that "God is in the details." To which Lao-tse, the Chinese scholar and founder of Taoism, might have replied: "Time has no respect for that which is accomplished without it."
Materials, patterns, colors, shapes - whatever the means of expression, Asian artists and designers always communicate a profound respect for time, duration and permanence.