Zuan: Japanese Design Books

Zuan: Japanese Design Books


I was recently entranced by a beautiful. fascinating and elegant show of “Zuan”, Japanese design books, at The Los Angeles County Museum of Art, housed in the Pavilion for Japanese Art there. Zuan “… is one of the terms besides dezain formed at this time to describe this new notion of applied art. The term zuan refers to a design prototype to be applied on an object. These drafts and patterns have a long history in Japan. In the early 20th century however, they not only had great popularity as a decorative element, but also were considered as artworks, mainly in the form of opulent design books.” —http://www.ccjac.org/exhibitions/ex2010summer.html


Zuancho  are design idea books, or  textile design books for the kimono trade, and this exhibit reveals their beauty, magic and whimsey.  It is also a great accompaniment to the neighboring “Kimono for a Modern Age” show, displayed along the spiraling walkways connecting the floors of the pavilion.


Zuan, a form of elaborately printed Japanese design book, reflect an evolution in textile design that influenced the art of kimono in the 20th century. For example, the exhibition includes zuan design books produced in Kyoto that display startling color combinations, large-scale patterns, and edgy abstracts that pushed kimono fabric designers to new considerations that influenced both formal and informal kimono. Zuan were also referenced by decorative artists for media whose designs were more graphic in nature, such as fans, lacquer wares, ceramics with overglaze enamels, or cloisonné. The exhibition includes more than 50 books and prints dating from the 19th and 20th centuries.”http://www.lacma.org/art/exhibition/zuan-japanese-design-books.

The books are displayed flat, or propped open in interesting ways. Their bindings are also fascinating…employing a side stab binding technique that I have had fun doing myself, and teaching to students. There is something very satisfying about the process, and the result.



WEB3Sometimes the designs cross from one page to the next…

WEB5WEB5aGlorious color..like a celebration.

WEB6One of my absolute faves…is this a design for a sleeve…or another part of a Kimono? I love the gradated sky…and the tension of the blue and orange…complimentary colors which set each other off.







WEBaBeautiful example of  side stab binding technique.

WEBbHere we can see the age of the book…the thread that binds it and its weathered cover give it an earthy quality.


WEBfSide stab binding in hard cover…

WEB13The  new and the old…the technological and the handmade…”à la fois”: a video about Zuan, and a handmade example…dating back decades. Such is the nature of art…exhibitions…and learning! The LA County Museum  does a beautiful job. GRATITUDES to LACMA!



We are the Vessel

We are the Vessel

This post is dedicated to my Mom, the ceramicist Judy Disman, for whom I took these pictures!

On a  recent visit to The Hammer Building at LACMA (The Los Angeles County Museum of Art),  while looking for a small photography show, my husband Mark and I stumbled upon   “Art of the Ancient near East”.  Taken with the wonder, elegance, dignity and whimsy of the ceramic, metal and wood carvings, vessels, and sculptures, we wandered the exhibit, and look forward to returning. These pieces are part of LACMA‘s permanent collection. We hope You enjoy them too!  Please click on ALL  OF THE LINKS, for further information.

webAComposite Ibis figure. Images of the  Ibis show up often in ancient Egyptian art, and  can be  entrancing…riveting.

webCwebBAnother view of the Ibis: Ibis Processional Standard

webEwebDI will have to revisit this incredible painted bird…which looks like a wise owl… and photograph its label. I couldn’t find any other information on it from the LACMA site.   Despite  its color… it exudes dignity, seriousness, and a silent kind of gravitas.

webOHead of a Cat

 A Word on Early Pottery, from the Curator:
“Pottery was invented toward the middle of the seventh millennium BC in the Near East, and it is one of the characteristic elements of the civilizations that emerged from the Neolithic period. Pottery, more than any other medium, was soon used to provide an avenue for artistic expression. The decoration on the ceramics varied in different cultural communities over time, and distinctive styles began to emerge on pottery as early as the fifth millennium BC. Ceramics are also indicators of socioeconomic contacts and cultural boundaries, and the diffusion of pottery styles may reflect the expansion of cultures. LACMA’s collection of pre- and proto-historic Iranian pottery includes examples of the distinguished pottery styles and forms from the fifth millennium BC to the Late Iron Age period that ends around 800 BC.
– Ali Mousavi, Assistant Curator of Ancient Iranian and Near Eastern Art, 2008

webLwebLLJar with Boots! Like many of the pieces, this piece is  “anthropomorphized“, which adds to its intrigue.  Is it possible for a work to be both serious and whimsical? Dignified and fun? Are the boots tongue in cheek, or some kind of cultural reference?  Do only the ancient Iranian/Persian makers know for sure?

webFwebGwebGGPainted, and still vibrant after close to three thousand years!

webIIwebIwebIHThis birdlike vessel looks to be different hues in different lights. Metamerism? it reminds me of bird-like pitchers with beak-like spouts that my Mom, the potter Judy Disman made.

webJwebMFollow this link to see the front of this piece!

webKwebKKSporting “juglets”

webNThese pieces, so magically  alive, seems to interact within their case. They interact on  the level of shape, form, space and color, the elements of visual art, of course, but also as beings and  personalities, still retaining their strong spirit ofter millennia. They are ancient, yet timeless, and have much to offer us still.  Probably, they always will.