PRINT March 1964


Industrial Design from Japan at the UCLA Galleries

THE ROOM IS A COOL GLADE set with floating floodlit discs. Upon them glitter a bright new generation of objects from Japan: not red lacquer bowls but white Western china, neither gilded screens nor dancing fans but the personal, portable machinery of the contemporary world. Suspended silks and photographs seem anxious to remind us that these international-looking objects are truly Japanese.

In exquisite refinements to human use, in little dramas played about an idea the national skills show best. The transistors under glass are textured to the hand, the grilles like open mouths about to speak. A tiny still camera has a square eye and viewer, a patterned disc for adjustment. In the Minolta zoom camera, the magazine at eye level reflects the contour of the viewer’s cheek, a cylinder grip puts all controls at quick and easy reach. Behind these range batteries of transcribers and recorders looking just as convincing or mysterious, or like weapons of commercial warfare.

It is hard to judge machinery when it isn’t plugged in or turned on. One would like to know how the sewing machine named ‘Brother’ really works. Or rev the engine in the creamy Datsun roadster titled ‘My Fair Lady,’ done in black leather with a single sideways jumpseat. The big red 150-cc. Honda is an impressive piece of road sculpture from slanted seat to flared exhaust; one can see what happens here. Above it hangs a picture of the ‘Dream Train’ designed to hasten Olympic visitors to old Kyoto at 158 mph.

Things least like our own get the most attention. A plywood stool of two bent leaves suggests both the gentle relex curves of temple roofs and the natural bifurcation of the part that fits it. A pretty plastic organ on pedestal instead of legs makes its own altar. A two-tone desk phone somehow remembers a traditional form.

This collection of available products does not present all the new breed. The factories of Japan, often staffed with women workers, are out to mechanize the chores that kept them busy for so many centuries before. These appliances are small and very attractive, like obedient household pets. Besides those that squeeze and fry, purge and dry are machines for,doing things the West has scarcely thought of, all the while lighting up or humming in a most attractive way. Sometimes imagination aids mechanical powers. Caged in white wire, the blue transparent blade of an electric fan looks cool while standing still. Or the spare flame of an oil heater will cast magnificent reflections in its curved shiny shell.

Fantasy and dedication work close together in Japan. An industrialist will find it possible to please the market while working toward a higher purpose: the remodeling, perhaps, of the entire country. Some awesome architectural drawings suggest what is in mind: an aerial geometry of urban building, hives hung in space, or screens of stacked round houses like piles of fitted dinner trays. These serious flights of fancy are fueled by a thousand years of fine design, by a calm and endless pondering of the dialogue between man and Nature, with whom the Japanese are on such good speaking terms.

The exhibition helps to clarify these durable relationships. The restrained and gracious setting is the work of Jack Carter. Dr. Nathan Shapira conceived the showing and its elegant brochure.

James Charlton