Shofuso and Modernism revisits a major mid-century East-West cultural exchange


In June 1954, an article published in House & Home magazine read, “The Japanese had some of our best ideas—300 years ago.” The piece highlighted three main attributes of Kyoto’s Katsura Imperial Villa, built in the 1620s: the open post-and-beam plan, the use of verandas for climate control, and its modularity based on tatami mats and shoji screens. The article coincided with the opening of the Japanese Exhibition House at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York City. On the recommendation of architect Antonin Raymond, the artist Isamu Noguchi, and others, the museum’s architecture and design curator, Arthur Drexler, commissioned Japanese architect Junzō Yoshimura to design the house as part of the museum’s House in the Garden series. Yoshimura was inspired by a 17th-century temple home near Kyoto named Kojo-in. He designed and built the house in Nagoya and then shipped it in 636 crates, to be installed in the museum’s garden, where it received thousands of visitors daily over a period of ten months. Shofuso (Pine Breeze Villa), as Yoshimura named it, was subsequently moved in 1958 to West Fairmount Park in Philadelphia, where it remains today.

Sixty-two years later, and after several months of lockdown, Shofuso has reopened with an exhibition that revisits the historical-cultural exchange between Western modernism and Japanese traditional craft and architecture. Shofuso and Modernism: The Architecture and Design of George Nakashima, Antonin and Noémi Raymond, and Junzō Yoshimura honors the close friendship and community-based collaboration between Yoshimura, architect and woodworker George Nakashima, architect Antonin Raymond, and interior designer and graphic artist Noémi Pernessin Raymond.

The exhibition was co-curated by William Whitaker and Yuka Yokoyama. Whitaker is the curator and manager of the architectural archives at the University of Pennsylvania and has worked with the Raymonds and the Nakashima family for many decades. Whitaker’s 2006 book and exhibition Crafting a Modern World: the Architecture and Design of Antonin and Noémi Raymond highlighted the designers’ longtime connection with Japan and Japanese architects and craftspeople from 1917 through 1966. Yokoyama boosted her knowledge of the history of ancient and contemporary Japanese craft by working for hands-on industrial designer Sori Yanagi, a pioneer in modernist Japanese design and the son of Sōetsu Yanagi, founder of the Mingei movement in Japan.

Shofuso is considered an Utsushi, which Yokoyama described as “an homage to spirited inspiration.” In Shofuso and Modernism, Utsushis are present everywhere, from the building itself to an ikebana arrangement resembling one at the 1954 MoMA installation to the newly commissioned photography by Elizabeth Felicella. Felicella’s photographs, presented through a retro slide projector alongside archival photography by Ezra Stoller, show the current working life of the Raymond Farm and the Nakashima Studio.

A 17th-century japanese home sited in a park
The Shofuso Japanese House and Garden is located in West Fairmount Park. (Elizabeth Felicella)

Shofuso was always intended to be an exhibition house and not inhabited. Nonetheless, this show has enlivened it with a careful selection of furniture, art, and textiles. “Bringing these pieces into Shofuso’s 15-mat room seemed a natural extension of the shared experiences of the Raymonds, Yoshimura, and Nakashima,” Whitaker said. A 1933 Noémi-designed chair with grass rattan covering made…

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