This essay addresses the problematic notion of the “avant-garde” in the context of Japanese modern art. It looks at the formation in 1907 of the national salon, the Bunten, to elucidate the relational dynamics of art organizations in early twentieth-century Japan, especially during the Taisho period (1912 – 27) when the Fusain Society (Fyûzankai) and the Nika Society (Nikakai) came into being as alternatives to the Bunten. The essay elucidates one of the fundamental paradoxes of Taisho-period art — the simultaneous proliferation of art organizations and artistic individualism — and the dialectic between authority and autonomy that prevailed in art under the conditions of Japanese modernity.

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