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Gennifer Weisenfeld

The Complete Commercial Artist: Making Modern Design in Japan, 1928–1930



A delightful and revelatory journey through the most important Japanese design publication of its time

In the boom years of the 1920s, Japanese designers developed a radical new vision for their profession. Engaging modernist and avant-garde trends from abroad, refashioning local graphic and calligraphic forms, and using the latest tools and techniques, they poured fresh colors and expressive forms into all facets of consumer life, from streetscapes to the printed page. The Complete Commercial Artist, a twenty-four–volume compendium released between 1928 and 1930, is the most important—and most visually dazzling—document of this still underappreciated moment in global design history. 

Art historian Gennifer Weisenfeld takes readers inside The Complete Commercial Artist, contextualizing hundreds of full-color reproductions spanning every volume, with an extensive historical introduction and volume-by-volume walk-throughs. Brimming with designs for constructivist storefronts and shop windows, Bauhaus-inspired photo collages, art deco letterforms, manga advertisements, startlingly contemporary posters, and much more, The Complete Commercial Artist: Making Modern Design in Japan, 1928–1930 also includes a translated excerpt from editor Hamada Masuji’s utopian essay, which appears in the final volume.

The book also features biographies of the publication’s renowned contributors, including Hamada Masuji, Murayama Tomoyoshi, Murota Kurazō, Nakada Sadanosuke, Okamoto Ippei, Onchi Kōshirō, Saitō Kazō, Sugiura Hisui, Takehisa Yumeji, Takei Takeo, Yajima Shūichi, and more.

From the Introduction

From 1928 to 1930, Tokyo-based publisher Ars アルス issued a major twenty-four–volume illustrated compendium of commercial design with extensive annotation and theoretical analysis titled Gendai shōgyō bijutsu zenshū 現代商業美術全集 in Japanese and The Complete Commercial Artist in English. With more than two-thirds of each volume comprised of illustrations, this landmark production served as a rich trove of design ideas—all at one’s fingertips—for easy reference or adaptation. Essay contributors included seventy-one well-known professional practitioners, educators, and journalists active in the Japanese design field.
At once encyclopedic and carrying a manifesto-like charge, The Complete Commercial Artist was both an important record of original design work by named artists from the period and an invaluable trade publication for disseminating the most up-to-date design practices.
For the first fifteen numbered volumes, six editorial committee members guided the project, including Sugiura Hisui 杉浦非水 (1876–1965), renowned principal designer for the Mitsukoshi department store; Watanabe Soshū 渡辺素舟 (1890–1986), a well-known author on decorative arts and crafts and a soon- to-be-professor of design at the Imperial Art School (now Musashino Art University); Tatsuke Yoichirō 田附与一郎 (a.k.a. 田附與一郎; active after 1920), director of the Japanese Advertising Study Association; Miyashita Takao 宮下孝雄 (1890–1972), professor of industrial arts at the Tokyo Higher School of Arts and Technology; and Hamada Masuji 濱田増治 (1892–1938) and Nakada Sadanosuke 仲田定之助 (1888–1970), director and managing committee member, respectively, of the Commercial Artists Association (CAA; Shōgyō Bijutsuka Kyōkai 商業美術家協会). It is clear, however, that among these editors, Hamada was the driving force of the series from its inception, and during the course of its production he was elevated to the role of chief editor.

About the Author

Gennifer Weisenfeld is Walter H. Annenberg Distinguished Professor of Art and Art History at Duke University. Her field of research is modern and contemporary Japanese art history, design, and visual culture. Her first book, Mavo: Japanese Artists and the Avant-Garde, 1905–1931 (University of California Press, 2002) addresses the relationship between high art and mass culture in the aesthetic politics of the avant-garde in 1920s Japan. Her second book, Imaging Disaster: Tokyo and the Visual Culture of Japan’s Great Earthquake of 1923 (University of California Press, 2012; Japanese edition Seidosha, 2014) examines how visual culture has mediated the historical understanding of Japan’s worst national disaster of the twentieth century. Her third book, Gas Mask Nation: Visualizing Civil Air Defense in Wartime Japan (University of Chicago Press, 2023) explores the anxious pleasures of Japanese visual culture during World War II. She has published extensively on the history of Japanese design, including a core essay for MIT’s award-winning website Visualizing Cultures on the Shiseido cosmetic company’s advertising design. She has a forthcoming book on the history of Japanese commercial art and design titled The Fine Art of Persuasion: Corporate Advertising Design, Nation, and Empire in Modern Japan (Duke University Press).



Introduction Gennifer Weisenfeld 10

Selected Pages from Volumes 1–24

1: Posters from All Over the World 世界各国ポスター集  48
2: Practical Poster Designs 実用ポスター図案集  60
3: World Model Show Windows 世界模範ショーウヰンドー集  80
4: Various Equipment for Show Windows 各種ショーウヰンドー装置集 88
5: Various Backgrounds for Show Windows 各種ショーウヰンドー背景集 100
6: Signboards from All Over the World 世界各国看板集 118
7: Designs for Practical Signboards 実用看板意匠集 130
8: Advertisements with Electricity 電気応用広告集 158
9: Store Interior Equipment 店頭店内設備集 176
10: Street Sales Decorations 売出し街頭装飾集 186
11: Exhibition Display Decorations 出品陳列装飾集  206
12: Wrapping Paper and Container Design 包紙・容器意匠図案集 214
13: Examples of Newspaper and Magazine Advertisements 新聞雑誌広告作例集 234
14: Advertisements with Photography and Cartoons 写真及漫画応用広告集  244
15: Applied Lettering Design 実用図案文字集 262
16: Applied Illustration Design 実用カット図案集 288
17: Lettering Layout and Copywriting 文字の配列と文案集 302
18: Flyer and Label Design チラシ・レッテル図案集 310
19: New Trademarks and Monograms 新案商標・モノグラム集 324
20: Small Printed Matter and Pattern Design 小印刷物及型物図案集 334
21: Catalog and Pamphlet Cover Design カタログ・パンフレツト表紙図案集  360
22: Advertisements in Japanese Taste 日本趣味広告物集  374
23: Latest Trends in Advertising 最新傾向広告集 398
24: Introduction to Commercial Art 商業美術総論  406

From “Introduction to Commercial Art” Hamada Masuji 414 
Selected Biographies  419
Index 427
Credits & Acknowledgments 431


“A thorough and intensely well-researched introduction to the emergence of early Modern Japanese graphic design through one of the landmark publications of the 1920s. Beautifully designed and jam-packed with contextual information, The Complete Commercial Artist is a paean to an era of rapid development in Japan's cultural landscape.”
Ian Lynam, Vermont College of Fine Arts

"The holy grail of graphic design artifacts representing the art deco, or Moderne, period.... When comparing this new version to the original, the printing is so precise it’s impossible to tell which is which.... An informative introductory essay by Gennifer Weisenfeld both explains the role of the commercial artist in Japanese culture and contextualizes graphic style in the critical post-World War I Europe era.... A must for every design library."
Steven Heller, PRINT magazine

The Complete Commercial Artist: Making Modern Design in Japan 1928–1930 exemplifies the Letterform Archive’s high standards of publishing excellence, combining important research with exquisite book design. This colorful anthology of a prewar trade journal comes to life through Gennifer Weisenfeld’s insightful scholarship. Graphic design surveys tend to understate Japan’s contributions to the development of the modern profession. Weisenfeld shows how early Japanese designers forged a field within their unique cultural circumstances in dialogue with the West. Readers will delight in pages of blithe commercial devices, from signboards and store graphics to packaging, trademarks, and display lettering. The concluding text, an excerpt from a 1930 essay by editor Hamada Masuji, is charged with progressive utopianism, underscoring the social and economic complexities at work in the burgeoning field.”
Aggie Toppins, Washington University in St. Louis

“A unique and fascinating book, including hundreds of the original magazine’s pages. [Providing] a multi-layered overview of the era’s aesthetic and ideology... this is a priceless treasure of imagery, visual stimuli, and inspiration.... An absolute must-have.”

“An encyclopedic view of the period. The book frames The Complete Commercial Artist's function as not just a document, but an argument for designs' future... reintroducing an underappreciated moment in global design history.”
Creative Review

“Far more than a simple reprint, the book is a fascinating read, delving deeply into this unique collection that has long been overlooked in the annals of design history. Through meticulous research, art historian Gennifer Weisenfeld provides a comprehensive historical overview and detailed analysis of each volume, accompanied by a plethora of beautifully reproduced full-color images.... For anyone interested in the history of design, commercial art, or Japanese culture in general, Letterform Archive’s latest publication is a fantastic resource.”
Inspiration Grid


Publisher Letterform Archive
Publication Date March 12, 2024
ISBN 978-1-7368633-4-3
Size 10⅜ × 7⅞ inches
Printing 4 colors throughout
Pages 432
Format Paperback with jacket and vellum belly band

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