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the cover of The Complete Commercial Artist

Lectures & Salons

Salon Series 47: The Complete Commercial Artist: Making Modern Design in Japan, 1928–1930

with Gennifer Weisenfeld

Join us for a conversation with the author of our latest book, an exploration of modernist commercial design in Japan.

  • Date
  • Time
  • Where Hybrid: Onsite at Letterform Archive & Online via Zoom

Toward the end of the 1920s, Japanese designers pursued 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, a 24-volume design compendium published by the country’s leading designers, captured the spirit of the age with thousands of playful and inventive designs.

In conversation with Letterform Archive Books editor Chris Westcott, art historian Gennifer Weisenfeld discusses her new book on this remarkable document of design history, The Complete Commercial Artist: Making Modern Design in Japan, 1928–1930. Sharing art from the original volumes, Weisenfeld will explore the global exchange of ideas and practices that informed designers’ new approaches to lettering, illustration, design, and display.

Gennifer Weisenfeld

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).

Portrait of Gennifer Weisenfeld

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