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Marx Macam
Japanese Art History
Museum Review
The San Jose Museum of Art was founded in 1969 from a local library originally
planned to be demolished. Its galleries heavily emphasize on artists from the West Coast during
the 20th and 21st century. The museums wood floors are spacious and open, unless special
sculptures need to be displayed. Other than that, the galleries were clutter-free and simple. The
walls were also undecorated in similar fashion, with just plain white paint adorning the rooms.
The museums use of simplicity allows the viewer to properly focus on the piece of interest. The
viewer isnt distracted by trivial decorations on the wall. Their eyes are not diverted away
towards something on the floor, such as a couch to sit on or a trash bin to use. In the San Jose
Museum of Art, its just the viewer and the art. No middleman in between. Which brings me to
another point. The minimal number of chairs or benches to sit on in the galleries help deepen the
connection between viewers and art. In this museum, and many other modern art museums like
it, viewers generally stand up and closely eye each piece in front of them to get every single
minute detail possible. When there is such focus, the viewer is cut off from the outside world,
and can properly analyze the work of the artists hand. Had there been multiple places to sit in
the galleries, viewers would merely attempt to view the art from afar, missing fine details made
by the artist.
Photos, paintings, and prints are properly placed on the blank walls generally at eye level
for a person of average height. This creates an ease of accessibility to the viewers, as they can

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comfortable analyze the piece in front of them for hours without craning their neck looking up
high or down low. Again, this helps with concentration when viewing the many pieces in the
museum. Sometimes, one can spend several minutes, maybe even hours just interpreting a piece
and discussing it with one another. The viewer shouldnt have to feel uncomfortable for hours on
end just to admire a work of art.
The descriptions of the pieces are left fairly simple, describing the essentials, such as
title, artist name, date created, place of birth, medium, and a short history relative to the piece.
However, some just have as little as the artist name, title, date created, and birthplace only. The
minimal use of description for a few pieces could have helped in understanding some works, as
we learn the historical context and motivation behind the artist. However, some pieces dont need
explanation. Interpretation is up entirely to the viewer. Long, drawn out descriptions could cloud
the viewers mind and lessen the concentration on the actual piece. But worse of all, it could
bring viewers to a conclusion or interpretation that they themselves might not believe. One can
have their own interpretation for a work of art, but once you read into the artists background and
past, you start to understand their motivation and true message, one far different from yours. I
believe that takes away part of the fun from analyzing art. Youre encouraged to come up with
your own conclusions, and not be guided from boring text.
Finally, the spacing of each piece should be taken into account. Ample space is proved
between each piece. No painting or photo bleeds into one anothers space. Generous areas of
blank white wall proved a buffer for each piece. Again, this allows the viewer to maintain their
focus on one piece at a time, without having their eyes dart towards another piece that caught
their attention. The works of art displayed on the walls are generally on the same plane as
discussed earlier, which is eye level. When moving on from piece to piece, I was allowed to take

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my time, and having them all on the same plane allowed my eyes and brain to relax. I didnt have
to shift my eyes or jerk my head up and down to catch elusive paintings that were organized
horribly. Everything was linear, and the art was being presented to me as if it was on a conveyor
belt. Because of this, all of my concentration was eased on adjusting my sight, and became more
prevalent in trying to absorb the piece of work in front of me. If I had to describe the San Jose
Museum of Art in one word, it would have to be: focus. The spatial organization of the art and
simplicity of the walls and floors minimize unnecessary distraction and cultivate focusing on
what is truly important- interpreting the message of what the artist spent years delicately crafting.
The first piece being analyzed is Geisha and Ghost Cat by Masami Teraoka (1989), part
of a set from his AIDS series. It depicts a geisha woman and a man interrupted in bed by some
sort of cat spirit. The cat ominously holds another smaller geisha in its jaws. What grabbed my
attention was Teraokas combination of the ukiyo-e style of 17th century Japanese art with a
Western subject matter. The piece is characterized by ukiyo-es bright colors, emphasis on
lifestyles of pleasure, beautiful women, and eroticism. Even Teraokas fine, detailed patterns on
the smaller geishas clothing add to ukiyo-es sense of beauty and material pleasure. Lines and
strokes are iron-wire, so variation in line appeared to be minimal. Although made 300 years after
the rise of ukiyo-e, Teraoka provides a faithful adaptation to the classic style, but the obvious
contrast lies in the other man and in their surroundings. The man with the geisha is shown having
messy orange hair, a matching moustache, blue eyes, and pale skin. He even has what appears to
be a pair of sunglasses on his head. It is obvious that the man is a foreigner. On the table next to
the couple, there appears to be lotion and condoms- icons generally associated with sex in the
West. Out of the box of condoms appears a ghost cat holding a smaller frightened geisha, and the

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couple clutch each other with fear. Seeing Western icons in art that uses the traditional ukiyo-e
style was definitely surprising, and it helped keep my attention focused on the piece.
Because this is part of Teraokas AIDS series in the 80s, I can only assume this piece was
made as a warning during the rampant outbreak of AIDS at the time. The ghost cat coming out of
the condom box and grasping another geisha in its jaws could pose as a deadly premonition for
the lustful geisha, maybe even implying a message like, Keep that up, and youll end up with a
fate similar to this woman between my fangs. Both the geisha and the foreigner are petrified,
with a shade of blue covering their faces and their arms clutched tightly over one another. My
guess is that this implies either one of the couple could have AIDS. Their fear might be not
knowing which one of them has the disease. However, because the ghost cat possesses only a
fellow geisha, my final interpretation of this whole piece is this: the geishas foolishness in
having sex with a foreigner while being unprotected makes a ghost cat appear from the condom
box. It warns her about the implications of her actions by showing her another geisha, one whose
fate was decided in a similar way, most likely due to AIDS. The foreigner is the culprit, and
unless the geisha acts smart, death will come.
The second piece being analyzed is also coincidentally by Masami Teraoka. Titled
Cloning Eve and Geisha (2003), the overall piece is comprised of 3 parts. The first painting has a
man and a woman who are shown with similar attire. In gory fashion, the man is holding the
heart that was ripped out of him with scissors surrounding him. The woman is holding what
seems to be some type of device to her ear, most likely a cellphone, and is clutching a miniature
white building that seems to be for a capitol building. The second painting has what seems to be
a priest holding a computer mouse and keyboard, followed by two blonde naked female figures.
One of which is clutching two computer mice, and one an apple. The third painting is of two

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geisha women, both very similar to one another and naked. In the background of the whole piece
seems so be some type of nation by the water, most likely Italy or Spain due to the architectural
style. One can only identify it thanks to Teraokas fine details. The whole piece is in very vibrant
colors of gold, blue, and red, and was created using Teraokas ukiyo-es style, though it seems as
if the Western style of art had the biggest influence. The two naked female figures, priest, and
architecture behind them look distinctly Western. It seems as if only the geishas really show the
ukiyo-e style. In addition, the first two paintings have snakes. One snake is wrapped around the
man clutching his own heart in the first one, and another is near one of the naked women in the
second one.
From what I can get from the title, Cloning Eve and Geisha, the two blonde naked
females are clones of Eve, as evident by one being seduced by a snake, and one bearing an apple.
The third painting has two very similar looking geisha, so it can be assumed these are the clones
in the title. Teraokas use of geishas could symbolize Japans deep-rooted history and traditions.
The clones might symbolize the idea of scientific advancements. Now, the first painting is a bit
tricky. Since the man and woman are dressed exactly alike, and share the same facial features, I
can only assume they could be the same person, and not clones. There are scissors all over the
man, so it may be that he has had surgery to become the woman next to him. The capitol building
the woman is holding could represent Western government/ civilization. The priest and the two
Eves on the second painting appear to be walking towards the woman and man who have just
destroyed their bodies with surgery. Meanwhile, the two geishas in the third painting merely
stand back, watching everything unfold in surprise. Because the first two paintings depict
technology and science, it might represent the growing dependence on technology in the modern
world. The snakes in the first two paintings might symbolize temptation towards this culture of

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technology and science. It draws the people to walk towards it, much like the serpent of the
Bible. However, the two geishas are the only ones without snakes. Although they do possesses
devices such as phones and digital watches, they still remain to themselves, away from everyone
else. The reason behind this might be to explain one thing: Japanese culture may be influenced
by the Wests technology or scientific advances, but it will never blindly follow it to its
destruction The society in the West has mutilated its own body according to the first painting, but
Japans society maintain its traditional culture and body for as long as it can.
Looking at these two art pieces in particular show a prevailing enthusiasm in traditional
Japanese art styles. Even 300 years later, artists like Teraoka are still reviving the ukiyo-e style.
This unwillingness to not let go of Japans history and unique culture is truly endearing. If only
other nations would follow in their footsteps, rather than trying to forget the past.