Discover Cartier’s Profound Affinity For Japan In A Tokyo Exhibition

A treasure trove of art and objects commemorating the French maison’s 50-year bond with the country awaits at the Hyokeikan.
by Yanni Tan

Cartier Tokyo

Celebrating the strong ties between Japan and Cartier, the Tokyo National Museum has joined hands with the French maison to present Musubi — Half-Century of Cartier in Japan and Beyond: An Everlasting Dialogue of Beauty and Art. Hosted at the Hyokeikan building from now until July 28, this exhibition also commemorates Cartier’s 50th anniversary in the Land of the Rising Sun.

The concept of “musubi” in Japanese mythology, meaning “the power of the divine spirit produced by being bound together”, aptly captures the spirit of this grand collaboration. The showcase of sheer elegance and innovation unfolds through two parallel narratives housed in the symmetrical wings of the Hyokeikan: Cartier and Japan, a Tribute to Art and Beauty; and Fondation Cartier pour l’Art Contemporain and Japanese Artists, a Never-Ending Conversation.

Cartier Tokyo

The Hyokeikan building within the Tokyo National Museum’s estate (Photo: Cartier)

Designed by Studio Adrien Gardere, the exhibition’s scenography is a harmonious blend of traditional Japanese aesthetics and Cartier’s timeless elegance. The design pays homage to the Hyokeikan’s western-style architecture of the late Meiji period, while echoing Cartier’s love of Japanese art. Traditional materials are reimagined, with exhibits displayed in niches and on tables inspired by Tokonoma and Sukiya architecture. Japanese industrial scaffolding systems frame the artwork, symbolising the dynamic relationship between Fondation Cartier and Japanese artists.

A Japanese knot brooch (1907) representing an original expression of the Japanese influence that swept through Europe from the late 19th century (Photo: Cartier)

The allure of Japan

The right wing of the Hyokeikan hosts over 170 objects telling the story of Cartier’s legacy of dialogue with Japan that has greatly influenced its signature style. From the maison’s archives to private loans, this collection includes emblematic creations, archival documents, and personal accounts.

The narrative begins with Louis Cartier, who, despite never visiting Japan, was profoundly inspired by its art and culture. His collection of over 200 Japanese art objects served as a wellspring of inspiration for Cartier’s designers, influencing stunning creations from clocks inspired by Japanese hand mirrors and Shinto architecture, to brooches adorned with diamond-studded dragonflies.

Large Portique mystery clock (1923) taking the form of a Shinto shrine gate (Photo: Cartier)

The culture’s influence on Cartier is evident in its induction of traditional materials and artisanal techniques, such as lacquer work, wicker craft, and the Katagami art of making paper stencils for dyeing wavy or scale patterns on textiles. These have adorned vanity cases, brooches and combs, as well as inspired modern wristwatches.

The deep cultural exchange is further illustrated by Cartier’s use of floral and faunal motifs that symbolise longevity and beauty, embodied in jewellery and watch designs featuring turtles, birds, dragonflies, and butterflies. As you wander the halls, look out for exceptional artworks like contemporary architect Hiroshi Sugimoto’s screen, Wisteria of Kasuga Grand Shrine (2022), resonating with Cartier’s adoption of floral motifs that also includes plum and cherry blossoms.

An exquisite vanity case (1929) flaunting a traditional wavy Katagami motif (Photo: Cartier)

The journey continues with a look back at the Japanese exhibitions dedicated to Cartier since 1988, represented by some of the most prestigious pieces from the Cartier Collection. Other notable moments showcased in this section include the opening of the maison’s first Tokyo boutique in Harajuku in 1974; the 1997 collaboration with Katsuhiko Hibino, who reimagined the iconic Trinity ring; and Shingo Katori’s 2017 work celebrating the Tank watch’s centenary. The narrative culminates in Cartier’s continuously evolving dialogue with Japan, exemplified by fashion designer Chitose Abe‘s recent reinterpretation of the Trinity ring.

This earring, which can be worn as a ring, is part of the Trinity for Chitose Abe of Sacai collection launched in 2022 (Photo: Cartier)

Journey through Nippon

The left wing of the offers an exploration of Fondation Cartier’s patronage of Japanese artists since 1984, and the role it plays in introducing these talents to a European audience. Over 120 works from its collections and loans are on display, with every form of art represented, from painting and photography to architecture, design, and video.

A veritable laboratory of creation, the Fondation Cartier is also a place for pushing the boundaries of thought that not just traverse artistic fields, but also the territories of philosophy, anthropology, botany, and mathematics.

The works of Daido Moriyama and Tatsuo Miyajima, who are supported by Fondation Cartier (Photo: Cartier)

Over the last four decades, the house has partnered with creatives like Issey Miyake, Yasumasa Morimura, Takeshi Kitano, Tadanori Yokoo, Daido Moriyama, and Takashi Murakami — whose creations and exhibitions are once again spotlighted here.

And taking pride of place at the Hyokeikan’s central rotunda is artist Sho Shibuya’s installation named Fifty Sky Views of Japan. Commissioned by Cartier in a poetic tribute to its 50-year milestone in the country, it is a series of acrylic paintings inspired by Hiroshige Utagawa’s Fifty-Three Stations of the Tokaido.

Cartier Tokyo

Sho Shibuya’s Fifty Sky Views of Japan installation (Photo: Cartier)

Travelling across all 47 prefectures of his homeland from Nihonbashi to Okinawa to Hokkaido over 35 days, he’d originally painted 50 sky views for the front page of a daily regional newspaper. What this masterwork symbolises: a shared history between Cartier and Japan that is in constant evolution and renewal.

This story originally published on The Peak Singapore.

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