In the 1920s, Western cities including France’s capital Paris underwent growing industrialization amid reconstruction in the wake of the First World War, ushering in a flourishing and dynamic era known as the Machine-age. This exhibition examines various aspects of the relationship between machines and people in the 1920s and ’30s with a focus on Paris as well as other parts of Europe, the US, and Japan. The International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts(the Art Deco Exhibition), a world’s fair held in Paris in 1925, was an important turning point in changing attitudes and marked the peak of the craze for Art Deco, a geometric style that harmonized with the look of industrial products.
In Japan, rebuilding after the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923 resulted in rapid modernization of the urban landscape, especially in Tokyo. In the period between the two world wars, when the world reached heights of prosperity and depths of stagnation, ideas about machines and rationality changed and evolved.
With great technological advances such as computers, the Internet, and AI promising to transform our lives even further, this exhibition revisits the art and design of 100 years ago and reconsiders the connection between machines and humans.

1. Exploring Human-Machine Relationships at the Dawn of the AI Age

The 1920s saw the rapid proliferation of machines that dwarfed human power, such as automobiles and airplanes. Artists of the time, including Fernand Léger, Constantin Brancusi, and the Surrealists, variously praised or opposed this technological progress. In the context of today, with the “singularity” (the point where AI surpasses human intelligence) said to be approaching, this exhibition looks back at these artists’ reactions to the rise of the machines.

Fernand Léger, Woman at the Mirror, 1920, Pola Museum of Art

2. Art Deco as a Machine-age Style: A Fusion of Decorative and Mechanical

Art Deco, an iconic style of the 1920s, emerged from a mashup of diverse value systems, bringing together exoticism, classicism, and modernism. This exhibition focuses on the modernist aspect of multifaceted Art Deco through the lens of industrial technology and urban development. Decoration, previously regarded by modernists as excessive or extraneous, gained popularity as geometric forms evoked functionality and practicality in various design fields of the time, including architecture, furniture, and fashion.

René Lalique, Perfume Bottle  “Je Reviens”,  Worth, Model executed on December 2, 1929, Pola Museum of Art

Marc Lalique, Perfume Bottle  “Je Reviens”, Worth, After 1952, Pola Museum of Art

3. Japanese Modernism: Art Deco and Mechanical Beauty in the Modern City

The exhibition features works by Sugiura Hisui, a trailblazing Japanese graphic designer influenced by Art Deco, including his posters and magazine covers. It also examines modernism in Japan from the late Taisho (1912-1926) to the early Showa (1926-1989) eras through the works of remarkable avant-garde artists such as Koga Harue, who was inspired by Fernand Léger, and Kawabe Masahisa, who was captivated by the beauty of machines.

Sugiura Hisui, Asia’s First Subway Bigins Operation Between Ueno and Asakusa 1927, The Museum of Art, Ehime

Man and Machine: Modernist Utopianism

fter the end of First World War in 1918, industrial civilization advanced at breakneck speed through efforts to make daily life more convenient and comfortable. Notably, automobiles and airplanes became ever more commonplace and embodied the ethos of the Machine-age. Many artists and designers, believing technological progress would bring about a utopian era, incorporated mechanical motifs into their works.

Worm Wheel Mechanisms, The University Museum, the University of Tokyo (Intermediatheque)


Constantin Brancusi, Bird in Space 1926 (cast 1982), Shiga Museum of Art


Bugatti Type 52 (Baby), Bugatti, Late 1920s-early 1930s, Toyota Automobile Museum

Graceful Machines: Art Deco and the Dream of the World’s Fair

In 1925, the International Exhibition of Modern Decorative and Industrial Arts (the world’s fair nicknamed the Art Deco Exhibition) was held in Paris, spotlighting cutting-edge trends of the day. The glass artist René Lalique designed hood ornaments for cars, interior décor suited to geometric architectural spaces, and perfume bottles. The artist and designer A. M. Cassandre created posters for ocean liners and railways featuring simplified forms and bold gradations. Artists exalted the beauty of machinery and industrial products, creating images that evoked a bright future.

Robert Bonfils, Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes, 1925, Kyoto Institute of Technology Museum and ArchivesAN.269443


A. M. Cassandre, Normandie, 1935, Kyoto Institute of Technology Museum and ArchivesAN.4739©www.cassandre.fr APPROVAL by theESTATE OF A.M.CASSANDRE / JASPAR 2023 B0685

Meaningless Machines: Dada and Surrealism

Technological advancement also sparked resistance to modernization. In the 1910s the Dada movement, which radically rejected the conventional art world, arose in multiple Western cities. In 1924, André Breton published the Surrealist Manifesto and founded Surrealism, an art movement pursuing the “surreal” (lit. “above reality”) that could not be accessed through reason, which became a significant force from the late 1920s onward. Dadaism and Surrealism were critical of the rationalism that underpinned the Machine-age and its adherents devised objets, three-dimensional works foreign to both the functionality of machinery and conventional notions of beauty.

Giorgio de Chirico, Hector and Andromache, ca. 1930, Pola Museum of Art ©SIAE,Roma & JASPAR, Tokyo, 2023 B0685


Man Ray, Indestructible Object, 1923/75, Tokyo Fuji Art Museum ©Tokyo Fuji Art Museum Image Archives / DNPartcom ©MAN RAY 2015 TRUST / ADAGP, Paris & JASPAR, Tokyo, 2023 B0691

Modern Tokyo: Reception and Application of Art Deco and Machine Aesthetics

In Japan, modernization was turbocharged by reconstruction following the Great Kanto Earthquake of 1923. Sugiura Hisui, a pioneer of modern design in Japan, incorporated Art Deco after studying in Europe from 1923 to 1924, representing modern Tokyo with its office buildings and subways in crisp and dynamic designs.

This period also saw the emergence of avant-garde artists such as Koga Harue and Kawabe Masahisa. They introduced mechanical imagery into numerous paintings that intertwined the exuberance and the anxiety of the new era.

Koga Harue, Intellectual Expression Traversing a Real Line, 1931, The Nishinippon Shimbun Co., LTD. (Deposited in Fukuoka Art Museum)

21st Century “Modern Times”

This exhibition showcases artists whose works explore “modern times” in our own time, addressing visual aspects of industrial civilization, robots, and the digital age. It features a video by Paris-based artist Mounir Fatmi with the theme of modernization in the Arab world, where he has roots, as well as futuristic sculptures by Sorayama Hajime, who creates robot-like human figures evoking a post-human world, and a three-meter-high lenticular work by Rafaël Rozendaal, who produces online NFTs (non-fungible tokens, i.e. one-of-a-kind digital artworks) that question the boundary between digital and physical.

Hajime Sorayama, Untitled_Sexy Robot type II floating 2022, Courtesy of NANZUKA


Rafaël Rozendaal, Into Time, Installation view :Screen Time, Takuro Someya Contemporary Art, 2022 Photo:Shu Nakagawa ©Rafaël ROZENDAAL

Mounir Fatmi, Modern Times, a History of the Machine, 2010 Courtesy of the artist and Art Front Gallery, Tokyo Photo: ©mounir fatmi

For the visually handicapped and foreigners, this exhibition offers an Automatic Translation and Text-Speech service for each chapter panel.


Please scan the 2D code posted at the entrance of the venue with your smartphone.





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the 2D code posted at the entrance of the venue

Sat., March 23: Lecture by Professor Komoto Mari of Japan Women’s University


Speaker: Komoto Mari (Faculty of Transcultural Studies, Japan Women’s University)

Date/Time: Sat., March 23, 2024, 14:00 – 15:30 (come to the auditorium by 13:50)

Capacity: First 100 people to arrive (museum ticket for the day required)


Modern Times in Paris 1925― Art and Design in the Machine Age


Pola Museum of Art, Pola Art Foundation

Supported by

Ambassade de France au Japon / Institut français du Japon


Sat., December 16, 2023 – Sun., May 19, 2024


Pola Museum of Art

Contact information for press

Pola Museum of Art Chief of Public Relations (Tanaka / Inami)

Pola Museum of Art Public Relations Office (Ohno / Oka)