Reiko Tomii, Co-founder, PoNJA-GenKon
OverviewMaterial about Japanese contemporary art forms a substantial portion of Asia Art Archive’s collection. This guide aims at providing users with a number of points of entry to this rich resource, which is comprised of more than 4,000 catalogued items. Focusing on art made primarily in Japan or by Japanese-born artists, this guide is divided into seven initial sections: Chronological Development, Media, Women Artists and Gender Studies, Major International Biennials and Triennials, Major Domestic Annual and Periodic Surveys, Exhibitions Outside Japan, and Periodicals.
Japan has a long history of modern and contemporary art dating back to the mid-19th century. In this remote non-Western land which had practically been closed to the outside world over two centuries, the forces of modernisation—often equated with Westernisation—varyingly and irrevocably shaped the development of its new art practices. Its paths to modernity can be generally located between two poles —the international and the locally specific—resulting in the highly localised yet resonating manifestations sustained by distinct and nuanced discourses.
In the category of ‘Chronological Development,’ the ‘General’ titles, which cover different spans of the 20th century, offer substantial overviews with a good number of illustrations and serve as sourcebooks. They offer sets of information to guide further chronological, bibliographic, and/or biographical research.
Japanese contemporary art harks back to pre-war avant-garde movements, which made more impact on life than art as it branched out into design and other associated areas.
With post-war Japan buoyed by a new sense of democracy, there were multiple avenues of post-war vanguard practices. In the 1950s, traditional media such as calligraphy, Nihonga (Japanese-style painting), and ceramics sought innovation and rebirth, while socially concerned realism and figuration developed, as well as modernist vanguardism represented by Jikken Kobo/Experimental Workshop and Okamoto Taro. Following the phenomenal experimentalism of Gutai in Osaka in 1955, the transgressive tendency of Anti-Art (Han-geijutsu) emerged nationwide, partly inspired by the French-import of Art Informel. Gutai and Anti-Art often paralleled, and sometimes preceded, Euro-American counterparts in devising performance, installation, conceptualist, intermedia, and interactive art. In 1960s Japan, the ‘international contemporaneity’ (kokusaiteki dojisei) attained by vanguard art at once echoed the volatile political atmosphere and the country’s new economic prosperity. The importance of the 1960s is amply demonstrated by titles listed under the 1960s section here alone, which reflect the current state of scholarship. From the mid-1960s and into the 1970s, the fervent Anti-Art, which cross-pollinated with Butoh, contemporary music, design, theater, and film, was followed by the sober Non-Art (Hi-geijutsu). It encompassed Mono-ha (‘Things School’), conceptualism, and performance art and continued to resonate with global developments. By then, gendai bijutsu, literally ‘contemporary art,’ was firmly established as a practice distinct from the modern practices of oil painting (yoga) and Nihonga.
A strong interest in modernist painting in the late 1970s prepared the return of painting in the form of ‘New Wave’ in the 1980s, the decade, which also saw Japanese contemporary artists, such as Morimura Yasumasa and Miyajima Tatsuo, began to attract wide international attention. During this decade, the museological attention to the recent past of contemporary art grew both in and outside Japan, resulting in decade-wide surveys in Japan and two historical surveys in Oxford, UK (Reconstructions: Avant-Garde Art in Japan 1945-1965) and in Paris (Japon des Avant Gardes: 1910-1970). These surveys together paved a way for art-historical examination of contemporary Japanese art. In English-speaking regions, the 1994 book Japanese Art After 1945: Scream Against the Sky laid the foundation of future scholarship.
The contemporary art scene of 1990s Japan was informed by the death of Emperor Showa in 1989, the burst of the bubble economy in the early 1990s, and the subway attack by Aum Shinrikyo in 1995. The pervasive presence of popular culture and subculture, especially anime and manga, inspired the Neo-Pop tendency of Murakami Takashi and Nara Yoshitomo, which has since become a global sensation. Artists themselves have become very vocal and articulate about their agendas, as attested by Murakami’s 'Superflat'and 'Little Boy: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture'. Yet, persistent economic woes and binding social isolationism partly prompted a more inward or domestic attitude, as evident in the rise of Micro-Pop as well as the proliferation of community-based art projects. In many respects, Japanese contemporary art has changed its outlook from the previous boom decade of the 1960s to the current boom decade of the 2000s. As contemporary art increasingly globalised, Japanese artists formed active artistic diasporas outside their native country, as demonstrated by 'Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York'. In Japan, the number of commercial galleries and alternative spaces has increased, as contemporary art has been integrated into Japanese cultural life. New practices, be they video/digital, relational, pictorial, or performative, embraced global ideals of contemporary art liberated from modernist stricture. It is not an overstatement that gendai bijutsu of 1960s Japan morphed into kontenporari ato (transliteration of ‘contemporary art’) of today’s Japan, expanding its global relevance and local presence.
As with calligraphy in China, traditional media prove to be important in Japanese contemporary art. If calligraphy had a brief sway in the 1950s, Nihonga (Japanese-style painting), or a modern interpretation of traditional Japanese painting, figured large in recent practices, as demonstrated by artists such as Murakami Takashi and Aida Makoto, who were originally trained in the medium.
Photography was introduced to Japan in the mid-19th century, shortly after its invention. The history of photography as its own medium has been expanded since the late 1960s when it became a vital part of contemporary art practice.
Video, and to some extent film, also entered the Japanese vocabulary of contemporary art in the 1960s. The possibilities of using moving imagery have since expanded greatly. Two international festivals have been launched to capture the latest developments: Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions, an effort of Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography to keep current with image-making, and International Festival for Arts and Media Yokohama.
With performance art, Japan has made a major contribution to the global development of contemporary art. In Japan, performance art dates back to the mid-1950s, when Gutai pioneered performative works. Although it has long been elusive due to its time-based ephemeral nature, its early years in the 1960s received in-depth scholarly treatment in KuroDalaijee’s (Kuroda Raiji) voluminous work.
Women Artists and Gender Studies
The interest in feminist art history and gender studies is driven by scholars and curators based both inside and outside Japan, demonstrating the maturing state of scholarship on Japanese contemporary art and the usefulness of visual culture studies that sometimes, though not always, help transcend the language and cultural barriers.
Major International Biennials and Triennials
Major Domestic Annual and Periodic Surveys
These two categories complement each other. On the one hand, international exhibitions enhance the visibility of Japan as a significant site of contemporary art and are instrumental in identifying global trends of contemporary art. On the other hand, museum-driven annual or periodic surveys (by Art Tower Mito, Mori Art Museum, and Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, among others) help identify the local emergence of young practitioners.
Exhibitions Outside Japan
In sending exhibitions of contemporary art abroad, the role of the Japan Foundation cannot be emphasised enough. In addition to being a funding agency, it has served as an organiser of numerous international exhibitions. This fact is most evident in its involvement with the presentation of the Japanese pavilion for the Venice Biennale for more than four decades. The foundation’s active role in organising or co-organising contemporary art exhibitions for international circulation is enormous, although the foundation is by no means the sole institution that has encouraged the study of Japanese contemporary art outside Japan, as evidenced by the titles included here.
Contemporary Art Spaces
While Japan boasts literally hundreds of art museums nationwide, there are also alternative venues for contemporary art. Although the history of both commercial galleries and rental galleries (kasha garo) is yet to be written, Art Space Tokyo is a useful guide to Japan’s current gallery scene. Art Initiative offers a rare glimpse into alternative or community-based activities, both historical and ongoing.
Magazines in modern Japan have traditionally served as a useful source for the study of the diversity of living artists. In contemporary art, the staple publication is Bijutsu techo, recently abbreviated to BT, whose coverage has changed over years to reflect the evolution from modern and vanguard art to contemporary art. Two defunct magazines, ART iT and Saison Art Program Journal (SAP Journal) offered alternative views to BT, while Aida, still ongoing, serves as a site of debate and art criticism.
|Munroe, Alexandra, et al., Japanese Art after 1945: Scream against the Sky, Harry N. Abrams, Inc., New York, 1994|
|Shirakawa, Yoshio, ed., Dada in Japan: 1920–1970 (revised edition), Suiseisha, Tokyo, 2005|
|Takashina, Shuji, et al., Japon des Avant-gardes 1910–1970, Editions du Centre Pompidou, Paris, 1986|
|Weisenfeld, Gennifer, Mavo: Japanese Artists and the Avant-Garde 1905–1931, University of California Press, Berkeley, 2002|
|Yamano, Hidetsugu, Yuko Ikeda, eds., Avant-garde in Japan: Art into Life 1900–1940, The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, 1999|
|Cort, Louise A., et al., Isamu Noguchi and Modern Japanese Ceramics, Arthur M. Sackler Gallery, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C., University of California Press, Berkeley, Los Angeles, and London, 2004|
|Elliott, David, Kazu Kaido, eds., Reconstructions: Avant-Garde Art in Japan 1945–1965, Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, 1985|
|Hirai, Shoichi, What’s GUTAI?, Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha, Tokyo, 2004|
|Yurugi, Yasuhiro, The 1950s: Gloom and Shafts of Light, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, 1981|
|Havens, Thomas R. H., Radicals and Realists in the Japanese Nonverbal Arts: The Avant-Garde Rejection of Modernism, University of Hawaii Press, Honolulu, 2006|
|Merewether, Charles, Rika Iezumi Hiro, eds., Art, Anti-Art, Non Art: Experimentations in the Public Sphere in Postwar Japan 1950–1970, Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, 2007|
|Miki, Tamon, The 1960’s: A Decade of Change in Contemporary Japanese Art, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 1981|
|Miki, Tamon, Keiji Nakamura, Japanese Anti-Art: Now and Then, National Museum of Art, Osaka, 1991|
|Saito, Yasuyoshi, (Trends of Japanese Art in the 1960s: Departure Towards Multiplicity), Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, 1983|
|Sawaragi, Noi, et al., Japanese Art 1960s: Japanese Summer 1960–64, Contemporary Art Center, Art Tower Mito, Mito, 1997|
|Tomii, Reiko, ed., ‘1960s Japan: Art Outside the Box', Special Issue of Review of Japanese Culture and Society, Josai University, Sakado-shi, 2005|
|Halbreich, Kathy, et al., Against Nature: Japanese Art in the Eighties, New York University, New York, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Massachusetts, The Japan Foundation, Tokyo, 1989|
|Nanjo, Fumio, Peter Weiermair, eds., Japanische Kunst der achtziger Jahre, Edition Stemmle, Schaffhausen, 1990|
|Yurugi, Yasuhiro, Trends of Contemporary Japanese Art 1970–1984: Universality / Individuality, Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, Tokyo, 1984|
|Hirayoshi, Yukihiro, et al., Rapt! 20 Contemporary Artists from Japan, The Japan Foundation, Tokyo, 2006|
|Matsui, Midori, The Age of Micropop: The New Generation of Japanese Artists, Parco Co., Ltd., Tokyo, 2007|
|Murakami, Takashi, ed., Superflat, Madra Publishing Co., Ltd., Tokyo, 2000|
|Murakami, Takashi, ed., Little Boy: The Arts of Japan's Exploding Subculture, Japan Society, New York, Yale University Press, New Haven, London, 2005|
|Shiner, Eric C., Reiko Tomii, Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York, Japan Society, New York, Yale University Press, New Haven, London, 2007|
|Yaguchi, Kunio, et al., eds., Art in Japan Today: 1985–1995 , Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 1995|
|Haga, Toru, et al., (Contemporary 'Nihonga' Japanese Paintings: Adventurers), Okazaki City Chunichi Shimbun Sha, Okazaki, 2003|
|Kashiwagi, Tomoh, NIHONGA Painting: Six Provocative Artists, Yokohama Museum of Art, 2006|
|Takeyama, Hirohiko, Katsuhisa Handa, eds., In the Heat of Passion; Nihonga 1950s, Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts, Tochigi, 1993|
|Vartanian, Ivan, Kyoko Wada, See/Saw: Connections Between Japanese Art Then and Now, Chronicle Books, San Francisco, 2011|
|Phillips, Christopher, Noriko Fuku, Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video from Japan, International Center of Photography, New York, Steidl, Goettingen, 2008|
|Martin, Lesley A., Kyoko Wada, eds., Japanese Photobooks of the 1960s and ‘70s, Aperture, New York, 2009|
|Matsumoto, Tohru, The Past and the Present of Photography, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 1990|
|Tucker, Anne Wilkes, et al., The History of Japanese Photography, Yale University Press, New Heaven and London, The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, 2003|
Video and Media Art: General
|Hatanaka, Minoru, et al., N_ext: New Generation of Media Artists, NTT Publishing, Tokyo, 2004|
|Miwa, Kenjin, Mika Kuraya, eds., Waiting for Video: Works from the 1960s to Today, The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, 2009|
|Sumitomo, Fumihiko, et al., Possible Futures: Japanese Postwar Art and Technology, NTT Publishing Co., Ltd., Tokyo, 2005|
Video and Media Art: International Festival for Arts and Media Yokohama
|Sumitomo, Fumihiko, et al., Deep Images: Why We Need Images to Live?, Film Art Inc., Tokyo, 2009|
Video and Media Art: Yebisu International Festival for Art and Alternative Visions
|Okamura, Keiko, Noriyuki Tsuji, eds., Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions 2009, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo, 2009|
|Okamura, Keiko, Hiroko Tasaka, et al., eds., Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions 2010: Searching Songs, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo, 2010|
|Miyazawa, Akio, et al., Yebisu International Festival for Art & Alternative Visions 2011: Daydream Believer!!, Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Tokyo, 2011|
|Eckersall, Peter, ed., ‘Japan After the 1960s: The Ends of the Avant-Garde’, Performance Paradigm, Performance Paradigm Publications, Sydney, 2006|
|KuroDaraiJee (Kuroda, Raiji), Anarchy of the Body: Undercurrents of Performance Art in 1960s Japan, grambooks, Tokyo, 2010|
Women Artists and Gender Studies
|Kokatsu, Reiko, et al., eds., Japanese Women Artists before and after World War II, 1930s–1950s, Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts, Tochigi, 2001|
|Kokatsu, Reiko, Midori Yoshimoto, eds., Japanese Women Artists in Avant-garde Movements, 1950–1975, Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts, Tochigi, 2005|
|Kusanagi, Natsuko, ed., (A Survey of Japanese Women Painters: The Racing Athletes of Beauty), Bijutsu-Nenkansha, Tokyo, 2003|
|Lloyd, Fran, ed., Consuming Bodies: Sex and Contemporary Japanese Art, Reaktion, London, 2002|
|Yoshimoto, Midori, Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey, 2005|
|Zohar, Ayelet, PostGender: Gender, Sexuality and Performativity in Japanese Culture, Cambridge Scholars Publishing, Cambridge, 2009|
Major International Biennials and Triennials
Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale
|Igarashi, Rina, ed., The 3rd Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale 2005: Parallel Realities Asian Art Now, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, 2005|
|Kirinde, Stanley, et al., Exhibition Marking The Fukuoka Art Museum's Anniversary, Asian Artists Exhibition Part II / Festival: Contemporary Asian Art Show, Fukuoka Art Museum, Fukuoka, 1980|
|Koike, Shinji, et al., Fukuoka Art Museum Inauguration: Asian Artists Exhibition Part-1 'Modern Asian Art—India, China & Japan', Fukuoka Art Museum, Fukuoka, 1979|
|Kuroda, Raiji, et al., The 1st Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale 1999: The 5th Asian Art Show, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, 1999|
|Kuroda, Raiji, et al., The 2nd Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale 2002: Imagined Workshop, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, 2002|
|Soejima, Mikio, et al., The 3rd Asian Art Show: Symbolic Visions in Contemporary Asian Life, Fukuoka Art Museum, Fukuoka, 1989|
|Soejima, Mikio, et al., The 4th Asian Art Show Fukuoka: Realism as an Attitude, Fukuoka Art Museum, Fukuoka, 1994|
|Yamaki, Yuko, ed., The 4th Fukuoka Asian Art Triennale 2009: Live and Let Live: Creators of Tomorrow, Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, Fukuoka, 2009|
Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial
|Nakahara, Yusuke, et al., Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial 2000, Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial Executive Committee, Tokamachi, 2001|
|Nakahara, Yusuke, et al., Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial 2003, Gendaikikakushitsu Publishers, Tokyo, 2004|
|Kawamata, Tadashi, et al., Yokohama 2005: International Triennale of Contemporary Art: Art Circus [Jumping from the Ordinary], The Organizing Committee for Yokohama Triennale, Yokohama, 2005|
|Mizusawa, Tsutomu, et al., Yokohama 2008: International Triennale of Contemporary Art: Time Crevasse, The Organizing Committee for Yokohama Triennale, Yokohama, 2008|
|Nakamura, Nobuo, et al., International Triennale of Contemporary Art: Yokohama 2001, The Organizing Committee for Yokohama Triennale, Yokohama, 2001|
Major Domestic Annual and Periodic Surveys
|Asai, Toshihiro, ed., Mito Annual '96: Private Room: Eight Japanese Artists in Photography, Contemporary Art Center, Art Tower Mito, Mito-shi, 1996|
|Asai, Toshihiro, ed., Mito Annual '99: Private Room II : Photographs by a New Generation of Women in Japan, Contemporary Art Center, Art Tower Mito, Ibaraki, 1999|
|Hasegawa, Yuko, ed., Mito Annual '93: Another World, ATM Contemporary Art Gallery, Mito-shi, 1992|
|Mori, Tsukasa, ed., Mito Annual '95: Discover Paintings; Works & Language, ATM Contemporary Art Center, Mito-shi, 1995|
|Osaka, Eriko, Hiromi Ohashi, eds., Mito Annual '97: Flexible Coexistence, Contemporary Art Center, Art Tower Mito, Mito-shi, 1997|
|Watanabe, Seiichi, ed., Mito Annual '94: Open System, ATM Contemporary Art Center, Mito-shi, 1994|
|Kasahara, Michiko, Kiyomi Yonezaki, eds., MOT Annual 2005: Life Actually, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 2005|
|Kato, Hiroko, Masami Yamamoto, eds., MOT Annual 2006: No Border, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 2006|
|Kumagai, Isako, MOT Annual 2003: Days, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 2003|
|Minami, Yusuke, Keiko Hashimoto, eds., MOT Annual 1999: Modest Radicalism, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 1999|
|Seki, Aiko, Yoshimi Chinzei, eds., MOT Annual 2010: Neo–Ornamentalism from Japanese Contemporary Art, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 2010|
|Seki, Naoko, Michiko Kasahara, eds., MOT Annual 2004: Where Do I Come From? Where Am I Going?, Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo, 2004|
|Araki, Natsumi, et al., Roppongi Crossing 2007: Future Beats in Japanese Contemporary Art, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2007|
|Kataoka, Mami, et al., Roppongi Crossing: New Visions in Contemporary Japanese Art 2004 (revised and enlarged edition), Mori Art Museum, Bijutsu Shuppan Sha, Tokyo, 2004|
|Kondo, Kenichi, et al., Roppongi Crossing 2010: Can There Be Art?, Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2010|
Exhibitions Outside Japan
|Yaguchi, Kunio, et al., The Venice Biennale: 40 Years of Japanese Participation, The Japan Foundation and The Mainichi Newspapers, Tokyo, 1995|
Organised or Co-organised by the Japan Foundation
|Brewinska, Maria, ed., Gendai: Japanese Contemporary Art—Between the Body and Space, Center for Contemporary Art Ujazdowski Castle, Warszawa, 2000|
|Buruma, Ian, et al., A Cabinet of Signs: Contemporary Art from Postmodern Japan, Tate Gallery Liverpool, Liverpool, 1991|
|Furuichi, Yasuko, Keiko Suzuki, eds., KITA!: Japanese Artists Meet Indonesia—The Document, The Japan Foundation, Tokyo, 2008|
|Hasegawa, Yuko, Felipe Chaimovich, When Lives Become Form: Dialogue with the Future: Brazil/Japan, The Japan Foundation, Tokyo, Museu de Arte Moderna de Sao Paulo, Sao Paulo, 2008|
|Kanai, Tadashi, Makiko Nishioka, eds., Vanishing Points: Contemporary Japanese Art, The Japan Foundation, Tokyo, 2008|
|Kataoka, Mami, et al., Beautiful New World: Contemporary Visual Culture from Japan, The Japan Foundation, Tokyo, 2007|
|Kimoto, Teiichi, Yoshiko Yoneyama, eds., Beyond the Surface: Japanese Style of Making Things, The Japan Foundation, Tokyo, 2003|
|Watkins, Jonathan, Mami Kataoka, Facts of Life: Contemporary Japanese Art, Hayward Gallery Publishing, London, 2001|
|Yamawaki, Kazuo, Seven Artists: Aspects of Contemporary Japanese Art, Los Angeles-Nagoya Sister City Affiliation, Los Angeles, 1991|
|Annear, Judy, et al., Zones of Love: Contemporary Art from Japan, Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney, 1991|
|Cooke, Lynne, Reorienting: Looking East, Third Eye Centre, Glasgow, Nicola Jacobs Gallery, London, 1990|
|Fox, Howard N., et al., A Primal Spirit: Ten Contemporary Japanese Sculptors, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles, 1990|
|Okada, Takahiko, Hideo Namba, Japan Art Today: Elusive Perspectives/ Changing Visions, Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Nagano, 1990|
Contemporary Art Spaces
|Furuichi, Yasuko, ed., Alternatives 2005: Contemporary Art Spaces in Asia, Tankosha Publishing Co., Ltd., Tokyo, 2004|
|Ikeda, Osamu, ed., Art Initiative Communicative Infrastructure, BankART1929, Yokohama, 2009|
|Rawlings, Ashley, Craig Mod, Art Space Tokyo: An Intimate Guide to the Tokyo Art World, Pre/post, Tokyo, 2010|
|Aida, Aida no Kai, Tokyo, 2006|
|ART iT, Realcities / Art iT, Tokyo, 2003–2009|
|Bijutsu Techo, Bijutsu Shuppan-Sha, Tokyo, 1999–present|
|Saison Art Program Journal, Saison Art Program Center, Tokyo, 1999–2003|