Shortlist: Japan

Reiko Tomii, Co-founder, PoNJA-GenKon
August 2011

Overview

Material 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.

Chronological Development
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.

Media
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.

Periodicals
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.


Recommended Readings

Chronological Development

General

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

Prewar

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

Postwar–1950s

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

1960s

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

1970s–1980s

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

1990s–2010s

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

Media

Nihonga

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

Photography

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

Performance Art

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

Yokohama Triennale

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

Mito Annual

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

MOT Annual

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

Roppongi Crossing

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

Histories

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

Other Exhibitions

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

Periodicals

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