Thursday, January 24, 2013

looking back, picks of 2012

Kimimasa Mayama/European Pressphoto Agency

In the two years after Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns, Japan has experienced a new, politically charged era. In some of the largest demonstrations since American-Vietnam war, tens of thousands of antinuclear protesters flooded the streets.In the two years after Tohoku earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdowns, Japan has experienced a new, politically charged era. In some of the largest demonstrations since American-Vietnam war, tens of thousands of antinuclear protesters flooded the streets.

Lieko Shiga,  Rasen Kaigan, 2011/2012
In the widespread destruction, the events of March 11, 2011 damaged several art institutions such as Sendai Mediatheque and Art Tower Mito. Last year Lieko Shiga displayed starky haunting images created since disaster in the reopened Mediatheque and Art Tower Mito hosted Artists and the Disaster - Documentation in Progress, records of artists' practical attempts at cleaning up and community rebuilding among which Naoya Hatakeyama's photos of the devastation caused by the tsunami were particularly poignant.
Seige Ono + Ryuichi Sakamoto + Shiro TakataniSilence Spins, 2012, sound installation.
Photo : Norihiro Ueno. Courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art, Tokyo.
Japan's museums held numerous memorable exhibitions in 2012. The National Art Center, Tokyo (NACT) held Gutai - The Spirit of an Era, the movement first survey in Tokyo. The Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (MOT) presented the first large-scale Tokyo retrospective of Gutai pioneer Atsuko Tanaka, including her iconic, wearable outfit of painted light bulbs, Electric Dress. Later in the year composer Ryuichi Sakamoto curated Art And Music - Search for New Synesthesia, a crossover of the audio and visual works. 
Rinko Kawaguchi,  Divinity in the mundane: Untitled, from the Illuminance series 2007 
National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (MOMAT) drew on its collection for the show Art Will Thrill You! The Essence of Modern Japanese Art, half of which was dedicated to Mono-ha. At the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography, Rinko Kawaguchi's solo exhibition included her recent Illuminace series of eerily lit images of everyday settings. Tokyo private museums often stage the city's best exhibitions. In 2012 Mori Art Museum (MAM) presented Lee Bul, an Asia's leading artist solo show followed by the first survey of art from Middle East and rounded out the year with retrospective of Makoto Aida, who plays devil's advocate, tweaking his nation's collective conscience by opening a Pandora's box of issues from which most of his compatriots typically avert their eyes. 
Makoto AidaPath Between Rice Fields, 1991
The Watari Museum of Contemporary Art (Watari-um) presented Turning Around, an unusual exhibition of political-activist art curated by Chim ↑ Pom, the Japanese artist group that is itself known for its artistic "brushes" with the law. Last year they added images of Fukushima nuclear power plant, which experienced the meltdown to Taro Okamoto's well-known mural at Shibuya station in Tokyo.

Tokyo Opera City Gallery featured Kishin Shinoyama's portraits of celebrities while next door, the NTT InterCommunication Center examined the relevance of the internet for new-media and conceptual artists such as exonemo and Akihiko Taniguchi in Internet Art Future: Reality in Post Internet Era.
Koji Enokura, Wall, 1971, gelatin silver print
Located in a converted warehouse in Kiyosumi, one of the citie's densest cluster of top galleries, Taka Ishii Gallery held solo show of Tomoo Gokita's surreal, black-and-white abstract painting followed by Documentation, photographs of Koji Enokura's ephemeral Mono-ha sculptures from 1960s to 1980s. While Tomio Koyama Gallery exhibited photographs and sculptures by another Mono-ha artist Kishio-Suga. Next door, Ai Kowada Gallery hold the show of Futoshi Miyagi's videos and photographs exploring guy identity in Okinawa. In nearby Bakurocho, Radium exhibited Kentaro Haruyama's sleek geometric sculptures of metal, plastic and wood fragments while Zenshi presented sound installation by Hidekado Goto.

In Tokyo's neighboring metropolis of Yokohama, Yokohama Museum of Art hosted retrospective of Yoshimoto Nara. North of the capital, the Museum of Modern Art Saitama held The '70s in Japan: 1968-1982 survey of art, graphic design, architecture, photography, theatre, music and manga.
On November 3 in Kobe opened the Yokoo Tadanori Museum of Contemporary Art, dedicated to the veteran graphic-designer-turned-artist. Further to the west, the Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art ended 2012 with survey of Fluxus member Ay-O while the National Museum in Osaka held the exhibition of Aiko Miyanaga naphthalene sculptures, which gradually degrade at the room temperature.
Ay-OFinger Box, 1963-66, wood and mixed media
Outside Japan, in New York, Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) held Tokyo 1955-1970: A new Avant-Garde exhibition that encompassed Gutai, Hi Red Center, Jikken Kobo and Mono-ha. David Zwirner Gallery exhibited On Kawara's date paintings while Gary Snyder Gallery showed an installation by Taadaki Kuwayama, and Fiedman Benda presented Tadanori Yokoo new collages. In Midtown Tatsu Nishi enclosed Christopher Columbus monument in the temporary room. On the West Cost, Naoya Hatakeyama had his first US solo exhibition at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art while in Los Angeles, Blum&Poe held Requiem for the Sun: The Art of Mono-ha. Looking ahead to 2013, the Museum of Modern Art in Kamakura will hold the exhibition of Jikken Kobo and Gutai artist will be subject to New Yorks's Guggenheim show Splendid Playground. In June, Koki Tanaka will represent Japan at Venice Biennale. 

Adapted from ArtAsiaPacific ALAMANAC 2013

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

history: a short story of postwar photography

The post war history of photography begins with the emergence of photo-realism movement promoted by the magazine Camera. Ken Domon was the first photographer to break away from romantic convention and start studying the new conditions Japan found itself in. It was his camera that focused on the changes of common people's lives after the war. Soon other followed and the tendency to catch postwar distress as street children or war veterans became so popular that it was named beggar photography.

Domon Ken, Hiroshima, 1958
Fukushima Kikujiro, Homeless people in front
of the A-Bomb Dome in Hiroshima
, late 1940s.

Intense political confrontation over the revision of U.S. Japan Security Treaty (ANPO) delivered an electrifying stimulus to Japanese photographers who begun to explore new documentary styles that examines social conditions through photography. The most productive photographer of this period was probably Nagano Shigeichi, who made his name with a year-long series called Topical Photo Reportage, in which he studied different aspects of contemporary society.

Nagano Shigeichi, White collar workers at 5 P.M., 1959

In 1959 Narahara Ikko, Tomatsu Shomei, Hosoe Eikoh, Kawada Kikuji, Sato Akira and Tanno Akira formed a photographer's group called Vivo that changed the face of post war photography. They were called image generation and they believe in autonomous will of the photographer and the independence of the image from the storytelling. Vivo functioned as a cooperative office and the darkroom for the six photographers each perusing his own individual mode of expression.

Kawada Kikuji, The Japanese National Flag, from the series The Map, 1960-65

Hosoe Eiko, Ordeal by Roses, 1963
It was undoubtedly Tomatsu Shomei, who developed the richest personal realm of photography during this period. He produced several photographic series. Among others were Occupation (1959), Chewing Gum and Chocolate (1966), which exposed the influences of the US occupying forces and of American military and popular culture on Japanese society, two series of photographs – Protest, Tokyo (1969) and Eros, Tokyo (1969), which recorded turbulent youth cultural changes of the time, and Oh! Shinjuku (1969). 

Shomei Tomatsu, Prostitute, Nagoya, 1958
His most famous series though is Nagasaki 11:02 (1961) which was commissioned by the Japan Council Against Atomic and Hydrogen Bombs to document the effects of the A-bomb on the city of Nagasaki and on its inhabitants fifteen years after the horrific atomic bombing. The series is named after the photo of a watch that was dug up 0.7km from the epicenter of the explosion and which stopped at the exact moment the bomb fell: 11:02 a.m on the 9th of August 1945. His work was quite distinct from other photography of the aftermath. His photograph of bottle melted by the intense radiation of the bomb and close-up faces of the victims with keloid scars are very powerful and unsettling up to date.

Shomei Tomatsu, Hibakusha.
Tsyuo Kataoka, Nagasaki, 1961
Far from new developments, one photographer carried on his unique activities on the remote Japan Sea cost, beginning before the war and continuing into the postwar era. This photographer was Ueda Shoji.
Ueda Shoji, My wife in the dunes, 1950
In the late 1960s. Japanese photography was invigorated by the emergence of new artists. In November 1968, Taki Koji, Nakahira Takuma, Takanashi Yutaka, Okada Takahiko, and later Moriyama Daido established a small magazine entitled Provoke. Their photographs, fragmented images of filthy areas and forgotten back allies, completely demolished the established aestetics and grammar of photography. They were rough, blurred, and out-of-focus. Even though the life of the collective was short, its influence long lasting especially Moriyama Daido sharp physiological vision, which he himself called the eyes of a dog spawn many imitators.

Moriyama Daido, Shinjuku Station from Japan: A Photo Theatre 1968

Moriyama Daido, Stray dog, Misawa, 1971
Adapted from History of Japanese Photography

history: a short story of 1970s.

Tomatsu Shomei, Untitled from the series Protest, Tokyo, 1969
Performance art along with the students' riots was an integral part of the urban fabric in the late 1960s. The so called angura (short for underground) presenting plays full of politics and sexual perversions was in full bloom. It was ruled by Tenjo Sajiki Theatre founded by Terayama Shuji and Red Tent, founded by Kara Juro. Sometimes the butoh dance, pioneered by Hijikata Tatsumi in 1959, spilled out onto the streets from the dance halls. 

Hosoe Eiko, Kamaitachi sakuhin, no.5, 1968
This emergence of performance art as the primary means of expression for the avant garde artists had been documented by Nagano Chiaki in his recently unearthed film Some Young People. Produced right before 1964 Tokyo Olympics, the film shows a typical work day in Tokyo at different times of the day with the background music of the popular song, Shiawase nara te o tatakou (If you're happy and you know it clap your hands). Though it may seem that the film depicts peaceful and happy times brought by Japan's remarkable postwar economic boost, it is filled with ant-institutional subversive messages conveyed by young artists, who detested the shallow everyday happiness and attempted to disrupt it with their guerilla performances. The film features some forgotten performances by Ono, Neo Dada, Zero Jingen and Sightseeing Art Research Institute (Nakamura Hiroshi and Tateishi Koichi) which were organized as a series of outdoor and indoor exhibitions titled Off Museum. Continue reading
Zero Jigen, Crawling Ritual, still form Nagano Chiaki Some Young People, 1964
An exploration of 'outside' the museum continued on either collective or individual basis. A series of memorable projects were produced by The Play, an Osaka-based collective led by Ikemizu Keiichi, whose annual summer projects included Voyage: Happening in the Egg in 1968 (throwing a gigantic fibre glass into the Pacific Ocean hoping it reaches American coast), Current of Contemporary Art in 1969 (travelling downstream from Kyoto to Osaka on a Styrofoam raft), Sheep in 1970 (walking with the heard of sheep from Kyoto to Osaka), Ie: Play have a house (1972) and Thunder that began in 1977, the same year Walter de Maria created his Lighting Field.

The Play, Voyage: Happening in the egg, 1968
The Play, Current of Contemporary Art, 1969, photo by Higuchi Shigeru, Courtesy of Ikemizu Keiichi

The Play, Ie: Play have a house, 1972
Somewhere in the middle of the decade, the object-based works of Anti-Art, which emerged in Japan in late 1950s. and thrived in early 1960s., was replaced now by Non-Art, which lasted throughout the decade and whose credo was: not making. That new tendency was typically pursued by the artists of conceptualism, Mono-ha and Bikyoto.

Significant artistic, cultural and social events seemed to culminate in 1970. During two weeks in May of 1970, visitors to Tokyo Biennale titled Between Man and Matter held in Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum encountered an unexpected view, there was not much to look at even though the exhibition presented works of forty artists from America, Europe and Japan. And it was not that nothing was on view, although two rooms were actually empty, one of which titled My Own Death by the pioneering Japanese conceptual artist Matsuzawa Yutaka, but that art had changed significantly.

Matsuzawa Yutaka, My own death, 1970
Kawara On, Today, Jan.1st-Mar.31, 1970

Katsuhiko Narita, Sumi 7-22, 1970
Horikawa Michio, The Nakanomata River Plan-13, 1970
Takamatsu Jiro, Sixteen Onenesses, 1970
In the same year Osaka, second largest city after Tokyo, hosted Expo'70, which drew Metabolist architects and numerous artists on international stage. At the same time Japan witnessed yet again a flare of anti-govermental protests, incited by second renewal of ANPO treaty, as evocatively captured by late photographer Tomatsu Shomei in his series Protests, Tokyo. On November 25, 1970, Mishima and four members of his private militia entered the headquarters of the Japanese Self-Defence Forces trying to persuade them to restore military imperialism and when his plan failed he committed seppuku concluding the turbulent 1960s. with a spectacular death.