MoMA’s “Tokyo 1955-1970”: Global curatorial perspective praised – review round-up

On 25 February 2013, MoMA closed its doors on “Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde”, a three month long exhibition that looked at the art of Japan’s capital during the transformational years of the 1950s and 1960s.

The survey exhibition, which contained over 200 works in different mediums by sixty artists, received praise from art critics for its artist selection, varied presentation of works and global outlook. Art Radar condenses the commentators’ views.

Ikeda Tatsuo, 'Arm (Ude)', 1953, oil on canvas, 28 5/8 x 23 7/8″ (72.7 x 60.6 cm). Itabashi Art Museum, Tokyo. Image courtesy Itabashi Art Museum, Tokyo.

Ikeda Tatsuo, 'Arm (Ude)', 1953, oil on canvas, 28 5/8 x 23 7/8″ (72.7 x 60.6 cm). Itabashi Art Museum, Tokyo. Image courtesy Itabashi Art Museum, Tokyo.

The decades following the Second World War were a period of readjustment for Japan, as the country transformed itself from a defeated nation into one of the world’s strongest economies. MoMA’s “Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde” focused on the artists living through these turbulent years, documenting

artistic crossings, collaborations, and at times, conflicts, with the city as incubator. It introduces the myriad avant-garde experiments that emerged as artists drew on the energy of this rapidly growing and changing metropolis.

Tokyo in focus

Many people will be familiar with names such as Yayoi Kusama, Daido Moriyama and Yoko Ono, but the artistic movements that they came from might not be as well known to gallery goers living outside Japan. Associate Curator Doryun Chong hoped MoMA’s exhibition of a relatively small slice of Japanese art might help Japan’s “understudied” capital achieve recognition as “one of the great metropolises and cultural centres” alongside New York, Paris, London and Berlin.

Daidō Moriyama, 'Baton Twirler (Baton towarā)', 1967, gelatin silver print, 18 7/8 x 14 11/16 in (48.1 x 37.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the photographer. © 2012 Moriyama Daidō.

Daidō Moriyama, 'Baton Twirler (Baton towarā)', 1967, gelatin silver print, 18 7/8 x 14 11/16 in (48.1 x 37.4 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the photographer. © 2012 Moriyama Daidō.

Chong’s curatorial intent seems to have been largely successful with commentators, who praised the show for its global perspective.

…a large exhibition devoted to the artistic ferment that occurred in Tokyo between 1955 and 1970. And, although the focus of the show sounds narrow, what seems likely to set it apart from anything seen in recent years in Japan will be a curatorial perspective that encompasses the world.

 

 

The Japan Times



It’s astonishing to see postwar Japanese artists assimilating a half century of European vanguardism and coming up with analogs to Mad cartoonist Basil Wolverton (Ikeda Tatsuo) or assemblages evoking the pods from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (Tetsumi Kudo), updating traditional Japanese practices as Miró-elegant modern art (Sadamasa Motonaga‘s enameled stones) or trumping the East Village by thirty years with auto-slide projections (Shōzō Kitadai’s table-top epic Another World).

 

 

ARTINFO

Artist Lee Ufan, who was born in Korea in 1936 but moved to Japan in 1956 and whose work appeared in the exhibition, agreed that the show successfully contextualised the works for an international audience, commenting that “the development of Japan’s post-war art and thought is well arranged and exhibited in the eyes of an outsider“.

Yokoo Tadanori, 'Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (Sōzōsha)', 1968, screenprint, 39 1/4 x 28" (99.7 x 71.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the designer. © 2012 Yokoo Tadanori.

Yokoo Tadanori, 'Diary of a Shinjuku Thief (Sōzōsha)', 1968, screenprint, 39 1/4 x 28" (99.7 x 71.1 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the designer. © 2012 Yokoo Tadanori.

Getting political

Many commentators pointed out the political overtones of Japanese avant-garde art; MoMA’s exhibition included the work of artists such as Kazuo Shiraga and Genpei Akasegawa. The work of these artists counters the tendency to dismiss Japan as a “group-think” society, redefining Japanese political art through its

…radical dissent, new political visions and revelations (though not always convincing), all of which result from an artist community’s attempt to re-establish itself in a westernised world.

 

 

Aesthetica Magazine

Tateishi Kōichi (Tiger Tateishi), 'Samurai, the Watcher (Kōya no Yōjinbō)', 1965, oil on canvas, 51 5/16 x 63 3/4″ (130.3 x 162 cm). The National Museum of Art, Osaka. © Estate of Tiger Tateishi, courtesy The National Museum of Art, Osaka.

Tateishi Kōichi (Tiger Tateishi), 'Samurai, the Watcher (Kōya no Yōjinbō)', 1965, oil on canvas, 51 5/16 x 63 3/4″ (130.3 x 162 cm). The National Museum of Art, Osaka. © Estate of Tiger Tateishi, courtesy The National Museum of Art, Osaka.

Holland Cotter, writing for The New York Times, said that these political overtones drew Japanese avant-garde art closer to European vanguardism, and historical Japan closer to the contemporary world.

…because you’ve just been through a show that encourages you to look for the particular in the large picture and for the resistant politics in the particular, you do just that, and you find it, which is the bottom-line story of modernism — modernisms — in every city, everywhere.

 

The New York Times

 

With art that is often event- or performance-based — and just as often explicitly political — the show is ultimately most pertinent not to historical Japanese issues but to contemporary ones. The strategies for provocative and playful activity on display here are ones that might be useful to any citizen today.

 

The Gallerist NY

Tomatsu Shomei, 'Untitled', from the series "Protest, Tokyo (Purotesuto Tōkyō)", 1969, gelatin silver print, 16 1/8 x 23 1/8″ (40.9 x 58.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the photographer. © 2012 Tomatsu Shomei.

Tomatsu Shomei, 'Untitled', from the series "Protest, Tokyo (Purotesuto Tōkyō)", 1969, gelatin silver print, 16 1/8 x 23 1/8″ (40.9 x 58.7 cm). The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Gift of the photographer. © 2012 Tomatsu Shomei.

Japanese avant-garde “unique”

The exhibition did not neglect to highlight the differences as well as similarities between Japanese and international avant-gardisms.

Two perhaps related phenomena unique to postwar Japanese art are the unusual emphasis on corporate-sponsored exhibitions and prizes and the importance of art collectives. Powerful corporations drove Japan to become the country with the world’s second-highest GDP, and companies like Shell Oil, Mainichi Shimbun (a major newspaper) and the Shirokiya department store were in turn major supporters of contemporary art. Art groups with names like Gutai, Hi Red Center, Jikken Kobo and Genshoku (‘Tactile Hallucination’) all sprang up in the same era. Their spirit of teamwork and collaboration may have initially echoed the corporate culture of the new Japan, but ultimately it challenged that aggressive style of capitalism.

The Gallerist NY

This “spirit” of collaboration and direct action proved occasionally elusive.

‘Tokyo 1955-1970’ is worth seeing if you are interested in Japanese history and culture, or postwar art in general — or if you are just interested in how a devastated city remade itself into a global economic capital. If the show has a flaw, it is that the best work from this period is not the sculpture and painting on view, but an ephemeral attitude of resistance and collective activity that can only ever be footnoted by physical objects.

The Gallerist NY

Hi Red Center, Hi Red Center poster (recto), Fluxus Edition, edited by Shigeko Kubota, designed and produced by George Maciunas, New York. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift. © The Estate of Takamatsu Jirō, courtesy Yumiko Chiba Associates, Tokyo.

Hi Red Center, Hi Red Center poster (recto), Fluxus Edition, edited by Shigeko Kubota, designed and produced by George Maciunas, New York. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. The Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Gift. © The Estate of Takamatsu Jirō, courtesy Yumiko Chiba Associates, Tokyo.

Range of highlights

Commentators noted several high points in “Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde”, including the socialist realism/surrealist works and works that documented site-specific performance pieces from the 1960s.

The first works one encounters in the show, and arguably the strongest, are paintings that equally recall surrealism from the west and socialist realism from the east. Three works by Nakamura Hiroshi hang next to each other, titled Period of War (Sensōki) (1958), Period of Peace (Heiwaki) (1958), and Upheaval (Nairanki) (1958).

 

Aesthetica Magazine

 

The highlight is the section dedicated to Hi Red Center, a Fluxus-esque collective whose style of cool political critique in the early 1960s involved numerous performances in public spaces.

 

The Gallerist NY

Yamaguchi Katsuhiro, 'Vitrine: Deep into the Night (Vitorīnu: Yoru no shinkō)', 1954, watercolor on paper, oil on wood, corrugated glass, 25 3/4 x 22 1/4 x 3 9/16″ (65.5 x 56.5 x 9 cm). Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. © Yamaguchi Katsuhiro, courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.

Yamaguchi Katsuhiro, 'Vitrine: Deep into the Night (Vitorīnu: Yoru no shinkō)', 1954, watercolor on paper, oil on wood, corrugated glass, 25 3/4 x 22 1/4 x 3 9/16″ (65.5 x 56.5 x 9 cm). Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo. © Yamaguchi Katsuhiro, courtesy Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo.

The events and resources complimenting the exhibition also received praise.

The timeline of the works covered in the show is available in great detail on an interactive website, which allows viewers to better explore the context of sculptural movements such as Mono-ha and artists like Daido Moriyama by clicking through the years and sections of Tokyo comprised in the show. MoMA has also put together a performance program and concurrent film schedule, which includes contemporary artists and artist groups Contact Gonzo, Eiko and Koma, Ei Arakawa, and Trajal Harrell – bringing Japan’s post-war art scene full circle.

 

 

 

 

The Huffington Post

60 Tokyo artists on show

“Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde” included pieces from the following artists:

Watch this short video for an introduction to MoMA’s exhibition and a glimpse of some of the works displayed.


New York will soon see more Japanese avant-gardism with “Gutai: splendid playground“, a major exhibition of the Gutai group, an Osaka based collective that formed in 1954 and united 59 artists in its eighteen year history. The exhibition will open at the Guggenheim Museum, New York, in February 2013.

Did you visit “Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant Garde” at MoMA in New York? Did the critics get it right? Tell us what you think in the comment section below.

CN/KN/HH

Related Topics: Japanese, shows, surrealist, activist, conceptual

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Comments

MoMA’s “Tokyo 1955-1970”: Global curatorial perspective praised – review round-up — 1 Comment

  1. Hi,

    I was wondering what the tour schedule of the Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde show is ? Where is it going next ?…

    Thanks,

    Wallace

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