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Since the late 19th century, Japanese art has been schizophrenically split into yoga (Western-style) and nihonga (Japanese-style). The latter arose as a self-conscious response to the inroads of the former. Nevertheless, when nihonga took up the challenge of Western art, it was unable to avoid borrowing some of its ideas, most notably the romantically inflated concept of the “divine” artist. But instead of Michelangelo or van Gogh, nihonga found its role models in the elite artist/craftsmen of the Rinpa school. The Yamatane Museum of Art’s exhibition What Did Nihonga Learn from Rinpa? uses 50 mainly large works to look at echoes of the school in the works of 20th-century nihonga artists. Particularly worth seeing is Kaii Higashiyama’s vast seascape Rising Tide and Gyoshu Hayami’s Falling Camellias.

Through Dec 25. See exhibition listings (Ginza/ Kyobashi/ Tokyo) for details. CBL

Metropolis is offering readers ten free tickets to “What Did Nihonga Learn from Rinpa?” For your chance to see this excellent exhibition, email the following information by Wednesday, December 17, to

1. Name; 2. Address; 3. Age; 4. Home country; 5. Last exhibition you visited

Include the text “Nihonga” in the subject line. Winners will be selected at random.


499: Hunter of Light: Daido Moriyama 1965-2003
498: Pierre-Joseph Redouté: Court Painter of Roses
497: Edo-Tokyo Open Air Architectural Museum
496: Zon Ito
495: Prosperity of Edo: Hiroshige's One Hundred Famous Views of Edo and other Landscape Works
494: Happy Trail
493: Girl! Girl! Girl!
492: The Renault Collection: Contemporary French Art
491: Hideaki Uchiyama: Japan Underground II
490: Echigo-Tsumari Art Triennial 2003: Human Beings as Part of Nature
489: Traum von Wien: Graphic Art in Vienna around 1900
488: The Sound of Water
487: Shintaro Miyake: Sweet Summer
486: Thomas Demand
485: Neresi? Burasi?: Turkish Art Today
484: Another World Museum
483: Kamakura: The Art of Zen Buddhism
482: The Dignity of Humble People: Jean-Francois Millet and Naturalism in Europe
481: Araki by Araki
480: Akira Yamaguchi Exhibition Exhibition
479: E.A.T.: The story of Experiments in Art and Technology
478: Tadao Ando: Regeneration-Surroundings and Architecture
477: Girls Don't Cry
476: Gerhard Richter: Survey
475: Kyu Iwasaki-tei Gardens
474: Complex
473: GA Houses Project 2003
472: Eija-Liisa Ahtila: Fantasized Persons and Taped Conversations Tabaimo: ODORO ODORO
471: Shimabuku Watching the River Flow
470: Space Invaders: Emerging UK Architecture
469: Arts Initiative Tokyo
468: Shinichiro Kobayashi: Japan New Map
467: Henry Darger: In the Realm of the Unreal
466: Transparent Windows: Politics of Landscape
465: Shinkawa Gallery Complex
464: We Love Painting
463: Wolfgang Laib
462: Emily Carr/Jack Shadbolt: Heart of Darkness
461: Picasso and the School of Paris: Paintings from the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
460: Under Construction: New Dimensions in Asian Art
459: Life/Art '02
457/8: End-of-the-Year Review and 2003 Preview
456: Elmgreen & Dragset: Suspended Space
455: Art by the book
454: Art of Mathura, India/The Art of Gandhara, Pakistan
453: A Perspective on Contemporary Art: Continuity/Transgression
452: Konstantin Melnikov: 1920s-30s
451: Emotional Site
450: Twelve Japanese Artists from the Venice Biennale 1952-2001

Issues 500+
Issues 449-
Issues 399-

By John McGee

Twelve Japanese Artists from the Venice Biennale 1952-2001

Katsuhiro Yamaguchi, Sign Pole, 1968 and A Bridge in May, 1968

Mito, Ibaraki and Venice, Italy. Both surrounded by water. Both ... All right, the two have almost nothing in common. This multigenerational group show at Art Tower Mito, however, highlights one important connection—contemporary art.

Since 1952, a total of 78 Japanese artists have participated in the world-renowned Venice Biennale of contemporary art. From those, 12 artists with familial, academic, or other connections to Ibaraki were selected for this exhibition.

Curator Eriko Osaka wanted to display the diversity of Japanese contemporary art and show the continuing “vivid activity” of the artists who have been in the Biennale. With the Biennale and Ibaraki as frames, this exhibition “shows the development of contemporary art, the power of the artists, and how contemporary art talks about our time,” according to Osaka.

Katsuhiro Hibino, on the bridge 2002

In general, the exhibition feels like a series of solo shows. There are documentary-style photos of Osaka Stadium (Naoya Hatakeyama), suspension experiments (Morio Shinoda), and an installation of hats, frying pans and other objects hanging from the ceiling (Ay-O). But it is a useful introduction to Japanese artists considered important at different points over the last 50 years.

In one room, Kosho Ito (who appeared in the 1984 Venice Biennale) covered the floor and part of one wall of a gallery with neat rows of ceramic sculpture. Large maroon chunks—which appear to be torn from mud flats—were fired from frozen clay. Smaller grayish, rough -hewn nodules shine like opalescent gravel. In the next gallery, a red revolving police light blinks out from one of the minimalist, translucent acrylic and light sculptures by Katsuhiro Yamaguchi (1968).
Katsuhiko Hibino (1995) held workshops where over 100 people built a variety of toy-car-sized bridges from paper, cardboard and wood. Hibino connected the bridges into long stretches of overpasses and curving off ramps that meander through the gallery like Tokyo's elevated freeway.

Tadashi Kawamata recreated a site-specific piece. In 1982, his elevated orange cedar plank platform-cum-shelter banked around the back of the Japanese Pavilion in Venice like a fragment of a poorly constructed ship's hull. At Mito, he has installed it on a purple-tiled outdoor walkway, above a fountain.

In addition to comparing different periods of some of the artists, this exhibition, according to Osaka, also traces the history of the Japanese Pavilion. At Japan's first Biennale appearance in 1952, the traditional Japanese landscapes of Taikan Yokoyama—a superstar earlier in the century—hung alongside modern paintings. In 1958, Yoshi Kinouchi showed his Rodin[/Bourdel]-influenced lumpy, full-figured crouching women in terra cotta. Gradually, though, Japanese curators became more interested in younger artists and wanted to show “up-to-date art,” says Osaka.

That might include new media artists like Tatsuo Miyajima (1999) or Yoichiro Kawaguchi (1995). Each of the teal-green LEDs etched in the lightly smoked mirror of Miyajima's stunning new piece counts from one to nine at different rates. At zero, the LED goes blank. Thus, different parts of the field of roughly 200 counters are constantly and randomly blinking. Kawaguchi's “hi-vision” 3-D computer graphics videos take viewers on fantastic voyages inside dense color-patterned worlds of spinning, bulging, undulating orbs and tubules that rapidly rise and shrink.

By the way, Mito, like Venice, has at least one beautiful tower—an elongated spiral of equilateral titanium triangles marking the 100th anniversary of the town and rising from the middle of the Arata Isozaki-designed 1989 Art Tower Mito complex.


Art Tower Mito
Until Dec 8. Gokencho 1-6-8, Mito, Ibaraki. Tue-Sun 9:30am-6:30pm. Tel: 029-227-8111. Adults ¥800, children and seniors free.

Access: Getting to Mito is a day trip that requires time, money and effort. JR Super Hitachi from Ueno to Mito stn (65 mins, one way ¥4,090/adv. round trip ¥5,000), JR Joban line from Ueno to Mito stn (119 mins, one way ¥2,210). JR Highway Bus from Tokyo to Mito stn, Yaesu exit (100 mins, one way ¥2,080).

Photo credit: © President and Fellows of Harvard College (Harvard University Art Museum)