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exhibitions
 ARTIFACTS

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

Giveaway!
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 editor@metropolis.co.jp:

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.

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By Andrew Conti

Traces: Body and Idea in Contemporary Art

MOMAT charts the development of painting and performance in Japan and the West

Jackson Pollock, Cut Out, 1948-50
Collection of Ohara Museum of Art,
©Pollock-Kransner Foundation/ARS, NY & JVACS, Tokyo, 2004

The curators of this broad and complex exhibition use the word to explore
the relevance of what remains after physical, mental, or material actions in painting, installation and sculpture. Linking the simultaneous emergence of the Gutai and Mono-Ha movements in Japan with American abstract expressionism, Viennese actionism, and conceptualism, the exhibition follows an often discordant but perpetually fascinating course through the ever-shifting ideas of modern and postmodern art.

“Traces: Body and Idea in Contemporary Art” acts out this mythological history with the action, drama, outrage and catharsis of finely crafted theater. There are plenty of dashing male heroes represented, like American cowboys Jackson Pollock and Willem De Kooning, as well as a few spiritual mystics like John Cage and Sol Lewitt. Other seminal names of Western art circles making an appearance include Yves Klein, Richard Serra and Jasper Johns.

There are choice moments of shock throughout. Vito Acconci’s Trademark (1970), in which the artist bit into his body and made ink prints of the impressions, is a humorous yet kimochi warui view of the body. And rarely do images provoke such splendidly degenerate voyeurism as Warhol’s Piss Painting (1978), in which the artist used urine to create his image.

Robert Rauschenberg with John Cage, Automobile Tire Print 1953
collection of San Francisco Museum of Modern Art,
Robert Rauschenberg/VAGA, New York & SPDA, Tokyo, 2004

Despite all the stars of Western art, the undeniable standouts of this exhibition are the influential Japanese group known as the Gutai. Often footnoted in Western art canon as a Japanese version of abstract expressionism, these artists were in fact a profound influence on celebrated New Yorkers like Pollock and Allan Kaprow. Gutai, arising in the tumultuous postwar era, sought to look within Japan to find expressions of the new. They did so in works that put action and experimentation ahead of subject as they wreaked poetic havoc on the streets of Osaka.

“Traces” does a good job of introducing works by key members of this group, such as Shuzo Shimamoto, Kazuo Shiraga and Toshio Yoshida. The paintings here show some traces of Nihonga styling, and at the same time are filled with the frenetic energy that tell of their origins as part of performances. Unfortunately, the accompanying notes that describe those performances are Japanese only.

Videos of Saburo Murakami’s Entrance (1955) capture this theatrical quality quite clearly, showing the artist busting through gold paper en route to an exhibition space. These videos whet the appetite for more of this work, but, unfortunately, not enough of it comes.
The visionary qualities of the Gutai and of the later movement known as Mono-Ha seem a bit lost in the shuffle alongside so many other exceptional works. “Traces” succeeds nicely in showing why these often overlooked artist are worthy of the accolades and attention of their peers, historians, and museum-goers alike.

The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo until February 27. See exhibition listings for details. M

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