This autumn Kunsthal KAdE
presents a major exhibition of Japanese art today. The group show will feature 37 contemporary artists of Japanese origin. Over the last fifteen years, Takashi Murakami and his Superflat - movement have stolen the show with his cartoon-like figurative style, based on manga and anime. This has dominated recent exhibitions of contemporary Japanese art in Europe and the United States. In Now Japan, KAdE reveals the existence of many other artistic styles and concerns in the Japanese archipelago. One focus of the exhibition is Japanese artists response to the tsunami and Fukushima nuclear disaster of 2011.
Unlike those in many other non-Western countries, artists in Japan have been involved in virtually every international artistic movement since World War II: the Informal movement (Gutai group), Op Art (Soto), Fluxus (Yoko Ono), Conceptualism (On Kawara), performance art (Yayoi Kusama) and Postmodernism (Murakami). In todays diffuse and multiform international art world, positions are increasingly individualised. Schools and movements have disappeared, to be replaced by attitudes and trends. New-style developments are universal and global, but often also local in flavour. Accordingly, the works selected for this exhibition have a certain Japanese character, although the artists concerned cannot be defined purely in terms of their local culture.
Zen philosophy as a fundamental aspect of Japanese art
Nobody with an interest in Japan or Japanese art can ignore the Zen philosophy that is so fundamental to Japanese life and therefore also informs the countrys art. Now Japan shows how the ancient philosophy is a living force in contemporary Japanese art, whether explicitly in the work of artists like Zon Ito, Hiroe Saeki, Yamamoto Masao and Shinji Ohmaki, or less obviously in the work of many others. Among the works on show in the exhibition will be Ryohei Iimuras film of the late eighties, Space/Time in the Garden of Ryoan-Ji, which explores Kyotos world famous Zen garden in minute detail. Another striking aspect of contemporary Japanese art is its rootedness in national cultural and craft traditions. Craftsmanship is a characteristic of many aspects of Japanese culture. Daily life is full of exquisitely crafted objects. This attention to detail is reflected in the countrys art. Japanese artists do not reject tradition; they make it a natural and integral part of their work.
The West has a far more complex relationship with the past. Ever since the early twentieth century, attitudes have been dominated by a belief in progress and tradition has been regarded as retrograde and even faintly suspect. Traditional is a pejorative term. Not so in Japan. Contemporary Japanese artists base their work on their strong cultural traditions and address the issue of the past in a subtle and unforced way.
Impact of the double disaster at Fukushima (2011): more committed art One section of KAdEs autumn show will examine the new artistic positions prompted by the double disaster at Fukushima (the tsunami and consequent nuclear crisis). The events of March 2011 have had a distinct impact on artists in Japan. Many of them have become closely involved. They have gone to help at the scene of the disaster, held countless fundraising events (especially abroad, in the Netherlands and elsewhere) and eventually begun to reflect on the catastrophe in their work. How can an artist work in the eye of such a national storm?
The Chim↑Pom group has been particularly active in this respect. In spring 2012 they organised an exhibition about 'activist' art at the Watari'um Museum in Tokyo. This is something quite new within contemporary art in Japan. Indeed, social criticism is not a normally accepted part of Japanese life in general, although there has been an upsurge of it following the 2011 tsunami. Other artists featured in Now Japan who have addressed the disaster are Tsubasa Kato, Katsumi Omori, Kengo Kito, Yuken Teruya and Ryohei Usui. An important work in this respect is The Finger Pointing Worker: a video of a performance in which a man wearing a hazmat suit points his finger at a camera. The camera is a webcam trained around the clock on the damaged nuclear reactor at Fukushima. The performance by an artist who wants to remain anonymous caused quite a furore at the time because it went against the social convention of abstaining from criticism. Committed art is a relatively new genre in Japan.
Although this autumns exhibition at Kunsthal KAdE will exclude Takashi Murakami and his Superflat movement, it will not ignore their concerns. The eighties saw the emergence of the kawaii (cute) aesthetic among young people in Japan. It is this, combined with the culture of manga strip cartoons, anime and avatars, that has produced a flood of cartoon-like figurative images in the work of Takashi Murakami and his followers. Now Japan will include ironic reference to the kawaii aesthetic in the form of Momoyo Morimitsus vastly inflated cute bunny rabbit, wedged uncomfortably between the gallerys floor and ceiling. It will also include examples of graphic artist Ryohei Yanagiharas stylised cartoon characters of the fifties (which prefigure the mascot-like figures of the kawaii culture) and of the collages and silkscreen prints produced by Keiichi Tanaami over the following two decades (which foreshadow Superflat iconography). Moreover, the exhibition will feature work by genuine Manga artist Yuichi Yokoyama, the abstractionism of which brings it within the domain of autonomous art.
Finally, the picture of the contemporary Japanese art scene will be completed by the inclusion of work by artists who represent the complexity of everyday Japanese life in their own individual way. An installation by Sayake Abe who lives in Amsterdam is about the personal experiences of a woman in the Fukushima disaster zone and the poor communication that, even now, confronts her about the events there. Teppei Kaneuji will create a large snowy landscape that proves on closer inspection to be constructed of plastic consumer goods. And Arturo Sato will produce a sizeable wall drawing showing a dense web of jumbled figures.