In 1968, amid an economic boom, many in Japan registered widespread discontent over social inequalities. At the same time, the country was roiled by protests against the Vietnam War and the upcoming renewal of a treaty extending American occupation. These circumstances mark the point of departure for For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968–1979, the first comprehensive exhibition to focus upon a critical moment when Japanese artists and photographers, sensing that their traditional practices were no longer valid, began experimenting with the possibilities of camera-based practices, laying the foundations for contemporary art in Japan. Spanning the two New York venues are more than 250 photographs, photography books and journals, paintings, sculptures, videos, and a film-based installation, many shown for the first time in New York. Works by 29 artists and photographers are framed within a global context, illustrating Japan’s participation in an international dialogue on new practices that incorporated photography.
By adopting 1968 as “year zero,” the exhibition charts not only political and social turbulence, but also several landmark exhibitions of photography that generated momentum for the medium. Foremost among these was Photography 100 Years: A History of Photographic Expressions of the Japanese, a massive survey organized in part by the photographers Takuma Nakahira and Kōji Taki, who would found the independent journal Provoke. While Photography 100 Years traced the making of modern (kindai) Japan mainly through fine arts and documentary photography, Provoke deconstructed the medium, reflecting the era’s embrace of a fully contemporary (gendai) aesthetic. Soon in 1970, the legendary 10th Tokyo Biennale Between Man and Matter demonstrated to Japanese audiences a range of conceptual use of the camera, forming an important aspect of thenAgainst this backdrop, For a New World to Come traces parallel and at times overlapping developments by photographers and artists that would emerge out of the initial experiments with the camera of the late 1960s. Some were led to explore the flow of time and the intangibility of space through conceptual photographic series and installation or performance works. Others, for the first time in Japan, increasingly relied on the camera to capture introspective and deeply personal journeys.
For a New World to Come has been curated by Yasufumi Nakamori, Associate Curator of Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, which organized the exhibition.
-emerging contemporary art. The quality and depth of MFA Houston’s photography holdings, reflected in the exhibition, are complemented by exceptional loans from institutions such as the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; and Tokyo Polytechnic University.
“Japan Society Gallery has long advanced a better understanding of photography and art during the postwar period in Japan, including the work of two of the most important figures in this exhibition, Daidō Moriyama and Shōmei Tōmatsu,” says Amy Poster, Interim Consulting Director, Japan Society Gallery. “In 1999, we presented the first retrospective exhibition of Moriyama’s photographs anywhere in the world and six years later introduced Tōmatsu to New Yorkers. Now we are again privileged to present new scholarship on a period that resonates to a surprising degree today.”
“This exhibition extends the Grey’s history of presenting avant-garde work from Japan, especially that of previously under-represented artists,” according to Lynn Gumpert, director of the Grey Art Gallery, which has presented such exhibitions as Electrifying Art: Atsuko Tanaka 1954-1968 (2004) and Against Nature: Japanese Art in the Eighties (1990). “The founder of our museum, Abby Weed Grey, collected experiments in modernism from around the world, including some 80 Japanese woodcuts. We are proud to carry on Mrs. Grey’s spirit by partnering with Japan Society to bring these bold works to New York for the first time.”
A number of influential works from the period are presented in complementary ways in both the presentation at the Grey Art Gallery and at Japan Society Gallery. Among these is For A Language to Come (1970), Takuma Nakahira’s iconic photo book and the inspiration for the exhibition’s title. This book, also represented by related photographic prints and digital moving images, will be a revelation to many visitors, with its grainy and blurry (are-bure-boke) images printed full-bleed across pages teeming with disquieting scenes of everyday urban life.
Another milestone featured in both venues is Toshio Matsumoto’s experimental film For the Damaged Right Eye (1968), where scenes from student protests, a transvestite’s daily activities, and Tokyo nightlife reel by, set to various `found’ sounds, including those from popular songs and protest chants.
AT GREY ART GALLERY, from 11 August - 5th December, 2015 A focus of the Grey Art Gallery’s presentation, which includes approximately 150 pieces, is work by artists who felt free to experiment with photography, viewing it as one more tool in a conceptual arsenal. This break from tradition toward an exploration of new ways of making and seeing is evident in sculptor Hitoshi Nomura’s time-based photographic series Dryice (1969) and Iodine (1970), multiple gelatin silver prints documenting the disappearance of materials as they transform directly from solid to gas, and in Kunié Sugiura’s Central Park 3 (1971), in which the artist layered the rough surface of a seven-foot-wide canvas with photo emulsion and acrylic to record the surface of a rock. Still another artist who employed photography is the sculptor Keiji Uematsu, represented here by two serial works. In both Standing Frame (1976) and Wave Motion I (1976), Uematsu photographed himself inserted opaquely into a banal scene in nature. The manner is one of studied neutrality, but Uematsu’s ultimate subject is nothing less than the nature of illusion.
Also on display at the Grey is a wall of Nakahira’s off-angled and out-of-focus black and white prints, and photographs by other young artists of the day such as Shunji Dodo. Transporting visitors back to the Tokyo of 1968 and the years immediately following, these images document the fall of the student protesters’ barricade at Kyushu University and protests against U.S. occupation of Okinawa and the Vietnam War, among other scenes from Tokyo’s underground.
A rich trove of rare journals and ephemera at the Grey Art Gallery include seven works by Tsunehisa Kimura, who used found images of war-devastated landscapes to create powerful photographic collages that often served to illustrate magazines and books by other artists. Glacier Discharge (1979), depicting a post-apocalyptic cityscape where glaciers float among fallen skyscrapers, reflects the tensions brought on by the Cold War and postwar Japan’s dramatic economic growth.
A kind of boldness, even rudeness, that evolved during the 1970s as part of the search for immediacy and authenticity can be seen in black-and-white photographs from 1979 by Keizo Kitajima that capture subjects close up, with eyes averted or closed, seemingly implying a desire not to be photographed.
AT JAPAN SOCIETY GALLERY, from October 9, 2015 to January 10, 2016. Japan Society Gallery’s presentation of For a New World to Come encompasses nearly two hundred pieces, unfurled across successive themed sections that highlight the upheaval of the years 1968–70 , the assimilation of the camera into conceptual artistic practices, and the unprecedented turn toward introspective uses of photography in Japan.
The first work encountered will be Toshio Matsumoto’s experimental film For the Damaged Right Eye. Originally presented with three 16-mm projectors, this work encompasses pictorial themes that reverberate throughout the first gallery, which zeroes in on the tumult of the late 1960s. Highlights include Kiyoji Ōtsuji’s enigmatic image Showroom for Blank Space (1968) and Daidō Moriyama’s grainy nighttime shots of the aftermath of a car accident from his series Accident (1969), published in Moriyama’s monthly column in the magazine Asahi Camera.
The exhibition then presents major photographic series and installations, revealing how artists and photographers in 1968 began relying on the camera to explore issues of time and space. That year, Hitoshi Nomura erected a nearly 28-foot-tall stack of cardboard boxes in front of the Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art. Designed to fail, the tower began a slow collapse, which Nomura proceeded to photograph. (This work, titled Tardiology, is a new addition to For a New World to Come, which originated in Houston, Texas.)
Another highlight is Tatsuo Kawaguchi’s powerful Land and Sea (1970), a stark meditation on the circularity of time. This series captures the displacement of heavy wooden planks anchored to a shoreline as the tide rolled in and out over a three-day period, with the precise hour, minute, and second recorded for each image. Land and Sea was originally produced for the groundbreaking 10th Toyko Biennale Between Man and Matter.
Recreated for the Japan Society Gallery’s presentation is artist Keiji Uematsu’s site-specific installation Cutting (1971), which locks two vertically-stacked – and slightly misaligned – wooden beams into place between the gallery floor and ceiling, making visible the unseen forces of tensility, gravity, and equilibrium that surround us. The work is shown in conjunction with three large photo diptychs of 1973, which document Uematsu incorporating his own body into the sculpture and installation.
Other highlights at Japan Society include Miyako Ishiuchi’s large photographs from her series Apartment (1977–1978), dark, tough images taken inside Tokyo’s crumbling postwar apartment complexes that reveal the shadow side of Japan’s postwar prosperity, and Araki Nobuyoshi’s photocopied and unique erotic books, as well as his seminal photo book, Sentimental Journey (1971), which documents private moments from his own honeymoon.