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to focus upon a critical moment when Japanese artists and photographers, sensing that their traditional practices were no longer valid, began experimenting with the possibilities of camera-based practices, laying the foundations for contemporary art in Japan.
For a New World to Come is on view at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery from September 11 to December 5, 2015 and Japan Society Gallery from October 9, 2015 to January 10, 2016. This exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.
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 then-emerging contemporary art.
Against 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. 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
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
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.
This exhibition is accompanied by a lavishly illustrated catalogue published by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston and distributed by Yale University Press. For a New World to Come contains new scholarship on Japanese art and photography of the time, written by 13 noted curators and art historians in both Japan and the United States. It is the most comprehensive publication in English dedicated to this subject.
ABOUT JAPAN SOCIETY
Japan Society Gallery is among the premier institutions in the U.S. for the exhibition of Japanese art. Extending in scope from prehistory to the present, the Gallery’s exhibitions since 1971 have covered topics as diverse as classical Buddhist sculpture and calligraphy, contemporary photography and ceramics, samurai swords, export porcelain, and masterpieces of painting from the 13th to the 21st centuries. Each exhibition, with its related catalogue and public programs, is a unique cultural event that illuminates familiar and unfamiliar fields of art.
Founded in 1907, Japan Society is a multidisciplinary hub for global leaders, artists, scholars, educators, and English and Japanese-speaking audiences. At the Society, more than 100 events each year feature sophisticated, topically relevant presentations of Japanese art and culture as well as open and critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. An American nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, the Society cultivates a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan.
Japan Society is located at 333 East 47th Street between First and Second Avenues (accessible by the 4/5/6 and 7 subway at Grand Central or the E and M subway at 53rd St. and Lexington Ave.) The public may call 212-832-1155 or visit www.japansociety.org for more information.
Japan Society Gallery hours: Tuesday-Thursday, 11:00 am–6:00 pm; Friday, 11:00 am–9:00 pm; Saturday and Sunday, 11:00 am–5:00 pm; the Gallery is closed on Mondays and major holidays. Admission: $12/$10 students and seniors/FREE Japan Society members and children under 16. Admission is free to all on Friday nights, 6:00 pm–9:00 pm. Docent tours are available free with admission Tuesday-Sunday at 2:30 pm (English), and Fridays at 6:00 pm (Japanese) and 7:00 pm (English); no reservations are necessary except for group tours.
ABOUT GREY ART GALLERY
The Grey Art Gallery is New York University's fine arts museum, located on historic Washington Square Park in New York City's Greenwich Village. It offers the NYU community and the general public a dynamic roster of engaging and thought-provoking exhibitions, all of them enriched by public programs. With its emphasis on experimentation and interpretation, and its focus on exploring art in its historical, cultural, and social contexts, the Grey serves as a museum-laboratory for the exploration of art's environments.
Exhibitions organized by the Grey have encompassed all the visual arts: painting, sculpture, drawing and printmaking, photography, architecture and decorative arts, film, video, and performance. In addition to producing its own exhibitions, which often travel to other venues in the United States and abroad, the gallery hosts traveling shows that might otherwise not be seen in New York and produces scholarly publications that are distributed worldwide.
Grey Art Gallery is located at 100 Washington Square East, on the main campus of New York University. The public may call 212-998-6780 or visit www.nyu.edu/greyart for more information.
Grey Art Gallery hours: Tuesday, Thursday, Friday: 11:00 am–6:00 pm; Wednesday: 11:00 am–8:00 pm; Saturday: 11 am–5 pm; closed on Sunday, Monday, and major holidays. Admission: Suggested donation: $3; NYU students, faculty, and staff: free of charge.
ABOUT THE MUSEUM OF FINE ARTS, HOUSTON
Established in 1900, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is among the 10 largest art museums in the United States, with an encyclopedic collection of more than 65,000 works dating from antiquity to the present. The main campus comprises the Audrey Jones Beck Building, designed by Rafael Moneo and opened in 2000; the Caroline Wiess Law Building, designed by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and opened in 1958, with an extension completed in 1974; and the Lillie and Hugh Roy Cullen Sculpture Garden, designed by Isamu Noguchi and opened in 1986. Additional spaces include a repertory cinema, two libraries, public archives, and facilities for conservation and storage. Nearby, two house museums—Bayou Bend Collection and Gardens, and Rienzi—present American and European decorative arts. The MFAH is also home to the Glassell School of Art and its acclaimed Core Residency Program and Junior and Studio Schools; and the International Center for the Arts of the Americas (ICAA), a leading research institute for 20th-century Latin American and Latino art. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, is located at 1001 Bissonnet, Houston, Texas 77005 | www.mfah.org | 713-639-7300.