Exhibition Now Japan at KADE Amersfoort until 2 February 2014 / Publication Now Japan
KADE museum in Amersfoort, in the Netherlands, presents an overview of contemporary art in Japan through the works of 37 artists. The exhibition claims to analyze the state of today’s Japanese art, after the decade long domination of Murakami Takashi c.s. To that purpose, three directions have been selected for exhibiting the art works: artists responding to Japan’s cultural tradition and using amongst others old techniques in the creation of their work; artists responding to the reality of daily life in Japan and lastly, artists responding to the recent developments concerning the nuclear power plant at Fukushima.
Now Japan aims to show the diversity of Japan’s contemporary art field and the works displayed are indeed diverse, ranging from video, installations, to paintings and collages. Some of the installations were created specifically for the KADE museum.
The work most often mentioned in relation to this exhibition is Finger Pointing Worker, a work by an anonymous artist, installed at the entrance to the exhibition. It is a video of the artist, who – dressed in protective clothing – was able to point his finger to the live webcam at the premises of the Fukushima power plant for a period of 15 minutes. The finger pointing was a sign of criticizing the management of the power plant, which is thought to have acted too slow and too inefficient when disaster struck on 11 March 2011.
An eye-catching work is the big plastic blown up rabbit, entitled Somehow I don’t feel comfortable, by Torimitsu Momoyo, who earlier did a similar installation at the Japan Society Gallery in New York. A clear example of an artist referring to traditions in Japanese art is Kosemura Mami. Her video Flowering Plants of the Four Seasons – not recorded but constructed from numerous photographs – is in fact a moving version of an Edo period (1603-1868) folding screen painting. Viewers see the four seasons passing by and snow drops are falling on the bamboo plants.
Ichizaki Takahashi, associate curator of the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art, discusses contemporary Japanese art in relation to natural disasters such as the Kobe earthquake in 1995 and more recent, the tsunami in the Tōhoku region in March 2011 and its effect on the nuclear power plant at Fukushima.
In general, the catalogue presents a rather Eurocentric perspective towards Japanese art. It is emphasized that one should be cautious with framing art into regions, which is good, but the authors also view Japanese art as a kind of follower of things happening in the West. This implies that the art worlds and developments in Japan are of lesser significance than those in the West and also that Japanese artists were not really involved in the conception or development of these ‘Western’ movements (see p. 7; 14 and 25).
To organize an exhibition dedicated to contemporary Japanese art in the Netherlands – where there is an active collector’s community for ‘traditional’ prints, paintings and objects like netsuke – is to be applauded and Now Japan is an interesting exhibition that is certainly worthwhile visiting.
Now Japan, on display until 2 February 2014. For more information and to order the publication Now Japan, check out the Kunsthal Kade website.
Kunsthal Kade, Now Japan, Amersfoort: 2013. ISBN 9789490153199. 176 pages, with color illustrations.