和田三造 WADA Sanzō (1883-1967)
「南風」 South Wind (1907)
東京国立近代美術館 The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
油彩・キャンバス・Oil on canvas
151.5 × 182.4cm
和田三造 WADA Sanzō (1883-1967)
The fantastic journal Words Without Borders has a new issue online, with lots of delicious literary tidbits from the cutting edge in Japan. Here is the description.
Guest editor: Michael Emmerich. This month and next we’re showcasing writing from Japan. In the wake of the events of March 11, 2011, the boundaries between real and unreal, solid and fluid, seem to have shifted; guest editor Michael Emmerich has selected pieces that resonate with the country’s new mood. The pieces in this first part have the texture of a dream, unstable, fleeting, fantastic. In tales of shape-shifting, Jin Keita finds new life in a different form, and Kawakami Hiromi pursues a girl who turns into a pearl. Kurahashi Yumiko takes flower arranging to a new level. Akutagawa Prize winner EnJoe Toh spins a yarn about an oddly familiar galaxy. Nakai Hideo follows an illusionist and finds himself part of the act. Medoruma Shun receives voice mail from the beyond. Poet Yotsumoto Yasuhiro plays with rhyme and rhythm. And Furukawa Hideo’s young office worker stumbles upon a new world only steps away. The issue is produced in partnership with the British Centre for Literary Translation. We thank the BCLT, and David Karashima and the Nippon Foundation, for their generous support. Elsewhere, we present three views of the current Greek crisis from Amanda Michalopoulou, Petros Markaris, and Auguste Corteau.
Image: PHOTOGRAPHER HAL, Flesh Love #27_Lim&Kyohei, 2010, 1201 X 900mm, archival pigment print.
Earlier while scouting online for something, I happened came across a large collection of photos of matchboxes from the middle of the Shōwa era (1926-1989), most apparently from the decades after World War II. Most of the matchboxes are from bars, coffeeshops, and other places of entertainment in the shopping districts of Tokyo. For instance, the one above advertises a coffeehouse called “Lemon” located in Ochanomizu. The graphics on these matchboxes are brilliant. These are an interesting reminder of the era when Japan’s economy was recovering and the nation produced many small and inexpensive things, including matches. They also remind us of the booming entertainment world that boomed in the 1950s and 1960s, ripe with down-to-earth energy.
Here are some other wonderful boxes.
For Nikka Whiskey
For the “Jazz Corner” nightclub/coffee house located in Shinjuku, behind the Tōhō Theater
For “Eitarō,” which had branches in Nihonbashi and several other high-rent areas in Tokyo.
KOBAYASHI Norio 小林のりお
This photo by KOBAYASHI Norio, which I encountered on the preview of what looks to be an amazing exhibition in Higashi Kanda, Tokyo, reminds me of a perverse, contemporary take on Hokusai’s famous woodblock print The Great Wave off Kanagawa, which echoes the shape of Mount Fuji in blue and white water beside the shape of the mountain itself.
In Kobayashi’s photo, the mountain is redoubled not in the momentary shape of a wave, but in something that is also temporary—a mount of dirt covered with an ugly blue tarp, the kind so often used in construction. One wonders how long this accidental mini-Fuji will be there, and how long it will be before the tarp, tire, and cement blocks, which most would probably consider an eyesore, will be removed. Unlike Hokusai’s print, which shows humanity at the mercy of nature, here nature seems to be at the mercy of mankind—plowed about, moved, modified, and scarred by his interventions. In Hokusai, man moves according to nature’s clock, but in this photo, nature is adjusted according to ours. On one hand, this is a very playful photograph, but perhaps one could also read it as a statement about our relationship and casual attitude toward the environment.
Click on Kobayashi’s image above for many other stunning images from the show. Below is some of the text from the curators.
The Myth of Superflat:
Slow Reveal: Another Japanese Photography in the 1990’s
Tsukasa Yokozawa, Matsue Taiji, Toshio Shibata, Naoya Hatakeyama, Ryuji Miyamoto, Norio Kobayashi
In the 1990s when Murakami was having his Neo-Orientalist, Superflat “theory” trumpeted by his Western backers Blum and Poe, Boesky, and Perrotin, and was tooting his own horn locally at the small Shibuya Parco space for insistence, he tried creating an apologetic genre of sub-grade imagery as encompassing of Japanese Art. Citing chronic fatigue and unnamed pressures as excuse for poor ideas, “so please don’t judge too harshly,” he neatly declared himself dear leader and submerged those with wit. Dubious regional critics and curators like Midori Matsui, Kazuo Amano, Noi Sawaragi among others, wishing to found a catchy genre and fresh careers promoted his vacuous, jingoist juvenilia that ushered in the Heisei Era with a concerted, relentless tsunami of insipidness. The work they champion is likeable and moreover sellable, yet lacks sustainability, and even credibility from within its own community. Like a bad flood, it is now basically receded, but not without lasting damage.
During this 1990’s media generated wave of cute, desirable tchotchkes, a quiet, pensive and penetrating array of artists simultaneously were nurtured by Ishihara of Zeit Foto Salon, and given the needed support to embark on their subtly intense koans. Despite each artist having numerous books in print, these photographers still remain outside of the larger discussion of Art in Tokyo, or are lumped into some undefined and so-called, Forgotten Generation. Curators, critics and historians have been lax. Oddly, these artists, Tsukasa Yokozawa, Matsue Taiji, Naoya Hatakeyama, Toshio Shibata, Ryuji Miyamoto, and Norio Kobayashi have never exhibited as a cohesive vision. This loosely associated— not a collective— selection of artists share an analytical detachment. Informed by American Topographics and German Becher-Dusseldorf conceits, these artists subsumed previous lessons and pushed further into territory of long looking. Each artist explores the camera versus the eye with an insistent, disorienting middle ground. Motus Fort does not believe in a nationalist vision, these are artists who were working on their own ideas concurrently, inadvertently disproving little boy Murakami’s excluding proclamation, “This is Japanese Art.” Unlike the Superflat associates, these artists elevate the known into the unknown…
The manga masterpiece Onward towards Our Noble Deaths by MIZUKI Shigeru 水木しげる is now available in English translation, from the company Drawn and Quarterly. Mizuki Shigeru, born in 1922, is one contemporary Japan’s most famous manga artists, best known for his Ge-ge-ge no kitaro series about a strange, ghostly boy missing his left eye and who fights to keep peace between the ghost and human worlds.
Onward towards Our Noble Deaths is about an entirely different kind of war, namely the battle of a group of Japanese soldiers in the Pacific towards the end of the war. It draws on Mizuki’s own experiences in the war as a soldier in New Britain, one of the islands of Papua New Guinea. (Mizuki lost one of his arms during an air raid while in New Guinea and taken as a prisoner of war.)
The work explores the psychology and human costs of what it means to fight in an all out war, especially when one has doubts about the the largest war in human history, this is probably the most important manga that Mizuki Shigeru ever did.
“Vandal” Artists Add Satirical Painting of Fukushima to Public Art in Tokyo
Everyone who passes through Shibuya Station, one of Tokyo’s busiest and most important train stations, is familiar with the famous mural by Okamoto Tarō, The Myth of Tomorrow, which hangs in one of the public hallways connecting the many train lines that converge there. This important painting, probably one of the most famous pieces of public art in Tokyo, depicts a human being at the moment of a nuclear blast and expresses strong doubts about the myth of progress and man’s relationship to science, particular nuclear energy.
Late on April 30, a group of six men and women “vandal” artists who call themselves Chim↑Pom installed without permission a new satirical panel in the lower right corner of Okamoto’s painting, showing the meltdown at the Fukushima reactors. This public display seems to tap into the the nation’s angst and disappointment surrounding the fact that the myth of safe nuclear energy, which led to the creation of the Fukushima reactors a few decades ago, had in fact resulted in the biggest nuclear disaster since Chernobyl.
The panel was done in a style that closely approximated Okamoto’s style, and it fit extremely well into the overall design of Okamoto’s painting. The addition of the panel did not cause any damage, but it was quickly taken down by the police, and according to an article on the Yomiuri Shibun’s online website, it is possible that the six artists will be charged with a misdemeanor crime.
This incident caught the attention of the Japanese blogosphere and Twitter world. Here are some photographs of the panel taken from a Japanese blog post about the now infamous panel.
AFP published this article about the incident.
Japan police end nuclear art stunt
(AFP) – May 1, 2011
TOKYO — An anonymous painter in Japan at the weekend added an image of the stricken Fukushima atomic plant to a public mural about the horrors of a nuclear explosion by the late abstract master Taro Okamoto.
The clandestine add-on image — painted in a style mimicking that of Okamoto’s “Myth of Tomorrow” on display at a busy Tokyo train station — created a stir on Twitter before police took it down Sunday evening.
The small wooden panel — which shows black smoke billowing from reactor buildings resembling those at Fukushima — was attached to the wall without causing damage to the original 30-metre (100-foot) long wall painting.
Okamoto, who was born 100 years ago and died in 1996, is one of Japan’s best-known modern artists. Strongly influenced by Pablo Picasso, he is known for his abstract paintings and sculptures, including his “Tower of the Sun” erected for the Osaka Expo in 1970.
“Myth of Tomorrow”, created in Mexico in 1968-69, went missing for years but was rediscovered in 2003, returned to Japan and finally installed at a pedestrian overpass at the capital’s busy Shibuya railway station in 2008.
The non-profit organisation that is the guardian of the painting was quoted as saying by local media: “It is an outrageous prank and we are troubled.”
An official with the group said “it is problematic to create a link when many people are suffering” between the horror of an atomic bomb explosion and the crisis at the tsunami-hit nuclear plant, the Tokyo Shimbun reported.
Japan’s massive earthquake and tsunami on March 11 destroyed the cooling systems of the Fukushima plant, causing explosions and fires. The plant has since leaked radioactive substances into the air, ground and sea.
Here are some more photographs showing the now infamous panel beginning to fall from the wall.
Japan’s homosocial past
A few days ago, I posted the first of some photos that I discovered in a used bookstore in Kyoto. Here is another, developed in Tokyo, showing four young men together. There were no names on this photo, just a date: “July 19, 1918.”
I love how well groomed the young men are. They all look as if they are in their mid-to-late teens, about the age of a modern high school student. The young man at the far left looks as supple and gentle as an onnagata actor, while the fellow third from the left has the kind of natural good looks that would win him admirers anywhere. What was the relationship between these boys?
Meiji Period architecture on Sanjo, Kyoto
The Meiji period (1868-1912) was a time of cultural borrowing and adaptation, as Japan modified elements of foreign culture in ways that would benefit the new, modern empire Japan was seeking to become. This is evident everywhere in Meiji culture, including its architecture. Here are some photographs that I recently took in Kyoto of Meiji period architecture lining Sanjo, one of the east-west boulevards that runs through the center of town.
Many of these buildings are now cute shops and interesting places for tourists. The big brick building that starts off this slide show is now a museum, the Museum of Kyoto 京都文化博物館, which shows revolving displays of art and has a large permanent display about the history of Kyoto.
New Techniques for a Beautiful Moustache from Ehagaki sekai (Shin’an bizen jutsu), Komeno Hakusui, Japanese, Late Meiji era, 1908, Publisher: Kokkei shinbun sha
When making a quick visit to Kamakura the other day to meet a friend, we took in the TSUJI Shindō 辻晉堂 exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in Kamakura. The retrospective of this creative sculptor was full of bold, inventive, masculine, and often strikingly playful forms.
The Japan Times had this article about this wonderful show.
Friday, Feb. 11, 2011
Shindo Tsuji: From the trees to the earthBy C.B. LIDDELL Special to The Japan Times
In 1948, the respected Zen elder Ian Kishizawa told the sculptor Shindo Tsuji, “Forget whatever you can and express whatever remains.” Despite its enigmatic and paradoxical quality, this typically Zen-like admonition nevertheless manages to sum up the career of Tsuji (1910-1981), an important Japanese sculptor whose centenary is being celebrated by a major retrospective at The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura.
“Han-Shan” (1958) by Shindo Tsuji COURTESY OF TOTTORI PREFECTURAL MUSEUM
Tsuji’s early career is the familiar tale of a young provincial coming to sup at the fountain of metropolitan sophistication and seeking to make a name for himself by acquiring the expected styles and techniques. After moving to Tokyo from his home village in Tottori Prefecture in 1931, he studied Western-style painting at the Independent Institute of Art, before switching to sculpture, for which his main influence was the naturalism of French sculptor Auguste Rodin.
Working in wood, early works, such as “Summer Morning — Master Denchu Hirakushi Aged Seventy” (1941) and “Poet — Study for Yakamochi Otomo” (1942), won praise for their realism, despite the fact that the statue of Otomo looks very different from how we would imagine the Nara period (710-794) poet to have been. By this time, Tsuji was exhibiting his work as a member of the Japan Art Institute Exhibition.
Having learned much, the rest of his career, in accordance with the instruction given by Kishizawa, was a kind of forgetting. This journey led him to greater expressiveness as well as a more profound interaction with his materials. A key event in this respect was moving to Kyoto, where in 1949 he took up a teaching post at the Kyoto City School of Art (today’s Kyoto City University of Arts). At that time, even in the center of Kyoto you could find kilns turning out pottery. To someone like Tsuji, who had already sculpted in wood, plaster, and bronze, it seemed only natural to turn to ceramics as a medium of expression.
There is something anthropomorphic about wood. It seems to cry out to be carved into humanlike figures, as is evident in Tsuji’s work. But clay is a different matter. With ceramics Tsuji’s sculpture was able to take a more abstract route, and his work provided inspiration to avant-garde ceramicists, such as Kazuo Yagi and the Sodeisha group, who wanted to escape from functionality and treat their works as pure objets d’art.
Working with clay freed Tsuji from what he had known before. He responded to the qualities of the new material with a sense of discovery and originality. Rather than working from models, as he had done when sculpting in wood, he used his own internalized concepts as points of departure for increasingly abstract pieces. While “Cat” (1956) is still recognizable as a cat, “Head of Cat” (1956) is not. It is only after reading the name plate that we perceive, with a sudden pleasurable jolt, the sculpture’s feline essence. Tsuji’s ceramic sculptures from this period represent the acme of his art, something that was recognized when he was selected to represent Japan at the 1958 Venice Biennale.
His work also shows a noticeable tendency toward chunky, blocklike sculptures, such as “Man Sitting on a Chair” (1957) and “Mountain Man” (1957). These have an architectural feel, looking like the kind of buildings you might find on some alien world. As a devout Zen Buddhist himself — he had become a priest in 1938 — some of the ideas that spurred such abstract pieces were from Buddhist traditions. For example, one of the works shown at the Venice Biennale, the bulky-looking “Han-shan” (1958), was inspired by the 9th-century Chinese poet Han-Shan, revered in Zen Buddhism as an incarnation of the Bodhisattva Manjusri.
Despite their abstract style, these works retain a hint of the figurative, something that helps to unlock them for most viewers. However, Tsuji yearned for greater esotericism. In his subsequent career he produced pieces that moved toward greater abstraction through their flatness. Looking like pieces of wall removed from some adobe desert village, these works combine warm textures with reticent formal qualities. Somewhat limited as works of art, they seem more conducive to states of Zen meditation, perhaps expressing whatever remained after a lifetime of forgetting.“Tsuji Shindo: A Retrospective” at The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura, runs till March 27; admission ¥800; open 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Mon. For more information, visit www.moma.pref.kanagawa.jp
In Shibuya Station, where I change trains every day, there is a giant mural called “The Myth of Tomorrow” 「明日の神話」 painted by the artist OKAMOTO Tarō 岡本太郎 (1911-1996), the same man who made the famous “Tower of the Sun” 太陽の塔 for the site of the 1970 Osaka Expo. According to the Wikipedia article about Okamoto, this mural was made for the Hotel de Mexico in Mexico City, and depicts a human being at the moment of a nuclear blast.
Certainly, its title and strong imagery express powerful doubts about our myths regarding progress leading us to a better future. In its theme and style, it reminds me of the paintings created in the wake of World War I in Europe, as the artists of the avant-garde were expressing their doubts about the myths of science and industrial progress which they felt had landed them in such a disastrous war.
I find it incredibly ironic that this painting is located in Shibuya Station, the sight of so many people, so much shopping, and so much blatant commercialism. How are we to interpret that? Are the warnings of the last century about the dangers of “progress” just that much more kitsch to stick on the halls of our most commercial sites? In our era of advanced capitalism (and nowhere is capitalism more advanced than Tokyo), is there any power left in the humanistic statements of the last century?
I sometimes see people in front of this mural snapping photos, and I wonder what it means to them. Is it a powerful antiwar statement about the dangers of a technological world, or is it just something cool and dramatic on the walls worth a single cell phone snap?
While walking through the back streets of Hongo today on my way from the store to Tokyo University, I stumbled across an enormous, old, fantastic wooden building that was clearly abandoned.
Back at home, I looked it up on the net and found that this was the Hongōkan, a 200 square-meter building that was constructed in 1905 and that served for many years as a favorite private housing facility for students, including once serving as a housing facility for an early incarnation of Ochanomizu Women’s University. It has a long and rich history and is one of the very few such huge, student living facilities left. During its heyday, it was popular for its enormous baths, excellent food (especially pork cutlets), and the large number of maids there. The size was so big that it rivaled the biggest hotels in this neighborhood of Tokyo. Among the famous novelists that stayed there were the novelist Hayashi Fumiko and Shimada Seijirō. It is also said that Kobayashi Takiji and Itō Sachio spent time there as well.
It was suffered damage twice, in the Great Earthquake of 1923 and in the bombing raids of 1945, but miraculous, it still stands today, although empty and without locks to prevent intruders. According to the Wikipedia article about it, there were plans in 2007 to tear it down and rebuild it, but I hope they do not. There is something grand about this enormous, lovely, although decayed wooden relic from the past, standing in a city full of boring, concrete buildings.
An Asahi Shinbun article from 2007 mentioned that there is a chance the building might be named as an Important Cultural Property by the national government. Just recently, a Tokyo architectural group advocated to the government for the buildings’ importance. According to another webpage, there was a court case in 2009 over the building. It was determined that the residents had until August 2010 to leave, so who knows what will happen?
Eric Mendes, a senior in Japanese at WMU, and Morgan Medor, a senior in art history at WMU, collaborated to make a fantastic exhibition of Japanese omamori (good luck charms), which is showing this month at the Richmond Center for the Arts at WMU.
The show contains a wide variety of omamori charms organized by type and style. For instance, there are omamori for good luck in school, omamori associated with fertility, omamori in phallic shapes, omamori that use designs from Japanese woodblock prints, omamori that show elements of kawaii or “cute” culture, and so on.
In addition, the curators have put organized the space so that one wall looks like a omamori vendor at a Japanese Shinto shrine. They have built a ledge at exactly the right height, surrounded it by sudare rolled blinds like you might see at the vending area of a shrine, and put a life-size image of two shrine maidens right behind it. The result is uncannily real, and great fun.
Those of you who are in southwest Michigan should definitely see this impressive show!
Japan a land of kitsch, full of gooped-up brand-name products, adorable little cartoons, and all manner of stuff that pulls at the heart at the very same time you cannot help but recognize its absurdity. As the artists MURAKAMI Takashi, Jeff KOONS, and AI Weiwei have taught us, this kind of kitsch, when executed on a colossal scale, crosses often can over into an entirely new realm, where its size, skill of execution, and sense of physical presence allows the piece to take on a life of its own. In these situations, the installations force us to take notice and question the aesthetic fascism that relegates kitsch to a secondary, inferior position within our hierarchies of beauty.
The new laser-splaying, water-shooting Hello Kitty display at Odaiba in Tokyo Bay is that kind of kitsch taken to the extreme. This is so far over the top that one cannot help but be amazed. Check out this video from darwinfish105 on Youtube. Also for more collossal kitsch, check out darwinfish105’s remarkably beautiful footage of the gigantic Gundam statue in Shizuoka.
On an unrelated note, after a year of research leave here in Kyoto, I am leaving Japan for a two-week stay in Sweden, then my final return to the US. Thanks to all my many friends in Japan who made this one of the best years of my life. たいへんお世話になりました。あなた方のお陰で、この貴重な期間を一生忘れません。有難うございました。
Kasane no Boukon 『かさねのぼうこん』 (ca. 1847-1852)
UTAGAWA Kuniyoshi 歌川 国芳 (1797-1861)
The Japanese say that the heat of summer is the best time for ghost stories, as the little tingle they give you helps to fight the heat. In fact, during the Edo Period (1600-1868), there was a summertime pass time known as “One Hundred Tales” 百物語. In it, a group of friends would light a group of candles in a dark room. People would then take turns telling ghost stories; at the end of each story, they would snuff out one candle, making the room progressively darker. By the time all the candles were out, one was practically guaranteed to see a ghost!
It is with that in mind that I thought I would share this story that I read in the newspaper this morning. A print by the artist Utagawa Kuniyoshi, who is sometimes referred to as “the master of the bizarre,” was recently rediscovered in Tokyo. The painting shows a gigantic female ghost which is comprised of the bodies of many individual men. (Psychoanalysts could have a lot to say here.) Below that are a bunch of terrified men running away in every direction.
Saturday, Aug. 14, 2010
Master Woodblock Print Found
A color woodblock print depicting a female ghost by ukiyo-e master Utagawa Kuniyoshi that disappeared before the war has recently been confirmed as in the possession of a researcher in Tokyo.
The print, “Kasane no Boukon,” depicting the apparition of a woman named Kasane, is “a work of Kuniyoshi’s mature period and is extremely rare in that it conveys colors as if it was an initial print,” said Toshihiko Isao, an oil painter.
The print, 36 cm high and 25 cm n wide, is owned by Isao Shimizu, who studies cartoons and satirical drawings. Shimizu bought it from an art dealer in Tokyo in summer 2007 and has since been working to confirm its authenticity.
Isao said the print was last seen in a black and white photo in an art book issued in 1931.
The ghost’s face is depicted using a collage of images of human bodies in various forms, as well as tools. Given that the print bears a seal issued by the shogunate for publication, it is believed it was produced sometime between 1847 and 1852.