In her recent presentation at Japan Foundation, writer and curator Ming Tiampo highlighted that “we seem to be in a Japan moment or at least that is what she has been told”. The last couple of years have seen a steady stream of major shows on Japanese Art at major museums across the world.

With Japanese art and post-war artists in particular now being reappraised. There was the 2012 Yayoi Kusama exhibition at Tate Modern curated by Frances Morris. Doryun Chong’s, Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde, Museum of Modern Art in New York and Gutai: Splendid Playground, at The Guggenheim Museum curated by Ming Tiampo and Alexandra Munroe. With Japanese post-war artists in particular now being reappraised and understood as pioneers.

Japan has a very different almost paradigmatic position in modernism, due to its early and sustained involvement with the West as well as its ambivalent struggle with the questions of modernity throughout that period from the 1890s onwards. Speaking of after World War II a major transformation began in Japan’s post-war art scene. What can we point to a significant turning point or development, and what new aesthetic theories bridged art and society in a meaningful manner after Japan surrendered unconditionally to the Allied Powers on the 15th of August 1946. More than anything, how did modern Japanese art, which rushed to embrace the concepts of modern Western art as its standard, finally escape from being labelled imitation, derivation, eclecticism, and constraint?

Artist collectives occupied a unique position in Japanese pre and post-war art history. In the past few years, artists and cultural agents have once again started to claim a place in the public debate about social, environmental and political issues. This lecture then shifts the perspective from a traditional museum–gallery-painting-sculpture nexus to instead focus on a series of temporary bodily performances. Art located in the marginalized (and even ignored) space beyond gallery white cubes, particularly in the history of body art. Practice that is difficult to historicise, because much of the related documentation – the only lasting historical record (rather than the performance itself) – has been scattered and lost.

Tracing a current from the mid-1950s to 1970s’ that is unique to contemporary art not only in Japan but internationally. Exploring modern and contemporary art in Japan in terms of its unique context; collectivity and collective production of art, “avant-garde” arts including film and animation, dialectical interaction between inner and outer realities, high art and mass culture, society and politics, nature and technology.

Image: Akira Shimizu, Color Blindness Test Chart No.4 and No.9, 1964
Copyright The Artist and courtesy The Japan Foundation