The Colonies and Exposure in the Wild:

Table of Contents

This discussion, as proposed by art critic Yohei Kurose, reexamines the framework of postwar Japanese art history. Kurose casts doubt on the interpretation of postwar Japanese art history as being defined by the problems of postwar Japanese society, such as “defeat,” and “America.” He further argues that the shift in social consciousness following the March 11, 2011 earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear disaster calls for a new framework for interpreting art history. Agreeing with Kurose, art critic Noi Sawaragi suggests that Japanese people ought to abolish their long-held dialectic view of history. Instead, he argues for a conception of history unfolding in a non-dialectic manner. In Sawaragi’s view, this non-dialectic history fits better with the Japanese archipelago, often beset by earthquakes, typhoons and other natural disasters. On the contrary, literary critic Reiji Ando points out that modern Japanese art is closely tied to contemporary movements in global thought. According to Ando, this is most clearly embodied in the life of the Meiji period art critic Tenshin Okakura, better known in the West as Kakuzo Okakura. In the 1950s, the age of the postwar avant-garde, authors with memories of the Japanese colonies, such as Kobo Abe in Manchuria or Yutaka Haniya in Taiwan, carried this global mindset into the field of literature.

At the midpoint of this discussion, the focus turns to the problem of technology in art. Kurose observes that
while Japanese artists adopted technology from the West, they did not absorb the ideology that usually accompanies it. Sawaragi points out that Japanese art museums don’t have the level of technology required for such a disaster-prone country, emphasizing that museums should aim for a way of preserving art such that, if given the proper maintenance, would survive even being left out in the wild and exposed to the elements. Artist Makoto Aida offered his cardboard sculpture series “Monument for Nothing II” as art exemplifying the attempt of creating something temporally bound. With this series of objects, which at first glance appear ironic, he experiments with the tension between the eternal and temporary by intentionally creating a “monument” out of easily degradable material.

Finally, the members discuss artists they consider to be exceptional in the postwar Japanese art world. Kurose presents the outdoor sculpture movement as an example of the possibility of an avant-garde outside the metropolis. Sawaragi refers to Isamu Noguchi, who developed an independent style out of his double association with both Japanese and American cultures. Ando cites Anti-art and Mono-ha (School of Things) as examples of movements that carry on both the positivity seen in Japanese Buddhism, and the worldview centered on “things.” Aida argues that 1980s “Heta-uma” (unskillful but skillful) illustration is in fact a Japanese form of Neo-Expressionism.