Author Archives: Lin Ding

Understanding the opportunities and challenges in the progress of Japanese Contemporary art

By Lin Ding


Abstract

Review the short history of Japanese contemporary art during the Heisei era, there were opportunities internationally and domestically for the young artists to grow but there are also challenges of the education system and museum/gallery system that slowed down the process. By exploring the opportunities and challenges in the progress of Japanese contemporary art, people will understand the triangle relationship among the economy, culture, and politics, and how these three elements influence the whole art world. In this paper, the researcher introduced and discussed the choices made from three important Japanese contemporary artists, Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, and Makoto Aida, when facing the dilemma of opportunity and challenge. Overall, this research wishes to answer the question that how did the major opportunities and challenges affect the choices or career paths of Japanese contemporary artists, their styles and ideas, as well as the development of the Japanese contemporary art.


Coming to the 1990s, Japanese economy Bubble burst. The Bubble deflated quite slowly. First, it was like little holes being punched, with slow effects on various perspectives, such as cultural perspective, political perspective, and the perspective of Japanese contemporary of art. Then, the decline went on and it seemed that it would never reach the end. All sectors of the society were greatly influenced and changed by this economy depression. It was during this post-Bubble stagnation that several talented Japanese artists won world recognition with their high-bidding price artworks.

This was no miracle if people understood the social background behind the big names. For Japanese artists – like Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara and Makoto Aida- who were born in the baby boom of the 1950s and early 1960s, they grew up half in the best era of Japan when anything becomes possible before the great wealth and half struggling to find the future when the Bubble burst. They had witnessed economic efforts of the technological and financial advance, of the powerful Japan, gradually going to collapse. At that time, “everyone felt that it was time to express themselves: to go and break out”.[1] Liberated by the post-Bubble chaos, a golden generation of creativity appeared in Japan. This generation was luckily and creatively to invent the image of Cool Japan.

 

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A guide book of Japan found in Kinokuniya Bookstore in Seattle, WA. Photo credit to Lin Ding. 2017.

 

After pop culture and subculture came to the street of Tokyo, it took a while for bureaucrats and politicians to notice and value this new excitement of Japan. They saw the possibility of this new art form, a way to present a new creative and cool image of Japan to create a fascination, targeting the western world, a promising wonderland of Otaku, of manga and anime, and of all things that are kawaii and moe. This was based on the idea that culture and art can lead to economic development and they can be used to rebrand the city internationally.[2] There is a high commercial value of the world-recognized Japanese contemporary artworks that can help boost the country’s economy. For example, Takashi Murakami knows well how to apply his art entrepreneurship theory to his works and Yoshitomo Nara is a talented businessman. In fact, commercial value is designed in their works. This was due to the technology-driven globalization, especially the new trend found in the global art market.

These years, the global art business had repositioned itself culturally, and “it became a vehicle for cultural globalization and city place branding that has itself transformed museums, galleries and art festivals from staid repositories of national high culture, into front line tourist attractions for high end global consumption”.[3] Around the year 2000, when it came to the moment of the internet, when it came to a world dominated by digital and virtual images, and when new software applications made it convenient and easy to “steal and mass produce art or photography”, “artists’ names became brand names”.[4] It was a time that arts could be communicated and shared through virtual networks. Arts were connected to their fans and people can see them without going to galleries or auction sales. Both Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara were lucky to successfully embrace this global shift.

Although there were conveniences for the development of Japanese contemporary art, the young artists still had to face and deal with challenges and to break and change the old traditional art/museum system. Exploring the opportunities and challenges in the progress of Japanese contemporary art can help people understand Japanese art world and how the system works, as well as the triangle relationship among the economy, culture, and politics. This paper will discuss major opportunities and challenges that Japanese contemporary artists faced, especially during the Heisei era. The researcher mainly focused on three Japanese contemporary artists: Takashi Murakami, Yoshitomo Nara, and Makoto Aida. By answering questions like what are they trying to express through their works, what are the options and how did they choose when facing the opportunity/challenge dilemma, what are their career paths, and how did they achieve the commercial success or what had blocked them away from gaining international reputation, a general view of Japanese contemporary art development will be revealed.

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When it came to the Heisei era, both opportunities and challenges coexist for young Japanese contemporary artists. It was a time when globalization expanding to every field, including the art market. The global art market was seeking a variety of representations from different countries and cultures. It did encourage several Asian artists to share their works to western audiences, and some had successfully won world recognition in terms of international sales and consistent museum visibility, for instance, Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara. But it also tired some artists for the focus was on their multicultural backgrounds not on their works. This happened to Masato Nakamura when he was selected for Venice Biennial in 2001 (The two pictures below are his works at this art exhibition). He was an earliest partner and rival who remained highly active in Tokyo. It was reported that he came home disillusioned as “he realized with disgust that he was a token Asian face, and that his art in fact had no meaning in this context”.[5]

 

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Masato Nakamura, QSC+mV/V.V, 2001. Acrylic resin, fluorescent tube, steel frame, stainless steel, 440 x 542 x 40 cm (each), 1963 Odate, Akita Prefecture.

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Masato Nakamura, Crystal glass, fluorescent tube, 12 x 12 x 2,5 cm (each).

 

 

 

 

 

 

Unlike Masato Nakamura, Takashi Murakami was pretty comfortable in selling himself and his ideas to the foreigners. According to curator Paul Schimmel, the most important contribution of Murakami in world art history was “his revolutionary practice of commercialization and branding”.[6] His idea of presenting and combining post-war otaku culture with American pop culture gave him an excellent selling point that can be easily understood by the western world. Furthermore, Murakami applied the Nihonga techniques he used to learn at school to his works because he knew that this would be appreciated by the critics and this could also work well in terms of self-branding. As analyzed in his book The Art Entrepreneurship Theory, he believed that telling a good story about the artwork will give it value and he talked about the significance of “knowing your own identity” as recognizing the Western gaze at Japan and play with it, mainly making use of it to attract western audiences and buyers.[7] That is why he branded himself “Japanese”, the associated exotic training, with unique things like great attention to details, of which helped him to find a space in the global art market. He is also a good organizer, knowing well of how to use all sorts of resources and talented people to achieve his contemporary art business. The group exhibition, which was famous for his “Superflat” theory, the one he curated in 2000 for the Museum of Contemporary Art (LA), was an example of him gathering close friends, well-known pop cultural figures, young unknown artists, and some of the best contemporary commercial designers. Takashi Murakami was unique and talented. There was no one else could have such a multidimensional synthesis of a view of the integration of traditional and contemporary Japanese cultures, an interesting art theory, a high production value, and superb techniques.

Yoshitomo Nara himself is also a talented businessman. It was said that he made his name “outside the white cube of the gallery, on the pages of books”.[8] He was very lucky to catch the independent book publishing boom of the late 1990s. The book publishing industry in Tokyo had a large small scale which enabled books to be produced and distributed quickly. Then Nara’s books could be widely spread within a short amount of time. What’s more, the tradition for Japanese to appreciate printed works, especially that with well-drawn pictures, also contributed to the popularity of Nara’s picture books.

 

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This is the second book of Yoshitomo Nara. Yoshitomo Nara: Slash With A Knife (Japanese Edition) (Japanese) – January 1, 1999.

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Various options for Nara’s picture books on the Amazon Website.

 

Apart from the successful book business, Nara succeeded in receiving reputation and economic benefits from his community. His art corporation was like an enormous fan club where exciting collaborations among himself, friends, and fans led to exhibitions and artworks, which were all in Nara’s name. This could due to the large amount of distribution of Nara’s work. People can buy anything with Nara’s little girl on that possibly everywhere, from gallery painting to notebooks, from museum shops to little souvenir stands. It is likely that the things you buy are not authorized by Nara, for there is a large market for fake production of Nara’s work and Nara himself just let it go and watched it being produced. Another reason behind this can be understood with the explanation of Midori Matsui. Matsui pointed out that the basic power related to Nara is how his work “had become a contemporary equivalent of folk art, representing and consoling people who feel alienated from modern art”.[9] The sense of being understood and belonging could be the driven force for fans working as volunteers to help Nara build the ideal world, which actually is the world only for Nara.

Willingly or not, Nara became part of the local tourist industry. His work and his ideas, like which of Murakami, were important parts of Japanese “soft power” propaganda at that time. “Cool Japan”, this image was important to the Japanese government. It published tourist brochures and policies trying to keep this image after the Bubble burst for the government believed that the export of Japanese popular culture and contemporary aesthetics could help the country open global markets and work as a new cultural industry sharing the dominant role with the manufacturing and finance. Therefore, these lucky contemporary artists enjoyed certain convenience from the government. However, the different starting points between the artist and the policy-making side sometimes made it more difficult to achieve their goals, which contrast with the other in most of the times. A good example of this difference can be the story of Kanazawa’s 21st Century Museum. Kanazawa is a conservative historical town, famous for samurai and geisha houses, as well as beautiful traditional Japanese gardens. Originally, the museum was established to attract tourists with the essence of Japanese cultures while the curator seeking for international relevance for the museum. The famous curator, Yuko Hasegawa, decided to try her best to import the best international artists and to show their works to the public and media of Japan. The problem is that she did not focus on acquiring important Japanese artists. So the local residents would not visit it because they do not know or understand the works in their museum, and the few foreigners who came to the town want to see arts that are more Japan not western contemporary arts. The museum failed in achieving its original goal and it could not afford any major Japanese contemporary artists’ work for it had spent all the money buying the western arts. However, as time goes by, the museum instead “became a condescending lesson in teaching Western art norms to an ignorant Japanese public, as well as a lovely location for top Western artists to take a Japanese holiday”.[10]

Both Takashi Murakami’s and Yoshitomo Nara’s international success were in fact parts of the globalization in the art market. Constantly influenced by the commercialization of the western art market, works of Murakami and Nara “concentrated Japan into a simple digital code that was flat and easy to understand”, something that could be copied and liked by everyone.[11] This is a trend that believed to be an opportunity for young Japanese contemporary artists to be seen and accepted by a larger audience, as it had helped Murakami and Nara achieve their reputation.

Along with all the appealing opportunities, there were several challenges that the artists need to deal with. Like all new things, when they first emerge, the public needs time to understand and accept them and they have to fight for a space in the current system. Same story for the new-born Japanese contemporary art in the early Heisei era. Contemporary art was only a small part of arts. Traditional and classical art forms were more appreciated by the Japanese. When comparing Japanese arts with western arts, wealthy Japanese collectors always chose the former. Meanwhile, Japanese collectors and curators were not eager to find the new excitement nor nurture the next generation of big names.

The art schools were no ideal cradle for the new-born artists either. The traditional art education system in Japan gives more weight to technique practices rather than creativity. Students were relatively not encouraged nor inspired in the perspective of creativity. However, there was a group of curious students who had sensed the trend of contemporary art of the future. Disappointed, they found that there was no mention of this exciting pop culture influenced new art form in their textbooks. No museum had an exhibition of this kind. Then they gathered as a group to explore it by themselves. This is the story when Murakami was in Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music in the late 1980s.

The status quo left a very tough situation for young Japanese contemporary artists to grow. They had to rely on themselves for no one will guide or support them. Once figured out this, they found the next move even tougher. Before the 1990s, there were “commercial gallery-like spaces in department stores” in Tokyo, the Ginza rental gallery system.[12] These commercial galleries were for rent by artists who wished to sell artworks, mostly in conservative styles targeting old-fashioned collectors.[13] But for these future contemporary artists, they could not afford the high rental price, unless they came from privileged families, which usually did not happen. There did exist very few private museums that began to showing contemporary works of pop culture and gallerists who showed certain willingness to help the new artists, like Tsutomu Ikeuchi. However, these space in nature are profit-driven and the owner will reconsider the sponsorship based on the balance of costs and incomes. The gallerist Atsuko Koyanagi has withdrawn support for Mariko Mori when the costs getting too high.[14]

For some artists who have made their way to gain adequate supports with plenty budgets and space for their work, they still have to think really carefully about how to present their ideas through the work. This question, together with the question of what kind of message does the artist wish to present, lead to one core conceptual question of all Japanese contemporary artists: how to keep the Japanese identity in a contemporary context in a time of multicultural integration[15]? As a matter of fact, it is also the primary question for all countries under the current globalization circumstance, of how to keep the essence of local culture and not to lose it under the influence of out-coming cultures.

There is one Japanese contemporary artist whose works have touched upon this question, that is Makoto Aida. In the works of Makoto Aida, “he has deconstructed the history of modern art in Japan, including its many Western influences, and reassembled it as a critique of bourgeois heartlessness in a demotivated society”.[16] He is less well-known internationally if compared with Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara, but highly recognized in Japan as one of the most important figures of Japanese contemporary artists. In his works, Aida uses both materials and conventions of Nihonga, Ukiyo-e, or Yoga, and materials of contemporary avant-garde.[17] This approach makes his style unique and his work easy to recognize.

 

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Eitoku Kano, Rakuchu-rakugai-zu, late 16th century (Azuchi-Momoyama period). Gold-leaf on paper. 160.5 x 364.5 cm. Designated National Treasure. In the collection of the Yonezawa City Uesugi Museum.

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A Picture of an Air Raid on New York CityWar Picture Returns), 1996. Six-panel folding screens / The Nikkei newspaper, black-and-white photocopy on hologram paper, charcoal pencil, watercolor, acrylic, marker pen, correction liquid, pencil on fusuma (sliding door), hinges, etc.169×378cm, CG of Zero fighters created by Matsuhashi Mutsuo. TAKAHASHI Collection, Tokyo. Courtesy: Mizuma Art Gallery

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Makoto Aida, ‘A Picture of an Air-Raid on New York City (War Picture Returns)’ (1996). Installation view. Photo: Nick West

“Aida Makoto: Monument for Nothing” Trailer 2. November 17, 2012 – March 31, 2013.

 

If compare Aida’s A Picture of an Air Raid on New York City (War Picture Returns) with Eitoku Kano’s Rakuchu-rakugai-zu, it is noticeable that Aida has taken a bird’s eye view, which is typical of traditional Japanese landscapes, as presented in Rakuchu-rakugai-zu, to criticize the period of WWII when many cities of Japan were destroyed. He also creates a gold-leaf effect for the background which is unique in traditional Japanese artworks. Makoto Aida considers the traditional concepts when he carefully expressing his ideas and uses the material appropriately for a sense of aesthetic enjoyment. In his another work The Giant Member Fuji versus King Gidora, he adapted a shunga work by Hokusai Katsushika, depicting sex acts of King Gidora, who appears in Japanese monster movies. The reason why he chose to connect shunga with animation is for he believes that the shunga depiction of sex acts is “the purest form of truthful and original visual expression in Japan”, and “shunga has a deep connection with contemporary anime and manga”.[18] It is his way of paying homage to the originals. However, Aida’s work can be difficult to understand if one knows little about traditional Japanese art styles or contemporary Japanese history. His work is not as flat as Murakami’s or Nara’s. This may be one of the reasons why he is less international successful compared with those two.

 

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Makoto Aida, The Giant Member Fuji versus King Gidora, 1993. Acrylic and eyelets on acetate film. 310 x 410 cm.

 

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Hokusai Katsushika, Taco To Ama (Octopus and Shell Diver), illustration for the novel Kinoenokomatu, about 1820 (Edo period). Uragami Sokyu-do, Tokyo.

 

Review the short history of Japanese contemporary art during the Heisei era, there were opportunities internationally and domestically for the young artists to grow but there were also challenges of the education system and museum/gallery system that slowed down the process. When facing the dilemma between opportunity and challenge, some artists successfully gained an international reputation while others remain less famous in the home country, even unknown. The difference lies in the different approaches to the new art form, different choices made when introducing artworks to foreigners, and talents in doing business and self-branding, as well as unique personal styles. As for the future development, there can be one way for Japan to stand out among other Asian countries, that is to highlight its cultural uniqueness in terms of its tradition and appropriately combine the traditional materials with out-coming cultures.


Footnotes

[1] Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited), 83.

[2] Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited), 156.

[3] Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited), 67.

[4] Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited), 63-64.

[5] Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited), 110.

[6] Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited), 49.

[7] Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited), 51.

[8] Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited), 59.

[9] Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited), 61.

[10] Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited), 171.

[11] Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited), 64.

[12] Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited), 102.

[13] Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited), 86.

[14] Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited), 103.

[15] Vartanian Ivan and Kyoko Wada, See/Saw: Connections Between Japanese Art Then and Now (California: Chronicle Books LLC, 2011), 12.

[16] Elliott David and Ozaki Tetsuya, Bye Bye Kitty: Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art (CT: Yale University Press, 2011), 9.

[17] Elliott David and Ozaki Tetsuya, Bye Bye Kitty: Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art (CT: Yale University Press, 2011), 9.

[18] Elliott David and Ozaki Tetsuya, Bye Bye Kitty: Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art (CT: Yale University Press, 2011), 137.


Works Cited

Favell Adrian, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011 (Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher Limited).

Vartanian Ivan and Kyoko Wada, See/Saw: Connections Between Japanese Art Then and Now (California: Chronicle Books LLC, 2011).

Elliott David and Ozaki Tetsuya, Bye Bye Kitty: Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art (CT: Yale University Press, 2011).

“Biography: Emperor Hirohito,” last modified January 12, 2017,

http://www.ducksters.com/history/world_war_ii/hirohito.php

“Hesei Emperor Greets New Years Well Wishers,” last modified January 2, 2016, http://lasamurai.blogspot.com/2016/01/heisei-emperor-greets-new-years-well.html

“Masato Nakamura,” last modified 2017,

http://universes-in-universe.de/car/venezia/bien49/jpn/e-nakamura.htm

“Yoshitomo Nara: Slash With A Knife (Japanese Edition),” last modified 2017, https://www.amazon.com/Yoshitomo-Nara-Slash-Knife-Japanese/dp/4902943085

Eitoku Kano, Rakuchu-rakugai-zu, late 16th century (Azuchi-Momoyama period). Gold-leaf on paper. 160.5 x 364.5 cm. Designated National Treasure. In the collection of the Yonezawa City Uesugi Museum. http://www.wikiwand.com/de/Kanō_Eitoku

A Picture of an Air Raid on New York CityWar Picture Returns), 1996. Six-panel folding screens / The Nikkei newspaper, black-and-white photocopy on hologram paper, charcoal pencil, watercolor, acrylic, marker pen, correction liquid, pencil on fusuma (sliding door), hinges, etc.169×378cm, CG of Zero fighters created by Matsuhashi Mutsuo. TAKAHASHI Collection, Tokyo. Courtesy: Mizuma Art Gallery. http://www.mori.art.museum/english/contents/aidamakoto_main/artist/02.html

Makoto Aida, ‘A Picture of an Air-Raid on New York City (War Picture Returns)’ (1996). Installation view. Photo: Nick West.

http://www.gensojapan.org/the-view-from-the-couch/

Makoto Aida, The Giant Member Fuji versus King Gidora, 1993. Acrylic and eyelets on acetate film. 310 x 410 cm.

http://www.contemporaryartcurator.com/aida-makoto/

Hokusai Katsushika, Taco To Ama (Octopus and Shell Diver), illustration for the novel Kinoenokomatu, about 1820 (Edo period). Uragami Sokyu-do, Tokyo.

http://www.nihon-noir.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/banner1.jpg

“Aida Makoto: Monument for Nothing” Trailer 2. November 17, 2012 – March 31, 2013.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YRgsZG6ytdo

East and West: Art by Contemporary Japanese and Japanese American Artists

by Lin Ding


In my final paper, I want to explore the reasons, mainly from an economic lens (Japanese art market), behind the exchange of eastern and western styles, values, and cultures. I will focus on the contemporary Japanese and Japanese American artists who blend Eastern techniques and elements with western styles in a way that is understood and accepted by the western world. These artists combined traditional Japanese materials with western practices, using Japanese features and western painting styles to create a popular yet high art form of artistic expression.

New economic and new art in post-war era

Based on the economic background of that era, three primary issues of Japanese art market when expanding its market both inside and outside Japan:

1.  a lack of integration between Japanese and western art market

Western backgrounds were required when artists wanted to hold their exhibitions in the western world.

“Without a personal or direct connection to the Western art market, domestic contemporary Japanese artists in Japan rarely have an opportunity to gain visibility through their own means. Although it is possible for contemporary Japanese artists to build modest careers in Japan alone, Western market visibility is important due to the relatively large number of collectors and investors that live in the West. (3)”  — Miyuki Urbanek

Japanese capital investment is needed in the international art market.

2.  difference between traditional Japanese aesthetics and foreign tastes

There is a lack of sale forces that can both understand and explain contemporary Japanese art to western art markets.

Western collectors are unfamiliar with contemporary Japanese art.

3.  a lack of governmental support

Japanese have a tendency to follow the authorities. At that time, contemporary art is not the major focus of Japanese government.

The career paths of successful contemporary Japanese artists and its influence on today’s Japanese artists

  • Gyakuyunyu phenomenon

In this model, Japanese artist first establishes a reputation in the western market before that reputation is then re-imported back into the contemporary art market in Japan. This leads to a lack of involvement and influence of domestic Japanese art industry.

Artists and examples:

  • Post-war art movement and Contemporary art movement

Contents and meaning of the works in this era discussed national identity and cultural identity.

Yukinori Yanagi

Lynne Yamamoto

Neo-pop: Yoshitomo Nara

Superflat: Takashi Murakami

American Japanese artist: Gajin Fujita

Neo Nihonga: Hisashi Tenmyouya

“It is interesting to note that Murakami
is trained in nihonga, a Meiji-era painting style that emerged in the late nineteenth century in reaction to Japan’s rapid aesthetic embrace of oil painting. Nihonga incorporates aspects of Western practices, such as modeling and shading, with traditional Japanese material and subject matter to create a popular, though high art form of artistic expression. Such a practice is useful in considering Murakami’s contemporary manifestations of hybridity and commodity culture. (7)” – Karin Higa

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Gajin Fujita / Roof Top, 2010 / spray paint, paint marker, Mean Streak paint stick, gold, white gold and platinum leaf on wood panel / five panels: 60 x 90 in. (152.4 x 228.6 cm) overall


References:

Munsterberg, Hugo. “East and West in Contemporary Japanese Art”. College Art Journal, Vol. 18, No. 1 (Autumn, 1958), pp. 36-41.

Higa, Karin. “Some Thoughts on National and Cultural Identity: Art by Contemporary Japanese and Japanese American Artists”. Art Journal, Vol. 55, No.3, Japan 1868-1945: Art, Architecture, and National Identity (Autumn, 1996), pp. 6-13.

Urbanek, Miyuki. “contemporary Japanese Art: Issues and opportunities in the domestic and international markets”. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com.proxy.library.georgetown.edu/docview/1687201726?pq-origsite=summon&http://proquest.umi.com/login?COPT=REJTPUcyODcrNTRlNyszYjBmJklOVD0wJlZFUj0y&clientId=5604.

Vartanian, Ivan, and Wada, Kyoko. See and Saw: Contemporary Between Japanese Art Then and Now. Chronicle Books, 2011.

Favell, Adrian. Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art 1990-2011. Hong Kong: Blue Kingfisher, 2011.

Photography for everyone

by Lin Ding

“The story of popular photography is largely the story of one man, George Eastman, and the company he founded, Kodak. He not only produced the first reliable point-and-shoot cameras, he also devised a system that meant ordinary people no longer had to worry about developing and printing the film. When you finished your roll of film, you simply mailed your camera to Kodak. Back came your pictures, along with the camera reloaded with new film. Eastman’s marketing slogan was ‘You press the button, we
do the rest’ (Buckingham, 18).”


When I was little, I remembered that my parents using point-and-shoot cameras (compact cameras) for snapshots of family events and vacations. This kind of camera is portable and easy to operate. For a long period of time, I thought the word “Kodak” meant “photos” because my father would bring me photos with the word “Kodak” on them. I like using cameras, for they help me record the moments I wish to last, the people I wish to remember, and the views I want to share with my families and friends. For me, photographs have become part of my life. The information carried through photographs has long influenced my tastes and my points of view. Photographs are in fact one of the most important media that help me to see the world, learn new knowledge, and explore other cultures. Just like the missions of Life magazine:

“To see life; to see the world; to eyewitness great events; to watch the faces of the poor and the gestures of the proud; to see strange things—machines, armies, multitudes, shadows in the jungle and on the moon; to see man’s work—his paintings, towers and discoveries; to see things thousands of miles away, things hidden behind walls and within rooms, things dangerous to come to; the women that men love and many children; to see and to take pleasure in seeing; to see and be amazed; to see and be instructed. (Peres, 193)”

Nowadays, the most common photographs I have seen are advertising photographs. This category of photography has its purpose of selling the products by creating desires for new potential customers towards their products, thus in these photographs, the message is clear and there is zero distance between the consumers and the products. Take one of the recent perfume advertising photographs I have seen as an example. In this series, photos were shot by So Me, a Parisian graphic designer using digital cameras. These photos were to be posted online and also printed in newspapers and magazines. The perfume in this photo is described as “in a zesty and sensual scent” and the story behind the photos is that “after a night out in New York, the It-girl meets up with her blouson-clad girl gang for a highly-charged dance-off with a group of boys”.

dior-perfumeshrine-com-poison-girl-perfume-review-fragrance-new

Photographed by So Me.

A young and beautiful model with cigarettes, neon lighting decorations, and “no bras” slogan at the background, these convey the attitude of the product and the campaign. These symbolic elements also make the photos cliché, in terms of perfume campaigns. I googled “perfume campaign” and all the advertising photos were all in a similar style, and the poses/makeups make the models look the same. There is a photograph look just like the photo shot by So Me.

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Photo source: Better Franke in See by Chloe perfume campaign photographed by Fabien Baron

It looks like “sexy” is an important element or theme for perfume advertising photographs. Consumers are attracted by the information of sexy expressed through the photograph and the producer believes that this attraction can lead to desire, which eventually opens their purses or wallets. Sometimes, the theme of the perfume photograph does not have to be related to the fragrance itself, as long as the model is beautiful, sexy, and attractive, as well as the setting or her overall look (it-girl look) makes her confident/important, people would buy the product.

Another branch of photography is journalistic photography. Before the smartphones have emerged, I used to see journalistic photos every day through daily newspapers. These photographs are visual information, which completes the reports and serve as evidence of the reports. I would look through the newspapers and carefully read the part I am most interested in. What helps me to do the decision? The pictures on the paper!

There years, the air quality in China became a huge topic and a lot of reports concerned with this issue. This is an example of the photos that would be shown on related pages.

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Photo source: A woman wears a mask during her morning exercises in Fuyang, Anhui Province, on January 15, 2013, from The Atlantic.

In the article “How Climate Change Covered China in Smog”, the author uses this photo to show the terrible air quality in China and how it affects people’s life. The digital camera features one woman playing Taiji in the morning. From the picture, I can roughly measure the distance between her and the friend behind her. It is not a long distance, but you can barely see the shadow of the friend behind the second woman. If they are learning Taiji with the first woman, they would not be able to see clearly about her movement. Most importantly, they are all wearing masks, which make you uncomfortable during the exercise. This is how this photograph expresses the information: the air quality in China is really terrible and it has affected people’s daily life. From my point of view, a good journalistic photograph should be accurate, direct and informative. People can trust the information from the photo, the information conveyed by the photo is clear and direct, and people can know more about the report through the detail in the photo.

Documentary photography is the one I enjoy the most. Peres defines it “directly related to popular social life”, and the documentary projects generally “focus on social reality and human life, informed by the strong feelings of the photographer” (195). What I love the most for this type of photograph is that I can hear different points of view from the picture, I can experience the feelings the photographer recorded in the picture, and the theme of the photo is closely related to people’s life and special events. Documentary photographs can be artistic and personal.

As part of contemporary art practice, photography has its artistic value. The act of artistic creation happens before the photographer making an observation – framing a moment through the lens – which shares “the corporeal nature of performance and body art” (Cotton, 21). The viewers cannot see the whole performance but the image as the final presentation. I find the series of “Bread Man” very interesting. In this performance, the Japanese artist Tatsumi Orimoto (born 1946) hides his face under a sculptural mass of bread and then performs normal everyday activities. Some passers-by ignored him and some were amused by his strange look. During the performance, he respects people’s willingness and resistance to breaking with their daily routines in order to interact with him and to be photographed. Here is a portrait photo of him and his mother, who has Alzheimer’s disease.

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photo source: Bread Man Son and Alzheimer Mother, Tokyo, 1996.

The bread guise is a way of stepping out of daily routine yet the contents of the photographs are daily-routine-based. The interruption of daily life blurs the boundary between normal and strange. I guess this can be part of Orimoto’s point of view for this project.

I also want to share a photo recording and expressing personal feelings. Below is a photo shot last week in the exhibition of Yayoi Kusama’s Infinity Mirrors. I took this photo with my digital camera, trying to remember the feelings as I first came in the mirror room that I feel I was embraced by thousands of lights. As I turn around and look around, I feel dizzy and then my fear comes up for I kind of feel lost for where I am and I lose the sense of time and space. Although I was only allowed be in the room for 20 seconds, I feel that I have been in there for a long time. Before I go into the room, I do not know what I will do in the room (if I do not take pictures) when I am in the room, I feel that I have the ability to do everything in it. However, it is overwhelming and I can hardly think of one thing to do in the room. So I take this photo. It reminds me of a lot of things, like the dream I used to have, the night view of my city, and a broken computer screen.

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Untitled, by Lin Ding.


Citations:

Buckingham, Alan. Photography. New York: DK, 2004

Cotton, Charlotte. The Photograph As Contemporary Art. Thames & Hudson: London, 2014.

Meyer Robinson. “How Climate Change Covered China in Smog”. The Atlantic. Mar 21, 2017. Retrieved from https://www.theatlantic.com/science/archive/2017/03/how-climate-change-covered-china-in-smog/520197/.

Peres, Michael R.. Focal Encyclopedia of Photography. Elsvier, 2007.

“Poison Girl, 7 Results”. Dior Mag. Retrieved from http://www.dior.com/diormag/en_hk/suggest/poison-girl.

The Picture of Dior Perfume Campaign is retrieved from https://www.vikinora.ru/novosti/dior_poisin_girl_new/.

Modernism Art: Representation, Reproduction & Technical Meditation

“What happens when a new work of art is created is something that happens simultaneously to all works of art which preceded it. The existing monuments form an ideal order among themselves, which modified by introduction of the new work of art among them.”

It was a quote by T.S. Elliot about how all new works of art actually come from old works before it, but in order to overcome them and become something better, it needs to have a sense of independence of the artist’s personality (Irvine, 5). This quote provides me with a good sense of what modernism art is — they are all re-creations of things we are familiar with but carry a very unique personality that we’ve never encountered before. It’s like a reunion with a couple of old friends. We want to become other’s friends, who share common ideals or interests, at the same time, we want them to be unique or else there is no excitement. To understand how there is a relationship between modern art and mediation, we need to examine closely to what type of conversations they bring up when we look at them.

No one looks at art the same way for everyone looks at art based on what they have known and experienced, so everyone has a different perspective. This is the first step we consider when we see art as a form of mediation. In Walter Benjamin’s, “The Work of Art in the Era of its Technology Reproducibility”, the author wrote his concern of how modern technology allowed mass production of older works, which made it accessible for everyone, but at the same time made them more generic. Especially with mediums like photography, which he considered a blatant forgery of the original (Benjamin, 258). But photography is not the original and there’s a saying that a picture is worth a thousand words. This is because it’s very difficult for something like a painting to capture a still image and convey the same sense of meaning. A drawing is done over time slowly, but modern art like photography capture a certain window within a split second. It does not matter whether it is a re-creation or not because we can be seeing something through someone else’s perspective with a picture. When we look at the picture, we are also creating a form of mediation because we ask ourselves how this picture was taken and what was going on at that time. Thus, a photo may carry a very unique personality that the original cannot recreate. If the same photo was taken years later, the image might change as some things will get older with time. If we take a picture of the Mona Lisa now compared to 10-20 years from now, it may not look the same and modern technology can capture that, even though it’s a reproduction.

Digital Art has also changed the way we think about art. A lot of digital art isn’t drawn with a paint or brush, but with numbers and lines of code. A 3-D model is something that is generated through computer code, and the great thing about it is, we can take whatever we drew and observed it from all sides. For example, when we draw a flower on paper, we think about what a 3-dimensional object will look like on a flat plane. But when we draw it using a 3D modeler, start paying attention to other things like filters and mathematical numbers that represent a 3-dimensional plane. Because of this modern art like computer generated models has changed the way we meditate about art or perhaps diminish it. In, “Remediation, Understanding New Media” the authors talk about how the defining new characteristic of digital media is that it constantly tries to replace itself with its predecessors. In their argument of the double-logic of remediation, the authors refer to mediums like websites as hypermediated, because they only offer photos, text, or streaming videos. In other words, they are trying to force the viewer to see what the creator wants them to see (Bolter et al, 5). Bolter and Grusin would argue that modern media tries to intervene so much in what we see, that art begins to lose its uniqueness and meaning. When we take photos, we are taking objects from the real-world and the idea is no longer abstract. In the end, we take everything as face value. I agree that digital mediums can be like this, but I would never group drawings, paintings, and sculptures with digital art. In my opinion, there is no point in trying to compare them with each other. Their concern of technologies like the website is justified, and we can see the effects of it today and how it affects us politically. But I think digital media is still young and it’s constantly evolving, Bolter wrote this article in 2003, and digital media has changed dramatically since then. The visuals in the article were from games like Myst, compared to some of the photorealistic models we can create these days in movies.

Modern art has dramatically changed the way art is mediated because it has provided another dimension to how art can be seen. Therefore, it has created another layer of arguments and experience. Although arguments about how digital art hypermediacy is valid and something of concern. I believe it has done more in broadening the area of mediation, than narrowing it. In the end, art is still something we understand based on our personal values, beliefs and experiences and modern art is something unique, but draws from the old.

Reference

Benjamin, Walter. The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction. Lexington, KY: Prism Key, 2010. Print.

Bolter, Jay David, and Richard Grusin. Remediation: Understanding New Media. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2003. Print.

Malraux, André. The Voice of Silence. St. Albans, Herts: Paladin, 1974. Print.

Lin – Week 4 Discussion Post

 

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Melchers, Gari (American, 1860 – 1932), Penelope, 1910, oil on canvas


During our first trip to the National Gallery of Art, I saw a lovely painting which portrays a moment of a young lady and her maid in a cozy room. When I first entered the gallery room, I was immediately attracted by this painting.

This painting is painted by Gari Melchers, who was one of the leading American proponents of naturalism. Actually, when I first looked at this painting, I thought that it is a French painter. Maybe it is the style, the color choice, or the sunlight that has misled me. However, what I have interpreted was not completely wrong. As one introduction article has mentioned, Melchers “fell under the spell of the French Naturalist painters” (Garimelchers website), when he was still a student. One of his favorites was Jules Bastien-Lepage (1848 – 1884).  Lepage painted contemporary country life in open-air light and “combined vigorous brushwork and brilliant color with an exacting eye for place and personality” (Garimelchers website). This is what I have felt from Melchers’ Penelope. As mentioned by Dr. Irvine, signs or symbols convey meanings for “we map or correlate something physically perceptible to intelligible and cognitive responses” (Irvine, 2). It is interesting that the signs I have seen from Melchers’ Penelope have led me to my speculations and interpretations, which links back to Melchers’ background.

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Bastien-Lepage, Jules (French, 1848 – 1884), Sarah Bernhardt, 1879, oil on canvas

Back to Melchers’ Penelope, though the painting is all about that one moment, whether it is in the morning or in the afternoon, to me, it represents their life style or daily routine. I can hardly feel the passing of the time when I looked at it. It seems that the young lady and her maid were just about to yawn and continue doing their work. It is only a short pause for a long period of time and this period of time was perfectly preserved in this painting.

According to Peirce, “Nothing is a sign unless it is interpreted as a sign” (Chandler, 13). Everything can be a sign, an image, a piece of music, odors, flavors, acts or objects, as long as we link them with a certain meaning. What has reserved in this painting can all be seen as signs. The flowers in this painting reveal the season; characters’ dresses and clothes on the chair show the warm weather; the sculpture on the fireplace, the painting on the wall, the table cloth, the embroidery and the wallpaper together represent the taste of the young lady in this painting. The relationship between these two ladies can be interpreted from their clothes, for clothes can help speculate one’s status. We can tell that she is a maid because she is wearing a maid uniform. From her maid status, we can understand the relationship between these characters. We can also make a good guess that she is helping the young lady with her embroidery work.  The lower status of the maid, compared with the other lady, can be interpreted from her gesture or pose. She is standing when there is an available chair with two pieces of clothes and where she is directly facing the sunlight. I feel that I can think of so many stories for this painting and it reminds me of several scenes from different novels. I really enjoyed it!

 

Works Cited:

Bastien-Lepage, Jules. Sarah Bernhardt, 1879, oil on canvas. Retrieved from http://www.jssgallery.org/Other_Artists/Bastien-Lepage_Jules/Sarah_Bernhardt.html.

Daniel Chandler, Semiotics: The Basics. 2nd ed. New York, NY: Routledge, 2007.

Garimelchers website. “Gari Melchers: Who Was Gari Melchers?”. Retrieved from http://garimelchers.umw.edu/gari-melchers/.

Irvine, Martin. “Introduction to Visual and Pictorial Semiotics: De-Blackboxing Meaning-Making in Art and Visual Media.” Communication, Culture & Technology Program. Georgetown University. 2017.

Melchers, Gari. Penelope, 1910, oil on canvas. Retrieved from https://www.pinterest.com/pin/296604325433156056/.