MoMA should be applauded (and then given a silent disapproving head shake) for the creation of Tokyo 1955-1970: A New Avant-Garde. What a preposterous and presumptuous proposal it is, to use a few rooms to highlight a decade and a half of tumult and artistic rebirth. The scale of the task seems unattainable. Still, it’s a winning looking exhibition with many insights for the barely initiated.
Think about it. If we were to wander into New York: 1955 – 1970, how unruly a task it would be to classify the birth and death of -isms. Ab-Ex’s upswing and its backlash inducing effects led to as many options as could be imagined. What would be in this exhibition that would pay proper tribute the visual output of New York in this time period? That would be one great curatorial scavenger hunt. In fact, any of my friends that want to take a stab, we can make this a project for the bored and disillusioned: Choose (1) a major metropolitan area, (2) a 15 year period, (3) 20 works to symbolize said period. We can call it CuratoRISK! In all seriousness, Please click through and place your proposals. I am really excited to see what you come up with!
Back in Tokyo, let me take what I am given, rather than what I want and review the show and the impression it leaves with me. There are several in depth historically factual reviews: I can recommend the Times review by Cotter and sort of recommend Pollack at Gallerist.
As a museum goer I felt as though I was dropped into something unfamiliar. I was at MoMA but the work I was seeing was globally displaced, and it was welcome dissonance. When you view the website and exhibition, you encounter Maps of Tokyo, a city I love and dream of often, created in different eras and in one case in Collaboration with Fluxus den mother George Maciunas. These maps and the changing place they convey are the jumping off point to eras worth of innovative thought that happen to include visual art. Performance and sculpture get rare center stage spotlight action. If you read about the collectives Hi Red Center and Jikken Kobo and Gutai, you recognize patterns that western artists followed at the same time. No one was first to this party. As a world, the horrors of war propelled artists into tight knit groups that were safe havens to be creative and rebellious. This is hardly new but an important reminder.
The inclusion of On Kawara and Yayoi Kusama and Lee Ufan are welcomed but incidental. Two standouts for me were Yakoo Tadanori and Akasegawa Genpei. Yakoo Tadanori I knew, as a lover of artists who bridge the gap between graphic design and fine art. Genpei’s use of currency, reprinted and exchanged landed him in a losing battle with his government. As an activist and artist, he succeeded but the cost seems to have been years of legal wranglings. I won’t go into all the artists you should look for, just be sure to go and look for yourself.