New Emissary

In Need of Sensuality and Hype?

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New Emissary

In Need of Sensuality and Hype?

Japan’s ‘soft and cute’ contemporary art scene could do with some more political and sexual flair.

Over the past few weeks, as I’ve made my way to various art events around Tokyo, I’ve noticed that there was something missing in the works: anything political.  

Perhaps there’s no political art in Japan right now because Prime Minister Naoto Kan’s image is better suited to cartoons? Or maybe artists have started to avoid painting country leaders, because the current one could be gone before the painting is finished?

‘Give me some controversy!’ is a sentiment I felt at times, while making the rounds at the G-Tokyo art far at the Mori Art Center and various other art shows. Certainly there are many social and political topics in Japan that could give birth to some great art. It would definitely have been interesting to see some angst expressed on issues such as job hunting, corruption, the social health insurance and retirement systems, or touching on the plight of the homeless.

It would be nice to see some sensuality—rather than just soft and cute—in modern Japanese art. Perhaps the kind of explicit sexuality that you tend to see at art exhibitions in the United States or Thailand.

It’s little wonder that Nobuyoshi Araki’s photos of female nudes have been so popular. Araki, one of Japan’s best-known contemporary photographers, is known for pushing the envelope. And he loves women. You can easily tell this by looking at his photos. On the other hand, another of my favourite Japanese photographers, Ihei Kimura prize winner Ryudai Takano, loves men—and you can really feel that love when you see his work.

It’s possible that there just needs to be more hype in general, for new and rising art in Japanese society. One thing I noticed at the various venues I went to was a lack of other visitors at the shows. At the National Art Center 5 Art Universities Exhibition for example, I was one of the few people in attendance who was over the age of about 25. Most of the visitors were younger—art students I presume. There were also some parents there, but the rest of the general public seemed to be next door at the Surrealism exhibition—or downstairs at the gift shop.

In order to attract people, some advertising and promotion is needed on the part of the show’s organizers and the centre itself. Including information on the universities’ exhibitions on the museum website, and a larger more vibrant sign, could do wonders. They could also get the graphic design departments of these universities involved. And why not hold a big gala opening like there was for the up-scale G-Tokyo art fair just one kilometre away at the Mori Art Center?

In fact, there’s plenty more that could be done to generate interest for fledging new Japanese artists. Adding the names of the artists in English (Romaji, in Japanese) for example, on the little information cards next to each work could really help make the art more accessible to a wider international audience. And I definitely missed seeing the artists at this exhibition, or at least the chance to know more about them. Some artists left their portfolios, notebooks and cards, which was nice. But knowing their names or how to contact them if I wanted to purchase one of the works would have been an added bonus. (Luckily, one of the artists I liked happened to be working at the exhibit as a security guard.)

Art shows like the 5 Art Universities Exhibition at the National Art Centre have the potential to reach large international audiences and advance the careers of young, Japanese artists. Let’s hope that they start using all the tools at their disposal to start creating some hype!