Torn between a powerful cultural heritage and a national discourse on modernization, alternating between phases of openness and withdrawal, the cultural evolution of Japan in the early 1970s was marked by major social, political and natural events. Exhibition curator Yuko Hasegawa looks back on these turbulent decades during which Japan oscillated between globalisation and affirmation of its identity.
In 1970, Expo '70 in Osaka and the 10th Tokyo Biennale marked the beginning of a transitional period during which Japanese visual arts freed themselves from Western influence present since the post-war period. Japanese artists adopted an economy of means embodied by two movements, one concerned with materials (Mono-ha), the other conceptual (Nippon- Gainen-ha).
In the 1980s, Japanese cultural identity evolved into an embodiment of postmodern futurism which became famous in the megalopolis of Tokyo and established itself on the international scene. The hyperconsumerism associated with the speculative economy of this decade brought together the mainstream, pop culture and academicism. This abolition of distinctions, this remix, was at the heart of the approaches of YMO (Yellow Magic Orchestra) and Rei Kawakubo, creator of the brand Comme des Garçons. The Western countries took a fresh look at Japanese design. They questioned the post-war vision of an art linked only to values of materiality and emotion.
Japanese culture of the 1980s placed subjectivity at the heart of debate on the nature of society. The 1990s then saw the emergence of the so-called “superflat” culture that combined the aesthetics of pop art with the kitsch of kawaii culture inspired by cartoons and mangas. A young generation went in search of realism, rejecting all things symbolic. Neo-pop artists, such as Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara, reflected the anxiety that followed the end of the economic bubble of the 1980s, through imagery linked to pop culture, manga and show business. They presented a discourse that, beyond the seemingly clear message of their works, challenged the socio-political and ecological model of Japan. The major earthquake in 1995, followed in the same year by the sarin gas attack in the Tokyo subway by a cult, destroyed the balance established after 1945 and the promise of a stable social and political order. Japanese society seemed once again to be inward-looking and communication technologies led to new patterns for relationships built on trust. Artistic expression in the 1990s was also characterised by worlds concerned with the comfort of the vernacular and the domestic space. Japanese culture became aware of the notions of amateurism and improvisation.
In the 2000s, society witnessed the gradually erosion of the boundary between public and private spheres. Artists took ownership of this transformation and played their part. The tsunami and the nuclear disaster in Fukushima on 11 March 2011 opened a new chapter in Japan’s history. These events gave rise to a commitment to society by artists and the values of solidarity took on a new dimension.
The exhibition explores this cultural odyssey using an archipelago motif, created through the exhibition design by SANAA (Pritzker Prize 2010). Each island embodies a key concept in the history of contemporary Japanese art, such as “post-humanism”, “collectives”, “subjectivity”. Most of the works lent by Japanese institutions are being displayed for the first time in Europe. Parallel to the exhibition, regular live events with Japanese contemporary artists will be organized by Emmanuelle de Montgazon, an expert in the Japanese arts scene. This season at Centre Pompidou-Metz will be an opportunity to discover current key figures in dance, music, theatre, such as Saburo Teshigawara and Yasumasa Morimura.
From November 1st to March 31st: open everyday except Tuesday from 10am-6pm
From April 1st to October 31st: Open Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday from 10am-6pm, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday from 10am-7pm.
Click here to read more.