From Japan to the World: Japanese Contemporary Artists Conquering the Scene
Yayoi Kusama’s famed “Infinity Rooms” gather crowds into long lines outside museums and galleries.
Takashi Murakami’s designs for Louis Vuitton helped cement the blue-chip artist as a celebrity. Ryoji Ikeda’s contrasting screens are an icon and have even made it to the Times Square digital screens.
Yoko Ono’s anti-art attitude, along with her relationship with John Lennon, has helped her achieve stardom.
These are just some of the names that international audiences associate with Japanese contemporary art — but there are so many more artists to discover!
Having witnessed all sorts of art movements from Gutai to Fluxus, the Japanese contemporary art scene has been burgeoning for decades.
Tokyo continues to establish itself as a major art capital. In fact, the city is due to host the new contemporary art fair Tokyo Gendai in 2023, competing with the likes of nearby Hong Kong.
The fascination with Japanese contemporary art extends outside the country, too.
On the occasion of the group show “JAPAN. BODY_PERFORM_LIVE” at the PAC Museum in Milan, Italy, discover some of the most exciting artists coming out of Japan today.
Dumb Type, LOVE/SEX/DEATH/MONEY/LIFE, 2018. Installation view at PAC Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy. Photo: Claudio Bettio, Vulcano.
In 2022, the Japan Pavilion at the 59th International Venice Biennale was represented by Dumb Type, the artist collective launched in 1984 by Kyoto City University of Arts students.
Shiro Takatani and the late artist Furuhashi Teiji first founded the collective to combine diverse mediums into mixed media “theatre” works and recruited other artists to join.
The collective is still active today, and the involved members vary depending on the projects – which are all produced in a democratic process.
With new members like Ryuichi Sakamoto and previous ones like Ryoji Ikeda, Dumb Type covers a diverse set of mediums including theatre, dance, architecture, sound, video, design and programming.
In addition to the Japan Pavilion in Venice, Dumb Type was the subject of a comprehensive survey exhibition in 2022 at Haus Der Kunst in Munich, Germany.
The video installation featured there – LOVE/SEX/DEATH/MONEY/LIFE – was originally created for a Tokyo show in 1994 and then later reproduced in 2018 for the Centre Pompidou-Metz in Paris.
Mari Katayama. you’re mine #001, 2014. Courtesy the artist. © Mari Katayama
Mari Katayama (born 1987 in Saitama) had her lower legs amputated at the age of nine due to the rare congenital disorder of tibial hemimelia.
In her photography works, she employs her own body in role-play in settings with embellished prostheses and embroidered objects that she sews herself, questioning societal aesthetics and the “ideal” body type.
The artist would publish her works on MySpace as a teenager and formalised her practice after receiving the Encouraging Prize of Gunma Biennale for Young Artists in 2005, and her career has taken off since with solo shows and participation in biennales worldwide.
In her “You’re Mine” series of self-portraits like the one pictured here, she plays on all sorts of romantic cliches.
Chiharu Shiota, After the Dream, 2011. Installation view at PAC Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy. Photo: Claudio Bettio, Vulcano.
In 2015, Berlin-based artist Chiharu Shiota (born 1972 in Osaka) weaved a large-scale web from red yarn along with keys for the Japan Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Conjuring up images of blood, The Key In The Hand was just one expression of her many signature large-scale thread installations that frequently feature found objects.
According to the artist, these environments create an “existence in absence”.
The new work Empty Body shown at PAC Padiglione D'Arte Contemporanea in Milan, Italy, features white dresses – a recurrent motif in her work – suspended between black thread, evoking the human presence.
In 2023, a webbed site-specific work by Shiota will make it to Los Angeles for a lobby takeover at Hammer Projects (March 26-Aug 27).
Yuko Mohri, Moré Moré (Leaky): Variations, 2022. Installation view at PAC Padiglione d'Arte Contemporanea, Milan, Italy. Photo: Claudio Bettio, Vulcano.
Tokyo-based artist Yuko Mohri (born 1980 in Kanagawa) is known for her kinetic sculptures. They feature found objects like umbrellas and rubber gloves and are highly influenced by Marcel Duchamp’s readymades.
For her More More ongoing series, she was inspired by a scene at the Tokyo subway where random objects were used to contain a water leak.
In 2015, she won the Nissan Art Grand Prix Award – a competition that recognises the work of emerging Japanese artists – for the work.
Meiro Koizumi, We Mourn the Dead of the Future, 2019. Courtesy the artist, Annet Gelink Gallery, Amsterdam & MUJIN-TO Production, Tokyo
In his video work, the Yokohama-based artist Meiro Koizumi (born 1976 in Gunma) employs various mediums, such as video, photography, collage and drawing, to question Japanese tradition and society.To produce his 2019 video installation We Mourn The Dead Of The Future, he recruited twenty young participants for a two-day workshop where they touched upon topics like self-reliance and mass execution, developing the discussions into a performance adapted for a five-screen work.
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Cover: Chiharu Shiota, After the Dream, 2011. La Maison Rouge, Paris, France. Photo Sunhi Mang. Copyright SIAE, Roma, 2020 and the artist.
Writer | Bana Bissat
Bana Bissat is a Milan-based writer who reports on sound art for Sound of Life. She has written for Flash Art, Lampoon, and Cultured. @banabissat