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Written by Takeshi HIRATA   
Published: January 07 2011

fig. 1  (from left) Genpei Akasegawa, Yutokutaishi Akiyama, Tatsuo Ikeda,
Shintaro Tanaka, Hiroshi Nakamura, Tatsumi Yoshino
Courtesy of Gallery-58

fig. 2  View from the exhibition
Courtesy of Gallery-58

fig. 3  View from the exhibition
Courtesy of Gallery-58

fig. 4  View from the exhibition
Courtesy of Gallery-58

    We always expect "newness" in contemporary art. The appearance of new expressions or new artists is no doubt an affair to be welcomed. However, we should not ignore veterans with deepened expressions obtained from their aging. Group exhibitions of contemporary art mainly showcase young artists, and those exhibitions tend to exclude artists who are middle to older aged veterans. This phenomenon reveals a glimpse of age discrimination in Japanese society.

    In the mean time, there are a series of exhibitions going on that have "avant-garde" in their titles. They are trying to revalidate postwar avant-garde arts and the artists. Some of those are "The Avant-Garde of Nihonga: 1938-1949"(*1), "Tatsuo Ikeda: Trajectory of the Avant-Garde"(*2) and "Setsu ASAKURA: Avant-garde girl"(*3).

    In line with the recent trend to hold exhibitions on the theme of "avant-garde," "Avant-garde★70" was held at Gallery 58 in Ginza. This exhibition prohibited exhibits from anyone under age 70, and it featured displays of whole new creations. The exhibitors are Genpei Akasegawa, Yutokutaishi Akiyama, Tatsuo Ikeda,Shintaro Tanaka, Hiroshi Nakamura, and Tatsumi Yoshino. It was a group exhibition of artists indispensable in the history of Japan's contemporary art.

    What is "avant-garde" to begin with? "Avant-garde" is military jargon originating from "advance guard". Thus it means "farthest advance." From there, people took the word to mean a movement or an attitude aiming to change present circumstances or to be in the forefront of the period. In the art world, the word "avant-garde" is given to experimental or radical works of arts or acts.

    "Avant-garde" art in Japan was very active before World War II and also from the1950 to the1960s after World War II. Especially, the appearance of the artists who created or exhibited unorthodox works of art in the postwar era which was when the artists of the "Avant-garde★R70" exhibition made their debut, shocked the art world as well as society.

    However, there is no doubt the degree of shock in the "newness" in avant-garde has lessened in our age. It is no surprise. "Avant-garde art" developed a new art lingo which did not exist before that time. Thus, things that these "avant-garde" artists attempted then, have already become a precondition for our age. Rather, I think the facts or the history to prove what had been attempted to express "avant-garde" in that time keeps awakening the "avant-garde" in us. The series of exhibitions trying to revalidate "avant-garde" provide us opportunities to shed light once again on the "avant-garde" hidden behind contemporary art.

    Getting back to "Avant-garde★R70", I can't see much mobility inherent in the "avant-garde" works of art at this time, things such as belligerence against tradition or society, revolution or movements. Those who have seen the exhibitors' works such as Genpei Akasegawa's "Hibi Kore Genjitsu", Yutokutaishi Akiyama's tin plate statue of Dalico or Hiroshi Nakamura's pictures of girls in school uniform or of locomotives, will see small exhibits that are extensions of their past work. But we can't see the radicalness or the impact of the "avant-garde," that we learned in contemporary art history, in these works.

    However, continuing to create works of art for a long time does not mean to preserve one’s "avant-garde". Rather, the most difficult aspect is continuing to search for one’s own way of looking at the world or one’s own techniques after "avant-garde." The word "avant-garde" prefixed to the title of this exhibition does not describe the exhibits but the exhibition itself. In other words, the fact that there is an opportunity for these active artists over age 70 to exhibit at an exhibition called "avant-garde" and the fact that these "avant-garde" artists are still around and are very "avant-garde" in our age is noteworthy. Aren't we biased to view contemporary art as only an expression of youth? Will the artists having a long career only be talked about in records or legends of "avant-garde?” Will their works be stored until they are given the next opportunity to be exhibited?

    Past the period of "avant-garde" and still around. The new works in this exhibition created by the six artists are the answers from those who passed through "avant-garde" period. There is no radicalness or belligerence of youth to transform this world. Despite the word "avant-garde" in the exhibition title, their works are aloof. There is a newness which does not require the word "avant-garde". I probably dwell too much on the word "avant-garde" because of my own youthfulness.
(Translated by Yoshikazu Noda)


*1: "The Avant-Garde of Nihonga: 1938-1949": held in The National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto (Sep.3 - Oct.17, 2010), The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (Jan.18 - Feb.13, 2011), and in Hiroshima Prefectural Art Museum (Feb.22 - Mar.27).

*2: "Tatsuo Ikeda: Trajectory of the Avant-Garde": held in YAMANASHI PREFECTURAL MUSEUM of ART (Jun.19 - Jul.19, 2010), TARO OKAMOTO MUSEUM of ART,KAWASAKI (Oct.9, 2010 - Jan.10, 2011), and in Fukuoka Prefectural Museum of Art (Jan.29 - Mar.13, 2011).

*3: "Setsu ASAKURA: Avant-garde girl" was held in BankART Studio NYK (Sep.10 - Nov.7, 2010).

Referred exhibition

"avant-garde★R70", September 13 - October 2, 2010 at Gallery-58

Last Updated on January 05 2011

Editor's Note by 

     It is a unique group exhibition by 6 artists over 70 years old. They are considerable artists for the history of Japanese modern art, and all announce the latest work.

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