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Artist File 2009
Written by Tomohiro MASUDA   
Published: May 01 2009

     This is the second year for Artist File. Where has the noise caused by the recent "Matazo Kayama Solo-Exhibition" gone? I feel this empty museum is more insubstantial than usual. (The box office has been closed. The sale and collection of tickets can be conducted at the entrance.) The venue will be crowded again once the Louvre Museum exhibition starts.

     Artist File 2009 has no unified theme, which is said to be its main characteristic; however, my impression is loose, the same or looser than the last exhibition. The nine artists selected this time "vary greatly in age from early thirties to late fifties and the artworks also vary, including flat, cubic, movie and installation". It is said that "each artist sincerely pursues their own way and acquires their own expression style." Through their artworks, "today's art situation can be shown and how contemporary artists confront society and the viewpoint from which they create their artworks will be confirmed". But why were these particular nine artists selected when such criteria could be met by anyone?

MIYANAGA Aiko, ”A morning a calm comes" (2008) (Installation at Busan Biennale 2008) aquariums, naphthalene, mixed media, Photo: MIYANAGA Aiko, Courtesy of Mizuma Art Gallery

     To concretely define one stream of today's art is nearly impossible in this era when postmodern has become common; moreover, the effort to define it goes up in smoke in many cases. It is a dilemma, quite impossible to resolve. There is no idea, no definition, no demarcation to satisfy all parties. However, it might be possible to say that having no specific theme means abandonment of responsibility by the curator. What is the difference between this Artist File and a favorite artist list by a blogger (like me)?

     Let us read the exhibition catalogue. Here we can find a story about the encounter between the artist and a curator who recommended the artist. "How the artists confront society and the viewpoint from which they creating their artworks" has hardly ever been investigated. However, how the exhibition displays the "viewpoint" at the "national" museum in 2009 is unclear. Do they not intend to deconstruct the authority of the so-called “curator” and present themselves as "radical"? Or by not setting a theme, do they try to silently present a many themed exhibition, rich in undistinguished originalities, finally resulting in a postmodern show, even though it is full of foreign words that are so obscure that ordinary people get a headache upon reading them? Without a unified theme, some artists are selected but others are not. There should be responsibility for selection and accountability. If this artist selection is based on the taste of the curators (this would not necessarily be a bad thing and it is impossible for human beings to be completely free of their taste), the difference in taste of a curator and a blogger should be clarified.

     Let us consider the following. In fact, the National Art Center, Tokyo is a huge rental space. (According to its website, it costs about one million yen for two weeks. Therefore, on a price per square meter basis, it is much cheaper than a small rental gallery in Ginza which costs around thirty thousand yen per week). A curator can do anything he pleases if he pays to rent the space and run the exhibition. No one complains about an exaggeratedly-themed exhibition at a rental gallery. If we think Artist File is an extension of such an exhibition, it is acceptable. We have the right to show whatever we want in a location we are paying for.

Copyright © Meo Saito

     It would be a touching story if a curator actually used his own money to rent the space and operate Artist File, but this never happens. In short, the difference between a curator and a blogger is that of social positioning. It is possible for the curators to choose a "radical" method of not having a unified theme because they are in the position of being able to select. Borrowing an up-to-date sociological statement, being a curator itself has vested rights. Can you hear the resentment by many would-be curators and part-timers that have no way to become full-timers? They plan and actually run ambitious exhibitions at alternative spaces by squeezing out their own ideas and money, and devoting themselves to their studies. That does not result in them becoming full-timers. On the other hand, full-time curators in the national museum do not determine a certain theme and do not pay money, but utilize a huge comfortable white cube constructed by a famous architect as they like. The reason the organizers of Artist File did not have a theme is not due to awareness of unavoidable conflicts involved in selecting a theme. It is just an exercise of their right to be able to plan/run an exhibition "without a theme". In other words, Artist File is a more authoritarian exhibition than any other themed ones.

     I hope to continue the Artist File project. Some of the artworks introduced this time are worth seeing. As the last conscience or atonement of The National Art Center, Tokyo - a museum without its own collection and which can be described as the symbol of the empty Japanese art world - it means a lot to exhibit contemporary art in Japan and archive it as a catalogue. However, it is also a fact that a half-hearted conscience about “selecting artists” hurts people most severely. The exhibition was so empty that I became anxious about its future operation; however, I expect this project will continue "with concerted efforts as an exhibition to question the evolution of the viewpoint and activities" by curators and as "an important activity to play the role as an art center in Japan". "The wound can be healed by the spear that caused it" as Parsifal said.
(Translated by Chisato Kushida)

Last Updated on June 13 2010

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