Exploring a "New World" Through Japanese Photography at MFAH

Nobuo Yamanaka's "Pinhole Room Revolution 1"
Nobuo Yamanaka's "Pinhole Room Revolution 1"
Courtesy of the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo

Grainy and swirling, yet starkly revealing images bridge the past and present in For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968-1979. Organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, "For a New World to Come" focuses on avant-garde Japanese works produced during a time seminal to Japan's own history, as well as that of the global art world. Featuring approximately 250 photographs, photo books, paintings, sculpture, and film-based installations by 29 artists, "For a New World to Come" reveals the explorations of contemporary art as manifested through the Japanese lens.

Amid social and political change and expansive student protests, Japanese artists' increasing interest in conceptualism came into full bloom within late 1960s and 1970s.

Through the inexpensive and easily reproducible photographic medium, many young artists abandoned past standards of physical beauty and construction to allow the ideas behind works to dominate physical form.

Their photographs were often rendered in a grainy or unfocused aesthetic. At the same time, many became interested in the documentation of surrounding life, capturing events of social turbulence as well as everyday moments.

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In Shōmei Tōmatsu's photo book Oh! Shinjuku, for example, the artist juxtaposed pictures of protestors, pedestrians, and railway passengers with those of strippers and underground theater actors--many of which often bear the smeared mark of movement or have been taken from unusual angles.

Scale also comes unto play as an area of experimentation, appearing in works such as Takuma Nakahira's Circulation: Date, Place, Events--for which the artist took and publicly posted approximately 100 photographs of his daily life over seven days--and in Nobuo Yamanaka's room-sized pinhole camera-rendered pieces.

A temporal nature of existence is also pervasive throughout the works of these artists. This is especially evident in pieces seeking to document process. For example, Keiji Uematsu's photographed a site-specific performance in which he held or leaned against large wooden blocks in different configurations in a gallery doorway. The fleetingness of a moment is also captured within the hazy swirls of blacks and whites or, less often, blurs of color in these photographs. Some works project a feeling of disorientation, while others embody a sense of fearless exploration. Tension and anticipation are also typical, such as demonstrated by the interaction of light, shadow, and hovering surfaces in Koji Enokura's P.W. No.51, Symptom - Floor Hand.

Although the work of American and European artists functioning during this time period has been shown extensively within the United States, that of non-Western artists has been left largely unexplored, making this extensive exhibition one of the first of its kind.

An "Opening Day Celebration" at 2-4 p.m. Saturday, features a public discussion with artist Daidō Moriyama. The exhibit runs March 7 - July 12 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. For information call 713-639-7300 or visit mfah.org.


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