Organized by the museum and the British Council, it featured forty-eight artworks made in the s by twenty-five artists in their thirties and forties. After the survey exhibition, three major group shows of contemporary British art took place at Japanese museums, in , , and Because the curators and institutions that organized the three exhibitions loosely overlapped with each other, they conceived the three shows as part of a continuing project of showing contemporary British art in Japan. Aspects of British Art Today in was the first and biggest show of the three, and travelled to five cities: Tokyo, Utsunomiya, Osaka, Fukuoka, and Sapporo.
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Because all four museums to which the exhibition travelled apart from the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum were opened in the s, many of the curators learned how to introduce contemporary foreign art and artists to Japan through organizing this exhibition, with the ungrudging support of the British Council.
In contrast to the previous two shows which had focused on painting, sculpture, and photography, video projection was conspicuous at this exhibit, featuring in more than half of the exhibited works. They also saw Brilliant! During their research trip they gathered data on more than one hundred artists. After narrowing down the selection of artists, the organizers, with slightly different members, visited Europe for further research in June before making another trip to Britain in the autumn of the same year to make their final selection, and to visit the Sensation show at the Royal Academy of Arts.
According to the Foreword to the catalogue, the artist insisted that he would not participate in a show he could not be fully involved with, and that he declined to join all the group shows at that time—although this was not actually the case, given his inclusion in many group shows held in Europe and America.
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That is why the participating artists often referred to wounds to the body, inner traumas, and multiple identities as both literal and figurative subjects for their works. The exhibition dealt with the internal reality that was shaped in relation to the social and political issues of the day. The s saw the bursting of the economic bubble in Japan and the prolonged recession it caused, in addition to the increasing sense of unease brought about by tragedies such as the Great Hanshin earthquake and the Tokyo subway sarin attack in and the Kobe child murders in Wounds, traumas, and identities should have been topics of interest to many people in Japan.
But it seems that the high-minded ambitions of this exhibition were not completely understood by its audience. In his review of the show, Sawaragi Noi, a leading Japanese art critic known for his fondness for subculture, emphasized the close connections between contemporary British art and subculture.
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Few of the other reviews in Japan seem to have been any different. Ultimately it is important to consider at least how far the show succeeded in introducing contemporary British art to Japan.
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But its ambition was not understood in a satisfactory way in spite of the rising interest in British culture in Japan in the late s. In the sphere of contemporary art, Japan began to foster an interest in young artists at home and in Asia rather than just following in the footsteps of European and American art, as it had been for a long time. In terms of introducing European and American art to Japan, nationally themed exhibitions had been popular for a long time in the country together with one-person shows. But this framework was losing its validity in the late s, when local governments began to cut down the budgets of the public museums by outsourcing their operations to shitei kanrisha , or designated administrators, whose system was legislated in , for greater efficiency and transparency.
That is why public museums began to have difficulty organizing large-scale exhibitions of overseas art based on long-term research at home and abroad.
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Another reason for the decrease of nationally themed exhibitions, especially for European and American art, was that the idea of national schools, or groupings, became increasingly questionable, in view of the increasingly transnational character of much contemporary art. It was not until the early years of the twenty-first century that the YBAs achieved the fame they deserved in Japan, not so much as a major movement in the s within the United Kingdom, but rather as what triggered recent tendencies in contemporary art in the global context.
It should be better considered as an historically important exhibition that encapsulated the practices developed by Japanese museums over the years, for dealing with contemporary art from overseas up to the point where they, like everyone else, were overtaken by the surge in globalization of the art world.
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Kajiya Kenji is an art historian and associate professor of representation studies at the University of Tokyo. His book manuscript, Color Field Painting in the Cultural Context of America , explores how Color field painting negotiated contemporary art, design, and culture in the United States.
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The exhibition was organized by the museums, the British Council, and the Asahi Shimbun with the support of the Japan Foundation. The role of the British Council cannot be overemphasized.
According to Henry Meyric Hughes, who was Director of Fine Arts at the Council between and , the Council provided necessary contacts for Japanese curators on their various visits to London for exhibitions and arranged for them to meet artists, critics, and others as well as guiding them in their choices of artists and works and helping with the detailed loan negotiations. The Japan Foundation also played an important part in the development of artistic and curatorial exchanges between Britain and Japan. I sincerely thank Hughes for giving me useful comments on my manuscript. Richard Harris, an artist working closely with nature, was subsequently included in the showing in Fukuoka.
State of the Nation: Writing Contemporary British Art
I modify the English translation in the catalogue according to its original Japanese text. John Bester, separate leaflet set with the catalogue, 8— For some, the subcontinent remains present and immediate — as first-generation immigrants for whom close family ties remain and whose early years and possibly their young adulthood were spent there. Yet this book argues that to deny the rich mix of cultures that informs contemporary Britain is to deny perhaps our most fertile potential to speak, through art, about our contemporary world.
British South Asian artists who, by choice or otherwise, look, Janus-like, to both East and West are particularly interestingly placed to shed light upon contemporary experience, so much of which remains predicated upon the legacies of colonialism. From these legacies have emerged both meta- and personal-political discourses which are crucial to the way we see the world now and to our understanding and shaping of British and European society. Also inherent within them are possibilities for cross-cultural influence from which artists in the West have long since benefited and to which artists in the East have long since been subjected.
Being an artist and South Asian, with all the infinite variety of possibilities implied by that conjuncture, merits celebration and examination, not least because of the extent to which it has prompted some of the most innovative and challenging art being produced in Britain now.
Of equal importance is the opportunity such an examination offers to draw attention to the work of artists whose achievements do not shine easily in a culture where the new is prized above all. The artists in this book exemplify that potential. As a book about art, Beyond Frontiers aims to introduce the reader to some of the influential political, art historical and theoretical discourses surrounding contemporary visual arts practice, and especially the practices of many British South Asian artists.
Eight essays by distinguished critics, art historians, theoreticians and artists themselves, range widely in the subjects they address.