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Research Trip Memos from Japan: From Archives to Super Rats

From museum storage rooms and Butoh dance performances to gallery visits and Shinjuku by night, a group of MoMA curators in the C-MAP research group led by Associate Curator Doryun Chong went to Japan in the fall of 2011. The goal: to visit the people and places that have been crucial in the curators’ research on performative art in postwar Japan. The group visited eleven museums, ten-plus galleries, two studios, archives, performance venues, and tiny Shinjuku alleyways and drinking holes that played important roles in 1960s avant-garde film. During the trip, the MoMA group met with more than forty artists, critics, scholars, and gallery owners. For a handful of the curators, this was their first trip to Japan. Explore the images and notes by the members of the group to discover what they encountered and some of the highlights of the trip. And tell us what you think they missed: Are there galleries, studios, museums, restaurants, or bars that you enjoy visiting in the Tokyo and Osaka areas (and beyond) that are not included here? If so, share them with us!

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Doryun Chong

Associate Curator, Department of Painting and Sculpture The Museum of Modern Art Doryun Chong is the inaugural chief curator of M+, Hong Kong, a museum for visual culture of the 20th and 21st centuries from a Hong Kong/Chinese perspective with a global... Read more »
Elligott  michelle headshot3

Michelle Elligott

Chief of Archives The Museum of Modern Art Michelle Elligott is Chief of Archives of The Museum of Modern Art. Ms. Elligott joined MoMA as a Mellon Fellow in 1995; she became Rona Roob Senior Museum Archivist in... Read more »
Ana v

Ana Janevski

Associate Curator, Department of Media and Performance The Museum of Modern Art Ana Janevski is currently Associate Curator in the Department of Media and Performance Art at The Museum of Modern Art. Most recently, she co-organized the performance... Read more »
Chris lew

Christopher Y. Lew

Assistant Curator MoMA PS1 Christopher Y. Lew is Assistant Curator at MoMA PS1. He joined the Museum in 2006 and has organized the exhibitions New Pictures of Common Objects, Chim Pom, Clifford... Read more »
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Nancy Lim

Curatorial Assistant, Department of Painting and Sculpture The Museum of Modern Art Nancy Lim is a Curatorial Assistant in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art. She recently worked on the exhibition Tokyo 1955-1970: A New... Read more »
Eva respini portrait

Eva Respini

Curator, Department of Photography The Museum of Modern Art Eva Respini is the Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the ICA/Boston. She was previously Curator in the Department of Photography at The Museum of Modern Art and organized... Read more »
Suzuki headshot

Sarah Suzuki

Curator, Department of Drawings and Prints The Museum of Modern Art Sarah Suzuki is Curator of Drawings and Prints at the Museum of Modern Art. At MoMA, Ms. Suzuki’s exhibitions include Soldier, Spectre, Shaman: The Figure and the Second... Read more »
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Research Trip Memos from Japan: From Archives to Super Rats MAP


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Research Trip Memos from Japan: From Archives to Super Rats

From museum storage rooms and Butoh dance performances to gallery visits and Shinjuku by night, a group of MoMA curators in the C-MAP research group led by Associate Curator Doryun Chong went to Japan in the fall of 2011. The goal: to visit the people and places that have been crucial in the curators’ research on performative art in postwar Japan. The group visited eleven museums, ten-plus galleries, two studios, archives, performance venues, and tiny Shinjuku alleyways and drinking holes that played important roles in 1960s avant-garde film. During the trip, the MoMA group met with more than forty artists, critics, scholars, and gallery owners. For a handful of the curators, this was their first trip to Japan. Explore the images and notes by the members of the group to discover what they encountered and some of the highlights of the trip. And tell us what you think they missed: Are there galleries, studios, museums, restaurants, or bars that you enjoy visiting in the Tokyo and Osaka areas (and beyond) that are not included here? If so, share them with us!

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From museum storage rooms and Butoh dance performances to gallery visits and Shinjuku by night, a group of MoMA curators in the C-MAP research group led by Associate Curator Doryun Chong went to Japan in the fall of 2011. The goal: to visit the people and places that have been crucial in the curators’ research on performative art in postwar Japan. The group visited eleven museums, ten-plus galleries, two studios, archives, performance venues, and tiny Shinjuku alleyways and drinking holes that played important roles in 1960s avant-garde film. During the trip, the MoMA group met with more than forty artists, critics, scholars, and gallery owners. For a handful of the curators, this was their first trip to Japan. Explore the images and notes by the members of the group to discover what they encountered and some of the highlights of the trip. And tell us what you think they missed: Are there galleries, studios, museums, restaurants, or bars that you enjoy visiting in the Tokyo and Osaka areas (and beyond) that are not included here? If so, share them with us!

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Day 1

Keio University Art Center and Archives

Great to see the Sogetsu ephemera collections at the Keio University Art Center. The Sogetsu materials dovetail nicely with pieces we have (including great Akiyama Kuniharu material) in the Museum’s Gilbert and Lila Silverman Fluxus Collection Archives. The unique materials (like the letters in the Takiguchi Shuzo Papers) were wonderful.

Materials at the Keio University Art Center and Archives

Roundtable at Tokyo University of the Arts

Organized by Kobata Kazue, the roundtable at the Tokyo University of the Arts started with Kobata's introduction on performance and perfomativity in Japanese art in the 1960s. She screened 8mm film footage of Hijikata Tatsumi’s performance Revolt of the Flesh, and spoke about the activities of the Ankoku Butoh movement. Kobata raised an interesting point regarding the relation of painting and performance in 1960s Japanese art.

I was particularly struck by the work of Tadasu Takamine (born in 1968, lives and works in Kyoto), who was a member of a radical performance group Dumb Type. Tadasu is a very interesting artist with radical video and performance practices dealing mainly with politics and sexuality. During the roundtable, the artist screened his controversial video piece Kimura-san (1998), featuring footage of the artist providing sexual relief for a disabled friend, as well as the performance he did during his residency in New York of exchanging clothes at flea markets in the East Village in 1993. He is well-known for his video God Bless America, shown at the Venice Biennale in 2003. For eighteen days, Tadasu and his female partner lived in an entirely red room, filming themselves as they worked, ate, slept, and had sex. In the resulting time-lapse footage, we see them kick and punch a sculpture into being: a giant head, resembling George W. Bush, which continually sings God Bless America.

Roundtable at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music

Day 2

Meeting with Hisano Atsuko of the Saison Foundation

Founded in 1987, the Saison Foundation is one of the leading organizations providing grants to contemporary theater and dance groups from Japan and abroad, offering residency and studios for rehearsal. Its origins are in Studio 200, an experimental artistic space from the 1980s that was situated in the Ikebuko department store. The white box of Studio 200 hosted performances by Hijikata, Teshigawara Saburo (an important figure in contemporary dance during the ’80s), and concerts by rock groups from Korea and China.

The Saison Foundation, with Hisano Atsuko

Chim↑Pom: Not Just Provocations

I used to feel unsure as to where this young group’s provocations were headed. In the wake of the disasters in Tohoku in 2011, and seeing their courageous series of projects and performances, I’m beginning to think that they really have a sense of purpose and mission—trying to shake the art scene and even the wider society, which perhaps have grown too comfortable and complacent after many decades of stability and prosperity. http://chimpom.jp/

Meeting Chim↑Pom

Chim↑Pom presented an overview of their work, which includes projects from their solo show Real Times, made in response to the March 11 disaster at Fukushima. It’s amazing how quickly they reacted. They made a powerful series of videos and actions: they collaborated with local youths in Soma City, raised a flag in dangerous proximity to the Daiichi plant, and made a polemical intervention in Taro Okamoto’s mural in Shibuya train station.

A Visit to MUJIN-TO Production’s Gallery

Mori Art Museum

“METABOLISM” Exhibition at Mori Art Museum

Visit to the Mori Art Museum and the exhibition METABOLISM: The City of the Future. Dreams and Visions of Reconstruction in Postwar and Present Day Japan. Very extensive exhibition about the most widely known modern architectural movement to have emerged in Japan in the 1960s. Meeting with Mami Kataoka, the museum’s chief curator, after a walkthrough.

Kudos to the “METABOLISM” Team!

I think we were blown away by the depth of the scholarship, impeccable installation, and of course, the richness of the subject itself. Kudos to the Mori!

Dinner with Minemura Toshiyaki, Hirasawa Go, and Hayashi Mihchio

14.1 nl dinner with minemura hayashi hirasawa
From left: Christopher Y. Lew, Doryun Chong, Hirasawa Go, and Sen Uesaki

Film Critic Hirasawa Go’s Shinjuku Night Tour

Day 3

A Visit to the Hara Museum

Utterly delightful: loud, semi-naked cabbage throwing and water spitting

We Are BANANA!!

Hello Guys!! We are BANANA!! from Tokyo made in Dangerous JAPAAAAAAAAAAAN!!!!!

Thanks for your LOVE to BANANA.

BANAGAKU★☆Super Spunky Sports Autumn Grand Tournament!!!!!

Ecstatic Critique?

There are about 40 to 50 performers, split equally between men and women on a stage that’s barely big enough to hold all of them. But somehow, they manage to jump up and down and around, dancing and singing like a giant boyband or girlband-cum-cheer squad en masse in constantly changing formations for over an hour! It’s also like Billy Blanks’ Taebo or one of those extreme, military-style workouts. We were overwhelmed by the constant sensory overload, including some of those sweat-drenched actors running into the audience. The director, Nikaido Toco, who later joins the troupe on the stage, was incredible too. She sounded like Kim Carnes screaming at the top of her lungs while doing all those moves in perfect sync with her actors. In the midst of this madness, there’s actually something serious and a complexity there. Sonically and visually, they reproduce a struggle of the sensory overload of Japanese mass media, where any meaningful message is impossible to hear unless you can project even louder over that noise. Maybe their performances are an ecstatic critique of the uniformity that they at the same time wear and abuse in school uniform.

Day 4

National Museum of Art, Osaka

Two highlights of the National Museum of Art, Osaka, included a Shiraga Kazuo painting dedicated to Michel Tapié and a wild, surrealistic Tiger Tateishi painting depicting a samurai, the KKK, Mao, and a crawling child. (We all agreed Doryun should include it in his Tokyo exhibition!)

21.2 me tateishi national museum of osaka
Nancy Lim studying a painting by Tateishi Koichi (Tiger Tateishi) that would eventually make it to New York for the exhibition Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde. Photo: Michelle Elligott

Breaker Project

Breaker Project

Breaker Project is a cultural organization that started in 2003. Based in Osaka, it supports a variety of community-based art projects and presents them in temporary exhibition spaces throughout the Kansai region. At the time of TsukaharaYuya's installation, Breaker Project occupied a two-story, multifamily residential unit from the early 20th century that the current artist-in-residence discreetly transformed by means of delicate light, sound, and sculptural installations that fiddle with the infrastructure. One room was also modified to include a sleeping area for overnight visitors, and on the floor above, an enclosed platform was built in the otherwise unstable attic (the artist had fallen through the attic floor a few months prior and broken his arm). The project was accompanied by varied educational programming intended to engage the local community indefinitely — even after the show closes and Breaker Project moves on.

Contact Gonzo

Contact Gonzo

Contact Gonzo is a performance group from Osaka founded in 2006 by Tsukahara Yuya and the dancer Kakio Masaru. Gonzo means “eccentric” or “hooligan”; the name comes from Gonzo journalism of the ’70s in the United States. The group has developed a very specific form of contact improvisation and Russian-style Aikido. Based on physical ability and trust, its innovative practice is at the crossroads of contemporary dance, performance, and street actions. Contact Gonzo's first works were performed outdoors, mainly inspired by street and skate culture, and uploaded on YouTube. Recently they have been performing in many festivals and art spaces in Japan and Europe. The group has also developed a an innovative strategy of documenting their performances.

Contact Gonzo Live

I traveled across town to the Kichijoji area of Tokyo to catch a performance by the Osaka-based performance collective contact Gonzo. We met the members of contact Gonzo in Osaka, and they showed us documentation of their performances. This young collective straddles the worlds of dance, performance, and visual art: the founder is trained in theater design and dance, but other members come from the fields of graphic design and art, as well as dance. When I heard they were performing as part of the Teratotera Festival of contemporary dance and performance, I jumped at the chance to see them live. Contact Gonzo performed for 20 minutes on the roof of the Tokyu department store, in front of an audience of about fifty people.The performance included five of the six members (the sixth member was photographing and videotaping), was improvisational, and included water bottles and a single illuminated lightbulb as the only props. It was one of the most exhilarating performances I have seen, especially since it was punctuated by a dramatic darkening of the skies and light rain.

Day 5

A Meeting with Shiomi Mieko

Interviewing Shiomi Mieko

I had the honor and privilege of conducting an interview with Shiomi Mieko. A strikingly elegant and articulate artist, she spoke with insight and ease about her work and her participation in Fluxus activities. I especially appreciated her explanations of how she arranged the cards for the MoMA exhibition Thing/Thought: Fluxus Editions, 1962–1978 and her inspirations for Spatial Poem and Disappearing Music for Face. In regards to the latter, she stated her belief that anything can be music, even the shifting clouds. She once saw a young girl’s smile fading; she said it was like beautiful music.

Day 6

Yumiko Chiba Associates, Ginza Showroom

My day in Tokyo began with a viewing of vintage photographs by Uematsu Keiji at the Ginza showroom of Yumiko Chiba Associates. We have only one work by Uematsu in MoMA’s collection, and I was excited by the opportunity to see more. The Uematsu exhibition included vintage 1970s prints of his performative actions in the landscape. With these works, he was seeking to draw out shapes in space and use his body to find the equilibrium point within a gravitational field, creating mutual interrelationships between the body, the object, and space. He is an artist who later became associated with the Mono-ha movement. It was interesting to see the little-known photographic works of an artist mostly known for his sculpture. In addition to the...

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Yumiko Chiba Associates, Ginza Showroom

My day in Tokyo began with a viewing of vintage photographs by Uematsu Keiji at the Ginza showroom of Yumiko Chiba Associates. We have only one work by Uematsu in MoMA’s collection, and I was excited by the opportunity to see more. The Uematsu exhibition included vintage 1970s prints of his performative actions in the landscape. With these works, he was seeking to draw out shapes in space and use his body to find the equilibrium point within a gravitational field, creating mutual interrelationships between the body, the object, and space. He is an artist who later became associated with the Mono-ha movement. It was interesting to see the little-known photographic works of an artist mostly known for his sculpture. In addition to the exhibition of works by Uematsu, there was a fascinating exhibition of conceptual photography titled To the 1970s: The Turning Point of Photography and Art. The exhibition traced conceptual photographic practices in the 1970s in Japan, including works by Masafumi Maita, Kanji Wakae, and Takamatsu Jiro’s 1972–73 series Photograph of a Photograph (one example is in MoMA’s collection). Many of the works in the exhibition explored the materiality of photography and an intermedia relationship. The works were made by artists rather than photographers, and at this time, photography emerged as a tool to escape known forms of visual perception and forge new visual languages. Many of the works and artists in this exhibition were new to me. It was exciting to become acquainted with a different tradition in Japanese photography.

Yumiko Chiba Associates

Day 7

Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

The Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography has one of the best photography programs in the world. Kasahara Michiko is their chief curator and a friend. She is ambitious and inventive in her programming, and I was happy to see her again and to meet her fellow curators at the museum, Fujimura Satomi and Tasaka Hiroko. We viewed works from their storage collection, including Otsuji Kiyoji prints. The images dated from the 1950s, but the artist made the prints in 1989 and '90, at the time of the museum’s opening. We also looked at photographs by Hosoe Eikoh, including works from his seminal collaboration with Butoh legend Hijikata Tatsumi for the book Kamaitachi, which involved a series of journeys to northern Japan in order to embody...

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Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

Photographs by kiyoshi otsuji
A display of images by Otsuji Kiyoji. Photo: Eva Respini

The Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography has one of the best photography programs in the world. Kasahara Michiko is their chief curator and a friend. She is ambitious and inventive in her programming, and I was happy to see her again and to meet her fellow curators at the museum, Fujimura Satomi and Tasaka Hiroko. We viewed works from their storage collection, including Otsuji Kiyoji prints. The images dated from the 1950s, but the artist made the prints in 1989 and '90, at the time of the museum’s opening. We also looked at photographs by Hosoe Eikoh, including works from his seminal collaboration with Butoh legend Hijikata Tatsumi for the book Kamaitachi, which involved a series of journeys to northern Japan in order to embody the presence of mythical, dangerous figures at the peripheries of Japanese life. At MoMA, we have works by Hosoe in the collection, but only a few from his collaboration with Hijikata. As always, there is no substitute for seeing works in the flesh, so to speak. We ended our visit of the museum with a viewing of the Naoya Hatakeyama exhibition Natural History. The exhibition was a survey of some 150 color photographs focusing on the landscape, including pictures made in Switzerland, France, and Japan. The exhibition included new work detailing the aftermath of the March 11 earthquake and tsunami in Hatakeyama’s hometown, one of the hardest hit areas. The work juxtaposed a slide show of pictures Hatakeyama had taken in his hometown before the destruction with some sixty photographs of the disaster and its aftermath. The exhibition also included a new video animation of his well-known explosion series, for which he scanned and animated his previously still photographs. This step represents a new artistic endeavor for Hatakeyama.

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