Japan is well known for having produced great works of art in the past. But the kind of Japanese art we are going to talk about now belongs to the contemporary category. Contemporary, if you were to look up the word, means “belonging to the present”, so contemporary art technically refers to art that was recently made. However, the scope of Japanese contemporary art and its origins can date all the way back to five decades ago. In fact, in the art scene, they allow avant-garde works created in the period after the second world war to be called contemporary. However, chronological constraints aren’t the only definers for this category. Contemporary pieces must be bold, daring, fresh, and different! Another notable point to make is that art does not necessarily have to refer to paintings alone; contemporary art can be found in all kinds of media. Live models (performance arts), animations, sculptures, and even comics can be considered part of the contemporary art category.
Analyzing A Japanese Contemporary Painting
When we look at art, we think about what the piece is trying to convey, or how the art affects you personally. But contemporary paintings, particularly Japanese ones, have a bit more to deliver than a message. This kind of art doesn’t have the same analysis process as the rest of art, because it is purposely vague, and hints at trending Japanese culture and modern ideologies. One might think that a painting may look easy to do, or lack a sense of carefulness while it was created, but that is part of the beauty of the artwork. The contemporary artist strives to go deeper in hiding meaning in something that looks meaningless, as an expression of their intellect and wit. So, when you see a piece of contemporary art, take it as a cognitive challenge. Go a step deeper in trying to see what the artist is trying to say. Let’s try it out! In the painting above, we see a girl with hollow eyes that have the outline of a city, by Japanese contemporary artist Chiho Aoshima. The girl depicted in the image seems to be tearing up, looking at nature; trees, and birds. Instead of interpreting this as some strange, random cartoon, it could be an expression of a cry for help; a tiredness in the human mind that comes from the over-industrialization of nature and addiction to technology. What do you think?
Japan Contemporary Artist Notables: Brief Introductions
Kazuo Shiraga was born in 1924 and passed away last 2008. Most of his art was created during the post-war period (starting 1954), and was part of the Gutai movement. The “Gutai” was very much into the idea of exhibiting the connection of the matter and spirit via experimenting with art. Kazuo’s style was gestural; broad, swift, and colorful strokes filled his canvases. Presently, his works go for as much as seven million yen.
Jun Inouwe, an emerging Japanese contemporary artist, was inspired primarily by his grandfather who was a Zen Buddhist monk in terms of his artistic appeal and approach towards life. Born and raised in Kanagawa, he’s studied calligraphy and mixes his educated understanding of shodo into his love for graffiti. His bold, however, tempered, and balanced expressions using different mediums (clothes, canvases, shirts, street walls) make for a good example of the emerging youthful spin of Japan’s contemporary art culture.
Takashi Murakami turns heads in the art industry just with the use of his name and his “superflat” movement. His artworks are some of the most sought-after in the contemporary art world, featuring themes that portray Buddhism, skulls, flowers, mushrooms, and cartoony personalities. Not only is he a painter, he also creates molds out of plastic. He’s sculpted and painted works of art that have been coined as vivid and psychedelic. So, just how in-demand is Murakami? Well, a very famous sculpture of his, “My Lonesome Cowboy”, sold for 13.5 million dollars in New York. That says a lot!
Yoko Ono, the widow of Beatle superstar John Lennon, is not just known as the woman who broke up the Beatles but is also a contemporary artist in her own right. Quite experimental with her technique, she’s known all over the world not just for her unconventional music, photos, and sculptures, but more often for her primal screaming performances. Parts of these concerts are available around the internet. Before you say anything – yes, it’s considered art! But do beware; experiencing her guttural yells is truly an experience of its own tier.
More About These Famous Japanese Painters And Other Contemporary Artists
The beauty about these Japanese painters that dedicate themselves to the contemporary arts is how they give a voice, an acknowledgment, and an exhibition of both their own culture, as well as passing trends. The fame that surrounds these artists helps in the sense that society becomes more aware, and gets to indulge in this art in society’s own way. Japan has had a rough history in the recent centuries. Life there changed dramatically since the bombing of Hiroshima by the United States during World War II, and the entire nation has had to pick up what was left and start anew. The emergence of contemporary art in Japan has aided this reformation and healing process by giving Japan a fresh form of philosophy; something new (with a little bit of the old) to stand by and be proud of as its nation continues to develop. An example of contemporary art with a hint of tradition that has made its popular rounds are the imaginative reproductions of “The Great Wave Off Kanagawa.” This time, artists add their own elements to give it a more modern touch; be it with new colors, giant squids, and even cats!
Japan Contemporary Art - Museums Where They’re Located
Hara Museum Of Contemporary Art is a highly rated (4.2 stars out of 5) museum found in Shinagawa, Tokyo. It was initially constructed to be a mansion by its former owner, business tycoon Kunizo Hara, but was remodeled later in the 70’s. Aside from hosting art events throughout the year, this museum features both Japanese and other international contemporary artists’ work.
21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art is in the center of Kanazawa and opened in 2004. This modern, circular shaped building holds different rooms aside from its galleries, such as a lecture hall, library, and children’s workshop. An interesting facet of this museum is being able to step into “The Swimming Pool”; a viewable room that depicts the underwater environment of a pool – without the water. Leandro Erich created this. More or less most of the works in this museum were made in the 80’s. You may book an excellent and educational tour around this museum for about 24,500 yen.
Mori Art Museum, up in the Roppongi Hills Mori Tower in Tokyo, is found all the way up in the 53rd and 54th floors of the tall building. It’s named “Mori” after it’s the person who founded it, Minoru Mori, who passed away in 2012. Works here are contributed primarily by Asian artists. This contemporary art museum boasts of a packed event schedule, as it is in constant flux over its exhibitions of artworks and artists. Whatever artworks you come to see here stays in this museum only for a while, before it’s off to its next exhibition, or back to the hands of its owner. That’s what makes it special, though – the fact that you only have a small opportunity to see intricate and unique pieces in their glory. If you happen to be in Kyoto or Nara, you can also visit its sister museum, the Mori Yu Gallery, for more art displays.
Featuring Saito Yoshishige: A Japanese Abstract Artist
Born in 1904, Saito found his love for painting when he met Nakashino Toshio while they were both in school. However, Saito did not start painting as early as that. Initially drawn to literature, he only truly began painting at the age of 30. He was very much into surrealism (though initially was more into cubo futurism). His more popular abstract works feature more of a geometric and linear style on lacquered wood, which took to popular liking around the 80’s. His works on canvas are much more spontaneous and abstract, holding deep reds, blues, blacks, and impulsive brush strokes. Saito passed away last 2001, yet many of his creations still go for a hefty price in the art market.
281_Anti Nuke, A Famous Japan Street Artist
As for a more modern twist to contemporary art, 281_Anti Nuke takes the spotlight. His artwork started appearing in Shibuya, right after the devastating earthquake of 2011 happened. The artist behind the alias is heavily against the use of Nuclear power plants, expresses his protests via street art – specifically slapping stickers onto bare walls. These stickers range from palm-sized to life-sized and vary in design. One depicts a child swinging with the words “PARK” beside it, right above that, a radiation logo. Others are images of differently sized bombs being dropped. Because 281_Anti Nuke prefers to stay anonymous as he continues protesting, he is often referred to as the “Japanese Banksy”, as Banksy’s art and protest styles are quite like his. He wears a mask to cover his mouth, shades, and a hoodie over his head to protect his identity, and sometimes – to make a statement – a hazmat suit. 281_Anti Nuke wants to inspire society to use sustainable means of producing energy and to be careful with the use of that energy. He worries for the future of Japan and wants to spark awareness over energy conservation all over his country.
Shigeko Kubota: A Japanese Contemporary Sculptor
Shigeko Kubota was originally from the Niigata Prefecture. Born in 1937, she hails from a lineage of monks who lived in a temple from that said area. She later on became a prominent figure in Japanese Contemporary Art, aided by her Sculpture studies at the Tokyo University of Education. She was introduced to the art industry by her aunt, who was also a renowned modern dancer. She dabbled in other art media and live avant-garde performances. She also intermixed with other popular artists such as Yoko Ono. As a sculptor, however, one of Kubota’s most famous pieces includes built-in screens in wooden staircases that play a video of a naked woman going down stairs. The wooden factor in this creation gives a handcrafted feel to it. This sculpture can be found in the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Kubota seems to support the feminist movement, as some of her art makes valid points about gender inequality. The very fact that her husband sometimes overshadowed her in the art industry was an indication of the inequality on its own, which Kubota wanted to make a stand against.
Other Masterful Pieces In Japanese Contemporary Art
Aside from the already mentioned contemporary artists and their work, there are other masterful pieces that deserve acknowledgment. Riusuke Fukahori’s extremely lifelike layered paintings using resin are truly something to marvel at. Hisashi Tenmyouya’s unconventional mixture of traditional style painting and pop culture references are also a big hit in the contemporary art scene. One of his more known works, “Kamikura Nine Samura”, which depicts a statue of Buddha spray-painted with graffiti. Below Buddha stands a crew of modern-age ninjas posing. This original painting sold for $136,000!
Where Japanese Art Works Meet Aesthetic and Culture
There is a difference in style between the contemporary art of Japan, and that of the west. This is mainly drawn from the fact that both places have very different cultures and techniques of expression. Much of Japanese art takes on the philosophies and practices of the religions and ideologies of that nation. Zen Buddhism, for example, relies much on brush strokes and paced, precise calligraphy skills. The Japanese were also very spiritual when it came to their paintings, particularly landscapes; embracing the energy and space of the view they were painting. Some of these factors are still evident in contemporary arts. Jun Inouwe is a good example, with his calligraphic modern street art. As a nation, they respect their popular art as much as they do classical art, and celebrate it. Even Anime-style paintings and even sculptures are also widely accepted and acclaimed as artistic.
While the Japanese may have a different means of expression, it’s evident that the message many contemporary artists want to send out is the same. Whether it’s to cause a stir in the viewer’s thoughts or to instigate a movement, contemporary art is part and crucial to our current lives, as well as our history as human beings.