Sunday, February 3, 2013

"Tokyo 1955 - 1970: A New Avant-Garde" & "Gutai: Splendid Playground"
at MoMA & Guggenheim Museum NY: Nov 18 - Feb 25 & Feb 15 - May 8

The reasons are innumerable why Tokyo 1955 - 1970: A New Avant-Garde is likely going to be the best exhibit I see this year. Especially if considered in combination with the first-ever US retrospective of the related, Gutai: Splendid Playground at the Guggenheim. Big claim, I know, particularly so early in the 2013... but with the 40 Film Retrospective of New Wave, Experimental and post-War cinema and a series of ongoing installation/performance pieces in the MoMA lobby during the duration of the show, like Eiko & Koma "Caravan Project", in addition to the scope and rarity of the work in the exhibit. I think it's safe to say it's claim to that title is pretty much cinched. It's breadth encompassing artists and movements like Jikken Kobo which included in it's ranks composers Toru Takemitsu, Toshi Ichiyanagi and Joji Yuasa along with innovative post-War author Kobo Abe and his often collaborator, seminal Japanese New Wave director Hiroshi Teshigahara (who's brilliant existentialism cinema was finally given a proper and much overdue western release by Criterion and Masters of Cinema this decade. As a collaborative trio between the author and director, with the above mentioned Toru Takemitsu supplying the scores). Among other notable characters like movement co-founder Tetsuji Takechi and the once Pinku Eiga director turned political artist, Koji Wakamatsu (who in the past year was barred from the United States and unable to attend the New York premier of what were then his two most recent films, had a 30 film! retrospective at Cinémathèque Française, released two more new films "The Millennial Rapture" and "11/25: The Day He Chose His Own Fate" and sadly was killed by an errant cab driver in Tokyo). Overlapping with, and likely to even outshine the MoMA, there's the Guggenheim Gutai-focused exhibit and it's brilliant multimedia artist Atsuko Tanaka, 'mail' artist Shozo Shimamoto, painter and author of the Gutai Manifesto Jiro Yoshihara, the extraordinary visual and installation work of Motonaga Sadamasa, and another personal favorite, 'bodily painter' Kazuo Shiraga. Many of the major players in these movements overlapping with that of the Art Theatre Guild who's work figures largely in MoMA's film retrospective. And all of that only touching on the surface of what's on display, the scope and greater significance of the exhibit simply beyond what I'm able to convey here. For that I'm going to direct you to the the most coherent encapsulations I've read, Holland Cotter's "A Feisty Phoenix From the Nuclear Ashes" and Roberta Smith's "The Seriousness of Fun in Postwar Japan" for the New York Times.