About the Collection
The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (main building) contains works of art from Japan and overseas spanning more than a century, from circa 1900 to the present day. Currently, the collection contains more than 13,000 works of various genres including nihon-ga (modern Japanese-style paintings), oil paintings, prints, watercolors, drawings, sculptures, photography, and film. In recent years, the museum has increased its focus on acquiring works by major overseas artists who have had a significant influence on Japanese art.
Recent Additions to the Collection
TSUJI Shindo, Poet (Prototype for Figure of Otomo no Yakamochi) , 1942
Tsuji Shindo (1910–81)
Poet (Prototype for Figure of Otomo no Yakamochi)
Color on Wood
196.0 × 47.0 × 41.8 cm
Gift of Uchida Kimiko FY2021
Photo by Otani Ichiro
Tsuji Shindo is best known for his clay sculptures. Inspired by their contemporaries in the avant-garde ceramics group Sodeisha, he and his close friend the sculptor Horiuchi Masakazu produced abstract forms that had a significant impact on postwar art in Japan. Two of Tsuji’s works already in the museum’s collection are among these abstraction, but this carved wood sculpture represents a human figure. A seminal work that won first prize at the 29th Inten (Imperial Art Exhibition) in 1942, it was donated by Tsuji’s patron Kuroda Jinzaburo, a fertilizer wholesaler in Osaka.
Otomo no Yakamochi, known as one of the Thirty-Six Immortals of Poetry, was the provincial governor of Inaba Province (present-day eastern Tottori Prefecture), and may have been familiar to Tsuji, who was from Tottori. The fact that the figure is holding a falcon is probably based on the fact that Yakamochi was particularly fond of falconry and is known to have composed poetry about the birds. The heightened nationalism of the war years no doubt encouraged the artist to select this subject from Japan’s distant past associated with the 8th-century Man’yoshu poetry anthology. In 1941, the previous year, Tsuji had made statues representing Japanese settlers in Manchuria.
Be that as it may, Otomo no Yakamochi is a rare choice of subject, especially as a nude. Fellow sculptor Hirakushi Denchu wrote that it was “an unexpected idea,”1 and the work’s individual elements are indeed odd: the falcon dangerously perched on his bare hand, the thin fabric adhering to the abdomen seemingly by chance, the pubic hair resembling a broom rendered with vertical lines. The overall impression, however, is a dignified one due to the evenness of the classical contrapposto pose, with the figure describing a gentle S-curve.
Perhaps the most notable feature is the rawness of the finish, with chisel marks, wood filling, and joints between sections remaining visible. According to Horiuchi Masakazu:
“He was not satisfied with the orthodox style of wood sculpture common at the Inten exhibitions, executed with precision using well-sharpened chisels, and he sought a more rugged technique, not so much rustic as raw and powerful… He left the wood filling in the joints clearly visible, as if intentionally making the sculpture ugly… His idea was that the material was wood, and it would be stronger as a work of art if the wood was shown in its true form.”2
Around 1940 Tsuji began experimenting with “direct carving,” taking the chisel to the wood without relying on a model. He wrote, “It is fine for there to be sculpture that reproduces, but there should also be sculpture that represents.”3 For Tsuji, this work was a prototype in a subjective, expressionist mode.
The notion of “sculpture that represents” was influenced by Hashimoto Heihachi, who was expected to accomplish great things in wood sculpture but died prematurely in 1935 (Hirakushi’s comment quoted above also describes Tsuji’s work as “inheriting the style of the late Hashimoto Heihachi,” and Horiuchi himself was also strongly interested in Hashimoto’s work.) This is an important example of sculpture from the wartime period, and calls for further research.
- Hirakushi Denchu, “Tsuji and Me,” June 18, 1949. Quoted in Ozaki Shinichiro, “The Work of Tsuji Shindo: To the Far Side of Sculpture,” Shindo Tsuji: A Retrospective exh. cat., 2010.
- Horiuchi Masakazu, “Model, Image, No-Mind,” Tsuji Shindo: Genius of Contemporary Sculpture exh. cat., 1983.
- Tsuji Shindo, “Complexity and Simplicity,” Ceramic Sculpture of Tsuji Shindo, Kodansha, 1978.
(Nariai Hajime, Curator, Department of Fine Arts / Gendai no me, Newsletter of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo No.637)
MURAKAMI Saki, Cover, 2016
Murakami Saki (b. 1992)
Copperplate print (lift-ground etching, etching, aquatint and spit bite [multicolor])
118.0 × 149.4cm
In FY2020, the museum acquired four large prints by Murakami Saki (two purchased and two donated). Two of these, Kafka (2014) and Cover (2016), were on view in the MOMAT Collection exhibition from March 18 to May 8, 2022.
While large-scale prints have become increasingly common since the 1980s, due in part to an increase in museum exhibitions, printmaking remains a genre in which many works appear introverted, delicate, and meticulous. Murakami Saki is a young printmaker, still in her twenties at the time of these acquisitions, but her large prints have sufficient power to hold their own when exhibited alongside other contemporary artworks, and have drawn attention as promising new developments in the printmaking field.
Born into a family that operated a veterinary clinic in Takasaki City, Gunma Prefecture, Murakami underwent surgery at the age of four for a congenital heart condition. The heart surgery she experienced as a child and the memories of her family’s clinic, a place where life and death went hand in hand, were formative influences, and as if drawing parallels with her own emotional scars, Murakami has been exploring the possibilities of consciously engaging with the “scarring” of printing plates intrinsic to copperplate printmaking. Her work, which evokes a sense of connection to fear, anxiety, pain, and mortality, takes personal experience as a point of departure, but goes beyond individual memory to delve profoundly into primal and universal issues of the heart, mind, and life.
Cover is a work from 2016, when the artist began to expand her handling of line and plane by introducing color plates and the spit bite technique, in which a corrosive solution is applied directly with a brush on top of powdered pine-sap sprinkled on the copper plate. At first glance the image appears to be of an angel and the sky in a fresh, eye-catching shade of blue, but on closer inspection, one sees a precisely rendered bird’s leg protruding from what is actually a blue sheet. The figure’s head is cut off by the edge of the picture, and there are no features on the visible portion of the face. There is a hidden object covered by the blue sheet, and the angelic figure is about to leave the scene with one of in its wings clutched in its arms. The simplified forms and thick, powerful brushstrokes of this striking picture depict a scene that seems deeply meaningful but is also unsettling and elusive.
The works of Murakami Saki, in which a disquieting sense of fear and anxiety coexists with fragile and vulnerable emotional fluctuations, evoke a sense of the fantastic, like a scene from a dream or a fable, and capture the viewer’s imagination in a variety of ways.
(Tsuzuki Chieko, Assistant Curator, Department of Fine Arts / Gendai no me, Newsletter of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo No.637)
Funakoshi Katsura,The Day I Go to the Forest, 1984
FUNAKOSHI, Katsura (b.1951)
The Day I Go to the Forest
Wood, paint, marble, rubber tubing
79.0 × 49.0 × 24.0 cm
Photo by Otani Ichiro
The book Art of the 80s: 100 Forms, INAX Gallery + Nakahara Yusuke (INAX, 1991) edited by Nakahara Yusuke, a record of the 1980s that introduces various artists over the course of that decade through the eyes of critics, contains not one straightforward sculptural rendering of the human figure (furthermore, both figurative paintings of people and works by female artists are few and far between.) Even going as far back as the 1950s, sculpture depicting the human form has rarely been in the limelight of contemporary art. This is noteworthy as an art-historical trend, but it also points to one reason Funakoshi Katsura’s emergence in the mid-1980s had such a significant impact.
This work features carved and painted wood, chisel marks left in a rough state, clothing on a figure that is one size smaller than life size, eyes carved from marble, half-length portrayal from below the navel up, combinations of wood with other materials, a thin steel pedestal, and a literary title. With all these characteristics, typical of his work up until the mid-1990s, it is a classic Funakoshi piece that has been shown at the Venice Biennale (1988), the Against Nature exhibition (1989–91), and major solo exhibitions.
Funakoshi’s work was hailed as a revival of traditional carved-wood sculpture, and it elicited many words from its appreciators. Looking back over past discourse on his sculpture, it is full of lyrical expressions so rich in metaphor they could be described as Symbolist poetry, and his works have appeared on the covers of many novels. What is it that so stirs people verbally, or poetically?
Besides the literary nature of his titles (the title of this sculpture was also the title of the first book of Funakoshi’s works), in visual terms one can point to the positioning of the eyes. The two black eyes are slightly horizontally offset, looking outwards in two different directions so we cannot trace what the gaze focuses on. In addition to the impossibility of “making eye contact” even when standing in front of the work, the arms below the wrists and the body from the hips downward are cut off, giving the figure a quietly meditative, self-contained air while also seeming to hint at something else. The viewer, too, is led into a meditative state and begins to weave an internal narrative. In metaphorical terms, the work resembles a mirror.
There was no specific model for this sculpture, and according to the artist, the distinctive rubber tubing affixed from the shoulder to the chest is a physical representation of a “glossy, viscous black band” appearing on this part of the body in the original drawing.1 This stance toward the working process, prioritizing ideas in drawings over physical realism, is certainly linked to the poetic atmosphere that sparks flights of fancy in the viewer.
1. Funakoshi Katsura: The Spring in I exhibition catalogue, The Shoto Museum of Art, 2020, p. 117.
(Nariai Hajime, Curator, Department of Fine Arts / Gendai no me, Newsletter of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo No.636)
Noguchi Yataro, Bastille Day, 1932
In this nocturnal scene a throng of men and women dance, their hands clasped, filling a narrow lane. Their clothing, in vivid shades of blue, white, and pink, emerges from the darkness in the glow of the city lights, beckoning the viewer’s eye. The painter, Noguchi Yataro, studied abroad in Paris from 1929-33, where he absorbed the influences of Matisse and others, and after returning to Japan, became a member of the Dokuritsu Fine Arts Society. This work was produced in Paris and first shown at the 4th Dokuritsu Exhibition in 1934, the year after his return, with the title July 14 Festival (Montparnasse). It depicts the annual Bastille Day festival on July 14 in France, commemorating the storming of the Bastille prison fortress which marked the start of the French Revolution.
The painting’s current title may remind film buffs of director René Clair’s Quatorze Juillet (Bastille Day; Japanese title Pari-sai [Paris Festival]) (Noguchi evidently changed his work’s title to match the Japanese film title, which had become well-known). Intriguingly, Clair’s film was produced in 1932, the same year as Noguchi’s painting. It is interesting to compare these two works, both inspired by the atmosphere of the same era. However, Noguchi’s painting lacks narrative content. In a statement released shortly after his return, Noguchi said:
“Painting is a medium that should advance on the strength of its own value and presence. Whatever else may accompany it – literary elements, musical elements, documentary elements, explanatory elements – I want to leave to those respective fields of endeavor, and let painting be painting.”1
Here he argues for the autonomy of painting, i.e. that painting should be fully devoted to visual exploration, and one can say he put that argument into practice in this painting. Noguchi’s friend the painter Okubo Tai, former owner of this painting, praised its intense contrasts between bright and dark areas, but in response Noguchi drew his attention to the importance of glazing, which utilizes the transparency of oil paint, rather than mere creation of gaudy contrasts.2 Close examination reveals loose, free-spirited brushwork in the dark areas of the painting, but one also notices the layering of cool colors such as green and complementary shades such as reddish brown, and the degree of care given to expressing the depth of the darkness and balancing the color tones overall. It is only because of this that the vivid hues of bright areas are so effectively brought to the fore.
- Noguchi Yataro, “Miscellaneous Thoughts: Let Painting Be Painting,” Dokuritsu Bijutsu no. 15, December 1934, p. 70.
- Okubo Tai, “On Noguchi Yataro, Etc.,” Mizue no. 495, November 1946, p. 53.
(Otani Shogo, Chief Curator, Department of Fine Arts / Gendai no me, Newsletter of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo No.636)
Tomii Motohiro, board band board #2, 2014
TOMII, Motohiro (b.1973)
board band board #2
Acrylic boards and polypropylene bands
40.0 × 40.0 × 42.0cm
Photo by Otani Ichiro
Fourteen acrylic plates, each with a thickness of 3cm, are stacked into a cuboid, with bands forming two color combinations, red / blue and yellow / green, alternately wrapping around 12 of the boards excluding the top and bottom ones. The bands are polypropylene, of the type used for packing corrugated cardboard.
To those somewhat familiar with postwar art, the approach and format of stacking identical rectangles will be reminiscent of the Minimalist art that emerged in the 1960s. However, the thin and insubstantial transparent material, the cheap appearance of the vibrantly colored bands, and the intricate and illusionistic device in which parts of bands sandwiched between plates disappear depending on the viewing angle give the work a light, airy feel that seems thoroughly unfettered by the complexities of art history.
Tomii Motohiro is an artist well known for three-dimensional works incorporating ready-made products. He has used a wide variety of mass-produced items including pushpins, bouncy balls, clips, pencils, and hammers. Tomii has described his practice as follows:
“What kind of structure should I select in order to let things exist both as they are and also as a unique object? The inherent conditions of each thing, e.g. size, material, weight, shape, and fixed images, determine the shape of a thing. The determined shape finds a new use for the thing, which is the most appropriate for itself. The newly adopted use is unique to the thing with this particular structure. From the moment of adoption, it is not a use anymore; it becomes a new condition of the thing. This quality is simultaneously restraint and potential. Autonomy can be achieved only from restraint.” (“The Reason to Make,” statement on Tomii Motohiro’s website.)1
As this statement shows, Tomii’s attention is focused on two types of conditions, the inherent conditions of “things” (objects) and newly introduced conditions. The bands tightly and evenly wrapped around the acrylic plates create a “new condition” that gives color and structure to this work, but by not deviating from the bands’ “inherent condition” of practical use for wrapping, the work ensures that viewers remain aware of their status as packaging materials. Similarities and differences between the two conditions that arise from Tomii’s intervention contribute to the work’s charm and visual interest.
Since 2011, Tomii has been posting sculptural-looking objects, scenery, situations and so forth encountered in daily life on social media, in a series called “Today’s Sculpture.”2 With their odd combinations of objects, chance compositions, anonymous actions taken toward objects, and unintentional humor, all of these photographs clearly convey Tomii’s interests. The series should not be underestimated due to its casual presentation: these photographs are not only entertaining, but also offer fascinating hints as to how Tomii’s work guides objects from “inherent conditions” to “new conditions.” Please have a look for yourself.
(Miwa Kenjin, Curator, Department of Fine Arts / Gendai no me, Newsletter of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo No.636)
Hatakeyama Naoya, Rikuzentakata-shi, Iwate on October 6, 2019 from Untitled (Tsunami Trees), 2019
Rikuzentakata-shi, Iwate on October 6, 2019 from Untitled (Tsunami Trees)
108.0 × 126.6cm
Why is half of the tree in the center of the picture withered and dead, while the other half is lush with foliage? The date, place name, and phrase “tsunami trees” in the title imply that this is a result of the tsunami during the Great East Japan Earthquake of March 2011.
The trees in the Untitled (Tsunami Trees) series were struck by the tsunami, including this tree in Rikuzentakata, and Hatakeyama photographed them in various parts of the wide disaster-affected area. The series was shown in the DOMANI: The Art of Tomorrow 2020 – Landscapes in Our Age: Scarred and Reborn exhibition at The National Art Center, Tokyo in early 2020, and three of the works have been newly acquired for the MOMAT collection.
The photographer Hatakeyama Naoya earned acclaim early in his career for series documenting limestone mines and the concrete urban landscapes that are these mines’ eventual outcome. Since then he has continually engaged with relationships between the natural world and human beings from various perspectives, and his photographs combining intellectual rigor with an extraordinary level of aesthetic perfection have earned great acclaim both in Japan and overseas.
The 2011 earthquake was a turning point for Hatakeyama’s work. He is from the city of Rikuzentakata, which was devastated by the disaster, and experienced the loss of his mother and the destruction of his parents’ home in the tsunami. Hatakeyama subsequently made many trips back to Rikuzentakata to document the post-earthquake landscape. These photographs appeared in several exhibitions and books, along with photos never previously released, such as personal snapshots of his hometown before the earthquake. The foundation of his activities, as a photographer who explores the state of the world through his camera, was profoundly shaken, and this disruption in itself became a subject of artistic exploration, as reflected in the change in his artistic practice.
After this period of exploration, he began work on the Untitled (Tsunami Trees) series in 2017 after encountering the Japanese walnut tree appearing in this work. Hatakeyama wrote of this tree, “In it I can see two different continuums of time, one that lasted until yesterday, and one in which we are living now.”1
MOMAT is collecting works related to the earthquake on an ongoing basis. We believe the museum should play the role of considering, through works of art, what people experienced and how the disaster impacted our society at the most profound of levels, and communicating these ideas and experiences to future generations. Over the decade since the earthquake, we have continued to question how we should engage with and convey its reality and memory, and in this process the Tsunami Trees series offers us a wealth of suggestions.
1. Hatakeyama Naoya, “Kesen-gawa no onigurumi [Japanese Walnut on the Kesen-gawa River,” Nihon Keizai Shimbun, March 8, 2020.
(Masuda Rei, Curator, Department of Fine Arts / Gendai no me, Newsletter of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo No. 636)
Yoshida Katsuro, Touch “Body－47” , 1989
YOSHIDA, Katsuro (1943–1999)
Powdered graphite and oil on canvas
145.0 × 112.0cm
Yoshida Katsuro (1943–1999) produced a diverse body of work, originally making minimal modifications to basic materials such as wood, iron, and light bulbs and emerging as a central figure in the movement known as Mono-ha (the “School of Things”) in the late 1960s and early 1970s. In the 1970s he began making prints, using plates derived from photographs. Yoshida won the grand prize at the 1st International Biennial Exhibition of Prints in Seoul (1970, National Museum of Korea). In the 1980s he began painting, and his most noted work in this medium is the Touch series, to which Touch “Body－47” belongs.
Black dots and lines writhe across a canvas primed in light ocher. The black material is graphite powder, applied to the surface with the fingers rather than a brush: as the title implies, the marks on the painting are made by “touch.” Even areas that appear solid black are, on closer examination, evidently made with countless overlapping fingermarks.
Let us consider the implications of the title Touch for a moment. We can say that during his years as a key figure in the Mono-ha movement, Yoshida concealed signs of “hand-crafting” by combining readymade materials such as wood, iron, and light bulbs. The same can be said of his prints of the 1970s. Generally, printmaking is thought of as making multiple copies of an image crafted by the artist’s hand, such as a woodcut, but by printing with plates derived from photographs, he did his utmost to eliminate any signs of “hand-crafting” such as carving or drawing.
The Touch series, created in the later years of the artist’s life, did the opposite. He grappled directly with the canvas, pressing and rubbing his graphite-covered fingers against it again and again. This represented a breakthrough that differed radically from the traditional techniques of painting. As an artist who produced bodies of work in completely different media, all of them significant, during different phases of his career – sculpture during the early years, prints mid-career, and painting in his later years – Yoshida can be seen as a singular figure in postwar Japanese art.
To return to this particular work: the Touch series presents different types of spaces on canvases of various shapes, the largest of which have widths of two meters or more. Touch “Body－47” is a relatively small work. The trails of graphite running over the surface, with the canvas beneath showing through in places, generate an uneasy atmosphere. The work contains multiple forms of varying sizes, and when viewed overall the image resembles an outstretched hand. Or it may be seen as a part of the body, or perhaps as a canyon. The indefinable image can be said to emerge solely from the soft, dark powdered graphite material. Its richly expressive quality offers one answer to the recurring question of why painting is still necessary.
(Furutate Ryo, Assistant Curator, Department of Fine Arts / Gendai no me, Newsletter of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo No. 635)
Hayami Gyoshu, Scroll of Sketches (Winter Peonies) , 1926
HAYAMI, Gyoshu (1894–1935)
Scroll of Sketches (Winter Peonies)
Pencil and color on paper, scroll
31.4 × 377.4cm (33.3 × 496.4cm including mounting)
The museum was able to acquire a work that had been entrusted to the collection for many years, namely Hayami Gyoshu’s Scroll of Sketches (Winter Peonies) (referred to below as “the MOMAT work”), consisting of his sketches from 1926 made into the form of a picture scroll. The date is known thanks to an inscription by the artist, “Peonies by Gyoshu, February 1926,” at the beginning of the scroll. With a total length of 377.4cm, it was made by connecting four sheets of paper of various lengths.
Incidentally, another Gyoshu picture scroll of peonies is known to exist. Peonies (Scroll of Sketches) (total length 309.5 cm) is in the collection of the Yamatane Museum of Art. The year is not inscribed, but this series of sketches is thought to have been made around the same time as those of the MOMAT work, as it features the same approach to drawing, in its precise shapes made with a finely sharpened pencil, and application of color in its blurred wash of pink (thought to be made with the deep red pigment enji).
There is one more related work, Peonies (color on silk, 1926), in the collection of the Toyama Memorial Museum. Produced in September of the same year, it appears to adapt the same shape as the eighth peony from the right on the MOMAT work. It would be ideal if everyone could also view Peonies in person, preferably scrutinizing it through a monocle. On close examination, the gofun (white pigment) applied to the edges of the petals is thin and homogeneous like film on the surface of hot milk, and the petals are veiled with networks of extremely fine lines of white or pink. Viewers are guaranteed to be enraptured by the picture’s exquisite surface.
In light of this painting, these sketches can be regarded as preparatory. In fact, Gyoshu tested out several approaches in the MOMAT work, and they can be divided into those adopted in the painting and those not adopted, one of the former being color applied so that extends outside the outlines. The pink bleeding out of the outlines into the space around makes an impression like that of fragrance emanating from the flowers. Gyoshu could not have been unaware of this effect, and while he used the technique more modestly in the painting than in the MOMAT work, the pink around the flowers and the green around the leaves are both lightly blurred.
So, what were some of the approaches not adopted? They include emphasis of outlines and shading with pencil, as in the fourth through seventh flowers from the right. At the sketching stage, was Gyoshu considering painting options such as strengthening the contour lines with ink or adding shading in the ink-wash painting style? These sketches, which have a different effect from that of the completed painting, enable us to imagine how this might have looked.
(Tsurumi Kaori, Curator, Department of Fine Arts / Gendai no me, Newsletter of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo No.635)
Sugito Hiroshi, the secret tower , 1998
SUGITO, Hiroshi (b.1970)
the secret tower
Acrylic and pigment on paper
176.0 × 230.0cm
SUGITO, Hiroshi the secret tower , 1998 ©Hiroshi Sugito
SUGITO, Hiroshi the secret tower , 1998 ©Hiroshi Sugito
A tree stands in a green meadow. Its shape, with branches sprouting out at the top of a thick and massive trunk, recalls a baobab tree. Checking the painting’s title to see if this is correct, the viewer finds only the phrase the secret tower. This English title appears in the Japanese caption as well, and the standard rules of capitalization, which state that it ought to read The Secret Tower, evidently do not apply. The artist, Sugito Hiroshi, explains:
“The first letters of the title are lowercased to give the impression of a fragment plucked out of the middle of a sentence, and so as not to over-emphasize the title (something I was oddly focused on in my younger days). At the time I was making paintings in such a way that their contents could interconnect regardless of order, and at times framing them in curtains, characteristics that resemble kamishibai [traditional storytelling accompanied by pictures, performed in a small theater-like booth].” (E-mail from Sugito Hiroshi to the author, September 2, 2020).
The word “secret” has a range of nuances: untold, confidential, hidden. The meaning of “tower” is, so to speak, more solid. Indeed, there are small windows like those of a tower near the top of the tree trunk. In other words, the tree seems to have an interior, occupied (one imagines) by people. Judging by the size of the windows, the tree/tower is quite a huge one.
A small fighter plane is headed for the tree/tower. It may be an attempted attack, but judging by the size differential it will be difficult to inflict serious damage on the tree/tower. An attack that must be carried out, even though it is obviously foolhardy… The target is a tree/tower that has somehow grown to colossal size amid grasslands that look like the ends of the earth.
Here one is once again reminded of the type of tree it resembles, a baobab. The name of this tree, which grows mainly on the African savanna, is unexpectedly well known in Japan because it appears in The Little Prince. In Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s story, the roots of three baobab trees spread across the Prince’s small planet, and the trees will eventually grow up from these (invisible) roots and cover the world entirely unless he pulls the saplings up as soon as he notices them sprouting, symbolizing powerful and proliferating evil.
Sugito says that he was aware of baobab trees when he produced this painting, and he had read that baobabs in Africa could “communicate” with other baobabs even a considerable distance away (Telephone conversation between Sugito Hiroshi and the author, September 30, 2020).
However, it was not important here to confirm whether the tree depicted is a baobab (it seemed gauche to ask, and I did not do so). Rather, it is notable that this painting, painted in the year of the US Clinton administration’s Operation Desert Fox bombing campaign in Iraq, appears in a new light in our current time, inviting reinterpretation and reaffirming the enduring power of art.
(Hosaka Kenjiro, Curator, Department of Fine Arts / Gendai no me, Newsletter of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo No. 635)
Azami Takako, Plum and Maple Trees , 2009
AZAMI, Takako (b.1964)
Plum and Maple Trees
Sumi and pigment on paper
265.0 × 200.0cm
Azami Takako’s Plum and Maple Trees was newly acquired in fiscal 2018. Azami has been drawing attention as a painter who opens up new frontiers of possibility in nihon-ga (modern Japanese-style painting), and won the top prize at the 7th Higashiyama Kaii Memorial Nikkei nihon-ga Awards in 2018.
When she was a student at Tama Art University in 1988, Azami noted the effects of a failed application of dosa, a traditional material used to prevent bleeding. This experience led her to conduct various experiments and to arrive, in the late 1990s, at a technique of working on the backs of sheets of paper, using bled-through dots and spots to powerful effect. The artist says that when ink is layered on the front as usual, the color becomes dull, whereas when one applies accumulated layers on the back, only fresh, vivid shades of the ink appear on the front surface, creating a vibrant impression. When one works on the back, the parts initially painted will bleed through the surface first, meaning that high-impact things in the foreground should be rendered first. A complex interplay of lines folding back on themselves is superimposed on pointillistic effects produced by sliding the brush over the paper and bringing it to a full stop, resulting in a surface that conveys the spatial expanse and multi-layered depth of the atmosphere, the light, and the rustling of leaves, and while far removed from a realistic, direct depiction of a tree, it captures and preserves initial impressions at the time of sketching. This approach does not allow for correction of errors, and requires the ability to skillfully control shading and bleeding of ink, but even the artist herself says that she cannot completely foresee how a painting will appear from the front, and on the contrary this bold embrace of chance outcomes and unexpected occurrences adds to the appeal of her work.
Azami produced Plum and Maple Trees after returning to Japan after studying in the United States for a year, and finding that back in her own studio, with high ceilings and considerable depth from front to back, she wanted to work with a vertical composition. The work depicts an old plum tree and a young Japanese maple just beginning to unfurl its buds in her garden, with complex intersections of the plum tree in the background and Japanese maple branches in the foreground illuminated by the sun, and is characterized by round white spots placed while sliding the brush horizontally. “Like the black ink spots and lines of the branches, the white areas against the black were also made from the reverse side, using a mixture of the traditional white pigment gofun, dissolved in nikawa resin, and acrylic dosa liquid. Dosa liquid alone would also work, but it becomes transparent when it dries, so I add some gofun. After I finish painting, I cover the entire back of the paper with gofun (to eliminate disparities between the white background and the white strokes I have applied, and because I feel it heightens the clarity of the black).”
The intricately entangled dots and brushstrokes brim with vitality, making Plum and Maple Trees an energetic image that fuses the power of inward concentration and outward diffusion, expressing the humming of air, light, and branches with a rich sense of organic life and amply conveying a wealth of new possibilities in ink wash painting.
(Tsuzuki Chieko, Curator, Department of Fine Arts / Gendai no me, Newsletter of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo No. 635)
Maruki Toshi (Akamatsu Toshiko), Emancipation of Humanity , 1947
MARUKI, Toshi (AKAMATSU, Toshiko) (1912–2000)
Emancipation of Humanity
Oil on canvas
130.0 × 97.0cm
The title is inscribed in red paint at the bottom left of the painting. In a previous exhibition it was presented with the title Nude (Emancipation of Humanity), but according to the work’s previous owner the word “nude” (rafu, literally “female nude” in Japanese) had been added for organizational purposes. Thus, when it was acquired for the museum’s collection, the title was changed to match the inscription on the painting.
Another inscription reading “1947.5.17.Toshi” is above the title. The first public appearance of this work was at the 1st Avant-Garde Art Exhibition held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum from May 23 to June 7, 1947. Those who saw this painting in Ueno would easily have understood the feelings of the artist, who inscribed the title and exact date on the painting as well as signing it. An event with emancipating effects for humanity had just occurred a few days earlier: on May 3, 1947 the new Constitution of Japan came into effect, calling for popular sovereignty, respect for basic human rights, and pacifism. The artist’s sense of elation at the prospect of living under principles totally different from those of the Meiji Constitution (enacted 1890) seems to have inspired the title, which suggests an ongoing process. To render the sense of liberation visible, Maruki Toshi depicts a figure with gaze directed diagonally upward, nude, and in a space surrounded by flowers, a location that cannot be identified and is thus in a sense abstract.
These features of the painting become more clearly pronounced when it is compared to another of Toshi’s works, Jinmin hiroba (People’s Square) (location unknown), which was shown at the same exhibition. Here “People’s Square” probably refers to the Imperial Palace Plaza in Tokyo. For several years after the war, this plaza was used for various gatherings of the people such as May Day. Toshi seems to have been among the participants in a so-called Food May Day on May 19, 1946, and the figures in her Jinmin hiroba (People’s Square), who are mostly female, may be based on that experience.
If Emancipation of Humanity was painted so as to present a diametric contrast to that scene inspired by real life, then the figure should not be thought of as merely a flesh-and-blood woman. Aspects of a real adult female figure such as pubic hair and nipples are either absent or rendered indistinctly, and the focus is on capturing the body as a volume rather than focusing on such details. The handling of the paint is also notable, especially on the left side of the body, where it resembles the plaster or clay of a statue.
For this embodiment of human beings living under the new constitution, Toshi drew inspiration from sculpture, a medium suited to portrayal of idealized human figures, while placing it in a quasi-abstract space only achievable in painting. This mode of expression enabled her to make a certain statement. By contrast, a look through art magazines of the time shows that female nudes by male painters are less confident and more coy or demure, facing away from the viewer, with cloths wrapped around their waists or legs, or their bodies twisting around. It is clear how fresh and bold Toshi’s work must have appeared.
(Hosaka Kenjiro, Curator, Department of Fine Arts / Gendai no me, Newsletter of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo No.634)
Anthony CARO, Lap, 1969
CARO, Anthony (1924–2013)
Height 109.0cm, width 244.0cm, depth 108.0cm
© Barford Sculptures Ltd.
Photograph by Ootani Ichiro
First, to list the components of the work: there are five steel elements joined by welding, three curved plates, one straight L-shaped beam, and one U-beam (channel beam) forming an arc. All are painted a warm shade of brown. Three-dimensional works made by assembling mundane, non-artistic materials such as these came to be known as constructive sculpture, beginning in the early 20th century with movements such as Cubism and Constructivism. In the work of Anthony Caro, aggregations of elements such as steel plates and frames do not form closed masses as in cast or modeled sculptures. By arranging multiple elements and establishing relationships among them, work in this mode creates “spatial forms” differentiated from the unbounded actual space around. In critical discourse this has been described with the terms “relational” or “articulation,” and the critic Michael Fried stated, “…everything in Caro’s art that is worth looking at is in its syntax.” (Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” in Artforum [New York] 5, no.10 [Summer/June 1967], p. 20).
So, what is it that unites the five elements of this work into a single form? It is the presence of the pedestal, or to use Caro’s terminology, the table. Caro referred to sculptures resting on pedestals or tables, which he began making in 1966, as “Table Pieces.” Application of color weakens the material presence of the steel, and the piece’s physical distance from the ground gives it a very light and buoyant feel. The form is entwined around the table, sticks out over its edges and droops toward the floor. Caro’s description of “a sculpture seated on a table” is apt, and the Lap of the title refers to the legs from the knees up when seated, often used to support things, and can also mean “a loose hanging part of a piece of fabric.” According to Caro, the height of the horizontal surface (the tabletop) and its edges are essential to the Table Pieces (Anthony Caro exhibition, Kasahara Gallery, 1979, p.4). In this work as in the others, these parts play a vital role, with the end of the steel U-beam arc supported by the edge of the table, and the horizontal line of the tabletop echoing the straight line of the L-beam descending diagonally to the left.
Usually, a pedestal is prepared for a sculpture after the sculpture is complete. When placed on a pedestal, the sculpture is distinct from the world around it, independent and self-supporting. By contrast, Caro begins with the table (pedestal) and then the sculpture takes shape around it. In this way, Caro devised a new sculptural approach and mode of expression, in which the table does not separate sculpture from the outside world, and does not “put it on a pedestal” of institutional or cultural consensus, instead serving as an indispensable structural element of the work.
(Miwa Kenjin, Curator, Department of Fine Arts / Gendai no me, Newsletter of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo No. 633)
Yokoyama Taikan, Kannon in White, 1908
YOKOYAMA, Taikan (1868-1958)
Kannon in White
Color on silk, hanging scroll
140.3 x 113.0cm
Kannon in White, newly presented at last year’s exhibition The 150th Anniversary of his Birth: Yokoyama Taikan, has now been added to the collection. The whereabouts of this work had been unknown after it was reproduced in Taikan gashu (Paintings of Taikan), published in 1912. On the lid of a scroll box associated with the work is an inscription reading “By the brush of Taikan, a spring day, 1908.”
The date of 1908 makes sense in light of the work’s style. Taikan had traveled to India five years earlier, in 1903, with his associate Hishida Shunso. Though he stayed for less than half a year, Taikan subsequently incorporated Indian stylistic elements into his Buddhist-themed works for several years, including sari-like costumes, splendid jewelry, long bow-shaped eyebrows, large double-lidded eyes, and narrow, prominent noses. The artist’s fixation on “exotic” facial features had already faded by the time of The Floating Lantern (collection of the Museum of Modern Art, Ibaraki), dating from 1909, thus it makes sense that Kannon in White, in which this flavor remains strong, dates from a year and a half earlier than The Floating Lantern.
If there were any doubt regarding the work’s date, it would be about who might have commissioned such a large work from Taikan at this time. This was over a year after Taikan moved to Izura, Ibaraki Prefecture following the relocation of Nihon Bijutsuin (the Japan Art Institute), and he was still there in spring 1908. Few if any art dealers came to buy paintings from Taikan while he was in Izura.
Here we should note the name of Morimoto Rokubei, listed as an owner of the above-mentioned Taikan gashu collection of works. This man ran a brewery and a warehousing business in Kobe, eventually becoming a devout Buddhist and handing over his family business to his successor. He also went by the name Zuimei. The “zui” was evidently borrowed from Otani Kozui, the Buddhist abbot known for leading exploratory expeditions to Asia, and the name Zuimei is seen here and there in early 20th-century historical records in relation to Kozui and to his brother Otani Sonyu.
One of Taikan’s motivations for going to India was probably his ambition to capture something of the primal sources of Japanese art there, and to breathe new life into art with Buddhist themes. Meanwhile, Otani Kozui traveled to India in search of the origins of Buddhism, and Morimoto Zuimei was a great admirer of Otani’s. It seems that Morimoto may have directly commissioned from Taikan a representation of Kannon wearing a sari, but at this point it is still unclear.
In terms of points of contact between Taikan and Zuimei, we can cite the latter’s introduction of the artist to Murakami Kagaku, who had recently enrolled at the Kyoto Prefectural School of Painting in autumn 1911, and a single record of a painting commission from Zuimei in the artist’s “record of painting commissions” (collection of Yokoyama Taikan Memorial Hall), which lists these commissions from 1925 through 1957. These are intriguing clues for further investigation.
(Tsurumi Kaori, Curator, Department of Fine Arts / Gendai no me, Newsletter of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo No.632)
David Smith, Circle IV, 1962
SMITH, David (1906–1965)
Height 215.9cm, width 152.5cm, depth 107.0cm
Purchased FY 2017
Photograph by Ootani Ichiro
Last year the museum acquired a sculpture by David Smith from the Circle series, which consists of five works produced in 1962 and 1963.
Smith was born in the US state of Indiana, and in between taking courses at several universities, worked on the assembly line of an automobile factory. He moved to New York in 1926 to study at the Art Students League. Made with the industrial materials of iron and stainless steel yet marked by a hand-constructed, free-form quality, Smith’s work is considered indispensable to any discussion of 20th-century sculpture.
Smith is an artist known for working in series (however, he eschewed the use of casting, and the concept of “editions” is absent from his oeuvre). Surely the best-known of these series is Cubi (1961-65), made with burnished stainless steel. The works in this series, which consist of rectangular prisms, cubes and cylinders, were highly praised by modernist advocates, i.e. art theorists, oriented toward purity and abstraction of form.
From this perspective the Circle series seems to be an exception to the rule, but matters are not so simple. During the 1960s Smith also produced the Zig series consisting of iron plates painted in flat, matte and often monochromatic color. In other words, incorporating colors and planes into sculpture must have been an important concern for the artist.
The Circle series is characterized by incorporation of a circle, a highly self-enclosed form even compared to other planar shapes, and by the use of multiple colors in a single work. Among them, this work (IV) is exceptional in terms of its distinctive brushstrokes, its lack of apertures in the circle (in I, II, III, and V there are circular holes inside the larger circle, although they differ in size), and clear introduction of multi-directionality to control the sense of movement.
In fact, this work is thought to have been made before the others in the series. Smith was known to assign numbers to works in series regardless of the order in which they were actually produced, and this series is no exception. Incidentally, I, II and III are currently in the collection of the National Gallery of Art, and V is in the JP Morgan Chase Art Collection. This work remained in Smith’s possession and then in that of his estate, but MOMAT was able to purchase it, a cause for celebration in that there are virtually no opportunities to see Smith’s work in person at museums in Asia.
(Hosaka Kenjiro, Curator, Department of Fine Arts / Gendai no me, Newsletter of The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo No.629)
Sol LeWitt | Wall Drawing #769 On view from December 22, 2020 at the “Room to Consider the Building” on the 3rd floor
Wall Drawing#769: A 36-inch (90cm) grid covering the black wall. All two-part combinations using arcs from corners and sides,and straight and not straight lines, systematically. 1994, water soluble wax pastel, water based paint and pencil on wall.
Courtesy the Estate of Sol LeWitt, Massimo De Carlo and TARO NASU
Copyright the Estate of Sol LeWitt. Photography by Kioku Keizo
About Sol LeWitt’s Wall Drawing #769
In fiscal 2018, the museum acquired one of Sol LeWitt’s (1928–2007) wall drawings. The work has now (December 2020) been completed in the “Room to Consider the Building,” located on the third floor next to the Collection Gallery.
LeWitt, a key figure in Minimalist and Conceptual art who began working in New York in the 1960s, created over 1,200 wall drawings over the course of his career. But that does not necessarily mean that LeWitt drew all of the works himself. As the artist explained, “The artist conceives and plans the wall drawing. It is realized by draftsmen (the artist can act as his own draftsman); the plan is interpreted by the draftsman. There are decisions that the draftsman makes, within the plan, as part of the plan. Each individual, being unique, if given the same instructions would understand them differently and would carry them out differently.” (Art Now, June 1971)
As the text suggests, LeWitt’s wall drawings are executed by a draftsman as specified by the artist (or his estate). In other words, the works are the product of a relationship, recalling that of a composer and a performer. Moreover, the use of this type of system presents the viewer with questions regarding the foundations of art, such as the role of the creator, and the relationship between the concept and the physical entity.
As the title of the wall drawing, which adorns the museum wall, explains, the work is a grid measuring approximately 90 by 90 centimeters. Each square is made up of a two-part combination, containing 16 types of arcs, and straight and non-straight lines, with a total of 120 patterns. The rhythm, arising from the repeated and divergent figures, presents the eye with a comfortable stimulating experience akin to a visualization of minimal music.
In the past, the work was made for exhibitions of LeWitt’s work that were held in Paris in 1994 and Madrid in 1996 (both were erased after the exhibitions).This version was created by the following:
Drawn by Cho Sachiko
With assistance from Ishimura Masami and Hirakawa Toshiko
Installation of the wall drawing From October to December 2020
Slide Show : Installation of the wall drawing
Online : Now Showing
Distributed Free Online: "A Pottery Produced by Five Potters at Once (Silent Attempt) with Japanese Sign Language and Subtitles", directed by TANAKA Koki, 2021
In an attempt to broaden opportunities for art appreciation, the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo produced in 2021 a new version of the video A Pottery Produced by Five Potters at Once (Silent Attempt)” directed by TANAKA Koki (2013) from our collection by adding Japanese sign language and subtitles. It is an eighty-minute HD video in color with audio. We distribute the video online for free for one year.
You are invited to view the video as it also includes English subtitles.
Distribution period: March 31, 2021–March 31, 2022※Video distribution has ended.
Events such as Curator Talks are suspended as part of anti-COVID-19 measures. Instead, we deliver Online Curator Talks with short videos introducing our collection. Do not miss the online talks as they also include English subtitles.
TAKAMURA Kotaro, Hand, c.1918 | Nariai Hajime
UEDA Shoji, Papa and Mama and Children, 1949 | Masuda Rei
ROUSSEAU Henri, Liberty Inviting Artists to Take Part in the 22nd Exhibition of the Société des Artistes Indépendants,1905-06 | Tsuzuki Cieko
YOROZU Tetsugoro, Leaning Woman, 1917 | Miwa Kenjin
HAYAMI Gyoshu, Green Grapes and Tea Bowl, 1920 | Tsurumi Kaori
OGIWARA Morie, Woman, 1910 | Furutate Ryo
Exhibition| Kitawaki Noboru: To See the Universe in a Seed | Otani Shogo