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Major exhibition examines the role of photography in the formation of contemporary art in Japan
Daidō Moriyama, Yokosuka, 1970. Chromogenic prints, 10 15/16 x 16 1/4 in. Courtesy Taka Ishii Gallery © Daidō Moriyama.

NEW YORK, NY.- In 1968, amid an economic boom, many in Japan registered widespread discontent over social inequalities. At the same time, the country was roiled by protests against the Vietnam War and the upcoming renewal of a treaty extending American occupation. These circumstances mark the point of departure for For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968–1979, the first comprehensive exhibition to focus upon a critical moment when Japanese artists and photographers, sensing that their traditional practices were no longer valid, began experimenting with the possibilities of camera-based practices, laying the foundations for contemporary art in Japan.

For a New World to Come is on view at New York University's Grey Art Gallery from September 11 to December 5, 2015 and Japan Society Gallery from October 9, 2015 to January 10, 2016. This exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.

Spanning the two New York venues are more than 250 photographs, photography books and journals, paintings, sculptures, videos, and a film-based installation, many shown for the first time in New York. Works by 29 artists and photographers are framed within a global context, illustrating Japan's participation in an international dialogue on new practices that incorporated photography.

By adopting 1968 as "year zero," the exhibition charts not only political and social turbulence, but also several landmark exhibitions of photography that generated momentum for the medium. Foremost among these was Photography 100 Years: A History of Photographic Expressions of the Japanese, a massive survey organized in part by the photographers Takuma Nakahira and Kōji Taki, who would found the independent journal Provoke. While Photography 100 Years traced the making of modern (kindai) Japan mainly through fine arts and documentary photography, Provoke deconstructed the medium, reflecting the era's embrace of a fully contemporary (gendai) aesthetic. Soon in 1970, the legendary 10th Tokyo Biennale Between Man and Matter demonstrated to Japanese audiences a range of conceptual use of the camera, forming an important aspect of then-emerging contemporary art.

Against this backdrop, For a New World to Come traces parallel and at times overlapping developments by photographers and artists that would emerge out of the initial experiments with the camera of the late 1960s. Some were led to explore the flow of time and the intangibility of space through conceptual photographic series and installation or performance works. Others, for the first time in Japan, increasingly relied on the camera to capture introspective and deeply personal journeys.

For a New World to Come has been curated by Yasufumi Nakamori, Associate Curator of Photography at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, which organized the exhibition. The quality and depth of MFA Houston's photography holdings, reflected in the exhibition, are complemented by exceptional loans from institutions such as the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo; the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography; and Tokyo Polytechnic University.

"Japan Society Gallery has long advanced a better understanding of photography and art during the postwar period in Japan, including the work of two of the most important figures in this exhibition, Daidō Moriyama and Shōmei Tōmatsu," says Amy Poster, Interim Consulting Director, Japan Society Gallery. "In 1999, we presented the first retrospective exhibition of Moriyama's photographs anywhere in the world and six years later introduced Tōmatsu to New Yorkers. Now we are again privileged to present new scholarship on a period that resonates to a surprising degree today."

"This exhibition extends the Grey's history of presenting avant-garde work from Japan, especially that of previously under-represented artists," according to Lynn Gumpert, director of the Grey Art Gallery, which has presented such exhibitions as Electrifying Art: Atsuko Tanaka 1954-1968 (2004) and Against Nature: Japanese Art in the Eighties (1990). "The founder of our museum, Abby Weed Grey, collected experiments in modernism from around the world, including some 80 Japanese woodcuts. We are proud to carry on Mrs. Grey's spirit by partnering with Japan Society to bring these bold works to New York for the first time."

A number of influential works from the period are presented in complementary ways in both the presentation at the Grey Art Gallery and at Japan Society Gallery. Among these is For A Language to Come (1970), Takuma Nakahira's iconic photo book and the inspiration for the exhibition's title. This book, also represented by related photographic prints and digital moving images, will be a revelation to many visitors, with its grainy and blurry (are-bure-boke) images printed full-bleed across pages teeming with disquieting scenes of everyday urban life. Another milestone featured in both venues is Toshio Matsumoto's experimental film For the Damaged Right Eye (1968), where scenes from student protests, a transvestite's daily activities, and Tokyo nightlife reel by, set to various `found' sounds, including those from popular songs and protest chants.

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