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Japan Society Brings A New World To New York
Keiji Uematsu (b. 1947), Horizontal Position, Vertical Position, Right Angle Position, 1973/2003. Gelatin silver print, 57 1/8 x 35 7/16 in. Artist's collection at Yumiko Chiba Associates, Tokyo. © Keiji Uematsu, courtesy of Yumiko Chiba Associates.
This was my first visit to Midtown East. As I trekked past the chaos of Grand Central terminal, I found my way towards a tree lined path that led me to Japan Society. The building was nestled along a quiet block; Japan Society’s multicolor banners contrasted boldly against the architecture. I was welcomed inside to a space that embodied tranquility; the gallery surrounds an interior garden foyer thick with traditional Japanese vegetation and complete with a small waterfall that softly trickles into the manmade lagoon. Any tension I had melted away as I proceeded up the steps to the galleries.
For a New World to Come metaphorically opposes the building’s ambiance. Profound and radical, this show embodies a historical revolution in Japanese photography that laid a foundation for contemporary art in Japan. Beginning in the late 1960s and peaking in the late '70s, this exhibit chronicles the new visual language and artistic agency that Japanese photographers began to cultivate during this era. I had the special opportunity to speak with Japan Society’s Curator of Exhibition Interpretation, Michael Chagnon, about the show before I explored the space. He shed light on how truly incredible this movement was, as practices in photography began to overlap with the fine art traditions of painting and sculpture.
As I sifted through each section of the gallery, the works felt proud and dignified, highlighting the experimental qualities of camera-working and even creating a unique discourse about photography itself. Jiro Takamatsu's series Photograph of a Photograph, was both intellectually witty and sparked my visual curiosity. Each photograph within a photograph is obscured through glares, shadows, and reflections, alerting the viewer to the artist’s awareness of making. Many of the images in For a New World to Come are entrenched in metaphysical themes. Koji Enokura's Two Stains embodies these types of attitudes and perspectives that reconstructed and redefined themes in photography. What appear to be two stains on fabric are in fact silkscreened shapes, leaving the viewer to ponder the relationship between perception and reality. Takamatsu and Enokura were my favorite artists in the exhibition.
Jirō Takamatsu (1936-1998), Photograph of a Photograph (No. D-2401), 1972. Gelatin silver print, 21 5/8 x 26 3/16 in. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Museum purchase funded by Bettie Cartwright and Michael A. Chesser in honor of Yasufumi Nakamori, 2012.219. © The Estate of Jirō Takamatsu, Courtesy of Yumiko Chiba Associates.
I recommend exploring this exhibition in the late afternoon. The space is peaceful and, to nicely frame the experience, I took a moment to sit quietly in The Church of the Holy Family’s outside garden next door. Japan Society is an amazing venue, constantly offering the city opportunities to genuinely experience Japanese culture.
The Church of the Holy Family’s outside garden. Credit: Carianna Arredondo
Columbia students, through the Passport to Museums program, have the advantage of visiting the gallery spaces free of charge. Discounted tickets for Columbia students are available for the upcoming lecture Sandra Phillips: How the US Discovered Japanese Photography.
For more information about the exhibition click here.