Museum Home Past Exhibitions Art, Anti-Art, Non-Art: Experimentations in the Public Sphere in Postwar Japan, 1950-1970

March 6–June 3, 2007 at the Getty Center

Art, Anti-Art, Non-Art
Background Image: Detail of jacket design by Yokoo Tadanori for Kara Jōrō's Jon Siruba, 1969
© Yokoo Tadanori

At the end of World War II, Japan was left in ruins and a relative cultural void. During the next quarter century, Japan endured the legacy of the atomic bomb, as well as the experiences of foreign occupation and a rapid transformation into a metropolitan society. This exhibition highlights a dynamic phase of avant-garde art in postwar Japan, which was characterized by self-reflection and multimedia experimentation.

During this period, numerous innovative artistic groups emerged in Japan. They tested definitions and the practice of art by producing work in a variety of traditional and new media. The artists collaborated beyond the boundaries of artistic collectives, genres, and conventional exhibition spaces, presenting their work in the streets, temporary theaters, and other public spheres.

Experimental Workshop's 5th Exhibition and Presentation
Experimental Workshop's 5th Exhibition and Presentation, Experimental Workshop/Jikken Kōbō, 1953

Experimental Workshop/Jikken Kōbō

Japan experienced a revitalization of economy and culture after Allied occupation ended in 1951. By the mid-1950s, museums and cultural centers were built and reopened, and a new era of international exhibitions was established.

Experimental Workshop/Jikken Kōbō was founded in 1952 in Tokyo using Germany's Bauhaus as its artistic model. The group developed innovative multimedia works by visual artists, composers, engineers, and a poet, who produced concerts, performances, and ephemeral works that paved the way for future avant-garde artists. The Workshop's 5th Exhibition and Presentation was an influential multimedia experiment. Musical presentations included works by a young Takemitsu Tōru, one of the most respected composers in postwar Japan. The program also showcased works that integrated automatic slide projections with montages of recorded everyday sounds made using new technology created by Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo K. K. (now Sony).

Electric Dress / Tanaka
Electric Dress (Denki-fuku), Tanaka Atsuko, 1957

Gutai Art Association

Gutai Art Association (Gutai Bijutsu Kyōkai; literally, "Concrete Art Association"), or Gutai, was formed in July 1954. Gutai's inclusion as the "forerunner of happenings" in Assemblage, Environments, and Happenings of 1966, a book by American artist Allan Kaprow, helped the group gain international recognition, as did the journal Gutai, published between 1955 and 1965.

The slogans "Don't imitate others!" and "Engage in the newness!" of Gutai's charismatic leader, Yoshihara Jirō, challenged members to discard traditional artistic practices. In response, Gutai members produced kinetic works of art and performance-based work using unusual materials (wrestling with mud, throwing paint bottles, breaking paper screens, and performing in a heavy dress made of light bulbs, as seen here) that often took place in unconventional settings (outdoors or on stages).

Kaiki (recurence) / Ichiyanagi
Kaiki [Recurrence] for Koto for John Cage, Ichiyanagi Toshi, 1960
learn_more View the key that explains how to read and play this score.

Sōgetsu Art Center

Sōgetsu Art Center (SAC) opened in 1958 at the head office of the Sōgetsu flower arrangement school in Tokyo. Throughout the 1960s, SAC was a center for experimental animation, film, dance, and music. SAC presented concerts and an exhibition by Yoko Ono after her return to Japan from New York, and sponsored the first public presentation of the improvisational sound collective Group Ongaku (literally, "Group Music").

In 1961, Ichiyanagi Toshi returned to Tokyo from New York, where he studied musical composition at the Juilliard School and then under John Cage at the New School for Social Research. Shortly after, he performed at Sōgetsu Contemporary Series. This first live electronic concert in Japan consisted of seven of Ichiyanagi's compositions, including Kaiki (Recurrence), as played by Ichiyanagi himself along with the members of Group Ongaku.

Spatial Poem No. 1 / Chieko
Spatial Poem No. 1: Word Event, Shiomi Mieko (Chieko), 1965

Fluxus/Tokyo Fluxus

As early as 1957, a new movement in Japanese art appeared using common images and everyday objects—dubbed "junk anti-art." Anti-Art (Han-geijutsu) was the aesthetic embraced by the postwar generation of artists who defied traditional art practices, rejected the boundaries of traditional exhibition spaces, and regarded international contemporaneity as their norm.

The Anti-Art aesthetic was embraced by many artists later associated with Fluxus (Latin for flowing, suggesting a state of continuous change). This international avant-garde group was one of the few Euro-American art movements to incorporate numerous Japanese artists. Fluxus produced works in affordable multiples, compiled and distributed innovatively designed anthologies; and staged public events of scored actions and music. Tokyo Fluxus consisted of Japanese artists active in Tokyo.

Rose-Colored Dance / Yokoo
Rose-Colored Dance, at the House of Mr. Shibusawa, to the House of Mr. Shibusawa, Yokoo Tadanori, 1965

Butoh and Angura Theaters

Coinciding with the worldwide student movements in 1968, demonstrations erupted in Japan against the second renewal of the Japan-U.S. Security Treaty (Anpo), which allowed the U.S. Army to be stationed in Japan. Radical artists and performers who shared the anti-Vietnam War and anti-American fervor marched in the streets. It was in this atmosphere that the performances of the Butoh Dance Group (Ankoku Butoh-ha, or "Dance of Utter Darkness") and Angura (underground) theaters explored sexuality, native and pop cultures, and the grotesque, while integrating social and political satire.

The poster for the butoh performance Rose-Colored Dance shows a psychedelic mixture of traditional woodcut block prints with iconographies of Japanese underground art and pop culture. "Civeçawa" refers to the critic and Surrealist writer Shibusawa Tatsuhiko. On the stem of the rose are images of the butoh dancers Hijikata Tatsumi and Ōno Kazuo.

Hijikata Tatsumi Holding an Infant / Hosoe
Hijikata Tatsumi Holding an Infant and Running across a Rice Field, Hosoe Eikoh, 1965

Kamaitachi was the result of four years of collaboration between the photographer Hosoe Eikoh and the butoh dancer Hijikata Tatsumi. They traveled to Akita Prefecture in northeastern Japan in an attempt to create a memoir of Hijikata's childhood and wartime Japan through impromptu performance. In Hosoe's photographs, Hijikata portrays a kamaitachi (a sharp cut caused by a small but powerful cyclone, and the name given to a legendary creature, the "sickle-toothed weasel"). Hijikata appears transformed, a spirit that momentarily appears among the villagers, in the landscape, or fleeing across the fields.

Invitation to Floor Event / Hikosaka
Invitation to Hikosaka Naoyoshi's Solo Exhibition Revolution, Hikosaka Naoyoshi, 1971


In the late 1960s, artists in Japan shifted away from the accumulative, "junk-based" Anti-Art to the concept-based Non-Art (Hi-geijutsu). Rather than "make" art, artists confronted the relation of the subject (artist) to the object (art) by experimenting with the idea of "not making."

Hikosaka Naoyoshi was one of the founding members of Bikyōtō (Bijutsuka Kyōtō Kaigi, literally "Artists Joint-Struggle Council"), a radical art and political group established during the student protests of the late 1960s. Bikyōtō made the institutionalization of art a target of attack. In 1970 Bikyōtō evolved into a cluster of collectives. Hikosaka's solo exhibition, Revolution, was part of the second phase of the group. This invitation features a photograph of Floor Event, for which the artist poured white latex onto his apartment floor, which dried out during a weeklong exhibition.

Pepsi Pavilion, Expo '70 / E.A.T.
Pepsi Pavilion, Japan World Exposition '70, Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.), 1970


The Japan World Exposition '70, Osaka (known as Expo '70) was the first world exposition held in Asia and boasted of Japan's economic and technological success. Numerous artists were invited to participate, including former members of Experimental Workshop/Jikken Kōbō and those affiliated with Gutai, Neo Dada, and Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.)—an international group based in New York City dedicated to promoting collaborations between artists and engineers. The inclusion of these artists suggested a purposeful correlation between art, technology, and the urban environment.

The Pepsi Pavilion was a work of art and a "living responsive environment"—a technologically advanced building with which visitors could interact. Artist Nakaya Fujiko, the head of E.A.T.'s office in Tokyo, contributed the atmospheric and meteorological Fog Sculpture, which surrounded the building. American artist Frosty Myers's Suntrak was a sculpture made to follow the sun and produce a sunbeam.

This exhibition is located at the Getty Center, Research Institute Exhibition Gallery.