Contemporary works from Japan

With the exception of some Japanese artists who are making a career in Europe (Takashi Murakami is an obvious example), contemporary Japanese art remains mostly unknown to the Western audience. The «World Peace Art Exhibition,» currently being held at the Melina Mercouri Cultural Center, provides a general, yet fragmentary idea of what Japanese contemporary art looks like. Organized jointly by Greek and Japanese institutions (the Greek-Japanese Chamber of Commerce and the Athens Municipality from the Greek side), it includes works by 250 artists from all over Japan and, due to its scale, takes place in two parts. A traveling exhibition, it reflects on Japan’s cultural politics of opening up to different cultures; its stopover in Athens was decided on the occasion of the forthcoming Cultural Olympiad. The initiative draws a connection between sports and art, viewing both as means of cross-cultural understanding and a peace-making process. Visually diverse, the exhibition does not, however, help the viewer place the works in the context of the Japanese art scene; a catalog with essays would have been useful in that respect. Still, certain assumptions can be made just by viewing the exhibition. For example, one senses the continuing influence of traditional forms of art (calligraphy or ceramics for instance) on contemporary artists. There is also the influence of technology, most evident in the photographs of the exhibition, as well as of cultures from the world over. «Japanese people strive to make a new art from studying and importing the culture of other people from all over the world. They are really hard workers in making a new world, creating something new out of all these influences. Calligraphy, for example, came from China, Western painting and oil painting came from Western Europe,» said Mr Yabe, curator of the exhibition, to Kathimerini English Edition. Mr Yabe also said that Japanese artists spend many years studying traditional Japanese art and, like their predecessors, dedicate themselves to each work for extended periods of time. Japanese contemporary art is typified by this blend of the old and the new, the foreign and the traditional. However, according to the exhibition’s curator, the market for contemporary art is still very small. «Most Japanese prefer the classics, the masterpieces of art. What has happened with Murakami and all his success in the West, is inconceivable in Japan,» he said. The exhibition will run through Saturday, followed by more events on Japanese culture that are scheduled for the coming months. The Japanese have actually proclaimed 2004 as their country’s cultural year in Greece, and the Greek-Japanese Chamber of Commerce, which has been especially active in promoting and organizing such events, will continue its activities in that vein. At the Melina Mercouri Cultural Center (66 Iraklidon, Thiseion). Info at: 210.364.1650.

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