Like 2016, 1968 was a turbulent year with seismic social and political change taking place across the globe. It was the year when the civil rights leader Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy were assassinated; Apollo 8 and three US astronauts orbited the moon; 800,000 students, teachers and workers went on strike and protested in the Paris Streets; student protests against the Vietnam War across the US, and in London, Paris, Berlin and Rome; Andy Warhol was shot by radical feminist Valerie Solanas… And in Japan, avant-garde Japanese artists were gaining global recognition for their experimental art and photographic work that reflected the political restlessness, which also laid the initial groundwork for the contemporary art of Japan today.
In 1968, ‘Fluorescent Chrysanthemum’ exhibition, originally curated by Jasia Reichardt, at the ICA in London was the first presentation of experimental Japanese art, music, film and design in Europe – showcasing a group of artists never before seen in the UK, including Kohei Sugiura, Jiro Takamatsu, Ushio Shinohara, Tadanori Yokoo, Seiichi Hayashi, Yoji Kuri and Tatsuo Shimamura. The show exhibited sculptures, miniatures, posters, graphics, kites, music with visual scores and films. The show’s title was inspired by the fluorescent effects found in the many of the graphic works, whereas Chrysanthemum referred to the flower that is used as the Imperial Seal of Japan.
Photographs of the sculptures created by Japanese artists from the 1968 exhibition
In its 70th anniversary year, the institute examined the importance and impact of the 1968 show through its archive material at a small exhibition of the same title in The ICA Fox Reading Room from October 4 – November 27.
Top left: Kohei Sugiura’s eye-catching poster for the exhibition; Top right: Tadanori Yokoo’s poster for Seibu; Bottom: Ushio Shinohara’s ‘Doll festival’ (1966)
Although the exhibition was relatively small, it contained some fantastic graphic posters by some prominent and living Japanese artists and designers like Tadanori Yokoo, who is known as the ‘Grandmaster of Japanese Pop-Psych Art’; and Ushio Shinohara, the founding member of the Japanese Neo Dada group and is well-known for his ‘boxing paintings’. He and his wife were also featured in the bittersweet documentary by Zachary Heinzerling called Cutie and the Boxer in 2013.
The exhibition catalogue
Graphic designer Kohei Sugiura was responsible for the exhibition graphics (see the poster above) and the highly distinct installation of the show. The cool catalogue was printed on a large folded single sheet in two versions (one black on white, the other white on black), both of which unfolded with the exhibition poster printed on the other side.
Short animation and traditional Japanese symbols
There were also some short experimental films animations showing at the exhibition, and it would be fair to say that the concepts, graphics and styles still stand the test of time. Even though it would have been fastantic to have visited the original exhibition at the time, I think this archival exhibition provided a glimpse of the ground-breaking Japanese art movement at the time which had a powerful impact on artists from the later genertations.
Bloomberg New Contemporaries 2016 is currently showing at the ICA until 22nd Jan 2017; 2nd row left: Jack West‘s lasercut metal; 2nd row right: W.I.T.C.H. (“Women’s Internation Terrorist Conspiracy from Hell”) posters by Anna Bunting Branch