The Shizuoka-based artist group Genshoku has enjoyed re-evaluation in the new millennium. The 2001 Ishiko Junzo and His Colleagues exhibition, curated by Honnami Kiyoshi for the Rainbow Museum of Modern Art, Shizuoka served as the catalyst, and has been followed by various exhibitions and publications, most notably 2014’s Group “Genshoku” and Ishiko Junzo 1966-1971, curated by Kawatani Shoko at the Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art. Genshoku’s activities, once at risk of being forgotten to history, are back in the spotlight, and being assessed to find their appropriate place in post-war Japanese art history [1].

I would argue that, despite these many opportunities for review, Genshoku’s work still has yet to receive a satisfying reading. Ironically, it seems that a misreading of Genshoku’s relationship with art critic Ishiko Junzo and the Mono-ha art movement which succeeded it (and whose millennial re-appraisal is what contributed to Genshoku’s renewed attention) is clouding their appraisal. In this essay I would like to try my hand at critiquing several works by Genshoku artists with this in mind.

As is generally understood, Genshoku’s Iida Shoji, Koike Kazushige, Suzuki Yoshinori, Niwa Katsuji, and Maeda Morikazu all participated in Nakahara Yusuke and Ishiko’s seminal 1968 group exhibition Tricks and Visions: Stolen Eyes at the Muramatsu Gallery and Tokyo Gallery. Ishiko’s role in this curation naturally led to a substantial Genshoku contribution [2].

“Torikku” a Japanese transliteration of the English world “trick,” has three meanings: (1) something you do in order to deceive someone, (2) something you do to surprise someone and to make other people laugh, and (3) something that makes a thing appear different. We can say that the show focused primarily on the third meaning, but included examples of the first and second ones as well. Takamatsu Jiro’s Shadow and Perspective series most ably bridged the gap between perspective and existence, and critical recognition rallied around him in this context of “tricks,” and Genshoku came to be seen within that context.

But, thereafter, when Mono-ha came to be critically known as the artists which had opened “the way towards a new artistic action that directly encounters the way things are” [3], as opposed to the Genshoku’s “facility with ’intellectualistic’ manipulations of vision” the Tricks and Visions: Stolen Eyes exhibition was seen as a dividing point from which Mono-ha’s appreciation rose and Genshoku’s fell.

Having said that, one might ask how far the Genshoku work was originally concerned with trompe-l’œil “tricks” [4].

Niwa’s Boxes series, exhibited in this exhibition, were produced in axonometry. As Yve-Alain Bois points out, perspective renders infinity visible with the vanishing point, whereas axonometry makes it thinkable in that parallel lines never cross[5]. By imagining a world less bound to our fixed-point perspective, with arguably greater fidelity with the external world, Niwa’s Boxes series can be taken as primarily related to objective thinking.

The same idea can be found in Suzuki’s Nonexistent Tableau series. It is true that his Nonexistent Tableau: Sky (1967), painted as though the back of the canvas was ripped, revealing the framing, uses “tricky” visual effects. But his works such as Nonexistent Tableau (after de Chirico) (1967) present things front and back simultaneously, problematizing the limits of our field of view and proposing alternative ways to apprehend art.

Not exhibited in the Tricks and Vision exhibition, Iida’s Window (1967/2016), refabricated for this show, can also be seen as trompe-l’œil. But (1) though hung on the wall it creates the illusion of space spreading beyond the window, (2) the viewer is reflected inside it and therefore feels like they are being seen although they are the seers, and furthermore (3) the work was drawn by using perspective thus the viewer is made to feel that they are facing the artwork diagonally though they are facing it directly from the front. Window is a piece which aims to relativize current vision by activating these three perceptual mechanisms. In other words, Iida’s work is not made to deceive the eye in a “tricky” way by creating a discrepancy between vision and existence, but rather to create a discrepancy and plurality of visions, in order to better form a deconstructive critique of vision per se.

One of the reasons the trompe-l’œil “tricky” aspect of Genshoku artworks has been emphasized, is arguably Ishiko’s readings of the group. Ishiko’s discussion on the name Geoffrey Hendricks of Fluxus gave to the show is instructive. Ishiko stated, while lining up English expressions such as whisky and soda, bread and butter, carriage and four, “the two, connected by ’and,’ are each elements but at the same time trying to become a whole ― means instructions towards linkage” [6]. In Ishiko’s translations “trick” became “illusion,” and “vision” became “visual hallucination,” regarding both as visual deceptions, and further more, by adding the subtitle Stolen Eyes [7], he strove to emphasize the illusory qualities of the exhibited work.

Ishiko’s argument suggests gaps in his understanding of the English language. First, this “and” is a typical usage, creating a usual juxtaposition. “Tricks” used in plural form, as countable nouns refer to artworks exhibited in this show. On the other hand, “vision”, an uncountable noun, stands for visual sense. Nakahara’s essay in the catalog accurately interprets his work as “sense of vision.” If the intent were indeed “visual hallucinations,” then that would make it countable. So to function in Ishiko’s meaning, it should have been “tricks and visions,” both in plural. Thus, Tricks and Vision wasn’t really meant to emphasize trompe-l’œil illusions or “hallucinations,” but rather the contrast between object and subject of vision by apposing them. The title was intended to relativize visual illusions and visual senses. Nakahara seems to have been clear on this point, but Ishiko’s apparently mistaken emphasis on the work’s “tricky-ness” evidently won the day. I do believe that it bears emphasizing that Genshoku’s work was never meant to be limited to trompe-l’œil tricks, but rather to function as examinations of various issues including perception, thinking and recognition.

I would also review the manner in which Genshoku and Mono-ha are framed as representing opposing directions. Mono-ha’s activities, as correctly pointed out by Minemura Toshiaki, tended more strongly towards relation-based ideas than metaphysics [8], and this point should be more widely advocated. And if Mono-ha is relation theory based, then Genshoku, whose work clearly deals with the relativity of perception and recognition, can be seen as much closer to the Mono-ha practice.

As art critic Sawaragi Noi points out, Maeda’s Rheology (1969), Iida’s Transmigration (1969), and Koike’s Stone (1969) are all based on relation-theory-like ideas [9], indicating connections to Mono-ha. Honnami also points out in his recent book the issues and interests common to the emergence of Genshoku and Mono-ha [10]. This is not the forum to go into greater detail but let it suffice to say that readings which recognize the overlapping aspects of Genshoku and Mono-ha would likely create for a richer bed for interpretations of both art movements.

The practice of art criticism is often an evolving narrative conducted while chasing on-going art-world trends in the service of providing clarity of significance and value. But it sometimes misses the subtlety of artworks with conflicting values. Once standard readings of a period have been reached even the artists themselves can internalize these storylines and constrain the readings of their own works, and downplay differences rich with latent possibility. At such times it is we the art historians who need to listen again to the “voices” of the artworks in addition to interpretations by critics and artists. Now is the moment to revisit the delicate and diverse works Genshoku left us and debate the proper role and place of Genshoku in the history of postwar Japanese art.

 

[1] Exhibitions include Genshoku 1968 at Shizuoka University of Art and Culture Gallery, Shizuoka in 2002, Genshoku at Kamakura Gallery, Kanagawa in 2005, Reconsidering Mono-ha at the National Museum of Art, Osaka in 2005, and The World of ISHIKO Junzo: From Art via Manga to Kitsch at Fuchu Art Museum, Tokyo from 2011 to 2012. Publications include three books edited by Honnami Kiyoshi and published from the Rainbow Museum of Modern Art: Dialogues: Ishiko Junzo and his Colleagues (2002), Ishiko Junzo Now: A Message from Art (2004), Records of Group Genshoku (2005), also articles by Ono Masaharu published in the Bulletin of Shizuoka University of Art and Culture, Sawaragi Noi’s World Wars and World Fairs (Tokyo: Bijutsu Shuppansha, 2005),which includes references to Genshoku, and Honnami Kiyoshi’s The Origin of “Mono-ha” (Tokyo: Suiseisha, 2016).

[2] For this exhibition please refer to the following. Nariai Hajime, “Regarding ’Tricks and Visions: Stolen Eyes’: From Recent Research,” Bulletin of Fuchu Art Museum 15 (March 2011): 23–47, and “Appendix to the Research on ’Tricks and Visions: Stolen Eyes’ and Addendum to Bibliography on Ishiko Junzo,” Bulletin of Fuchu Art Museum 17 (March 2013): 9–20.

[3] Minemura Toshiaki, “What was Mono-ha?,” Mono-ha (Tokyo: Kamakura Gallery, 1986), 7–8.

[4] Iida’s Half and Half and Maeda’s Balloon series are “tricky.” Half and Half seems to change color depending on the angle with which ping-pong balls and shoes in the cage are viewed, so the eye is actually deceived. Balloon is works to create a gap between vision and existence by means of comic speech balloons.

[5] Yve-Alain Bois, “Metamorphosis of Axonometry,” Daidalos 1 (September 1981): 44–46.

[6] Ishiko Junzo, “Painting as Theory of Painting,” Tricks and Visions: Stolen Eyes (Tokyo: Muramatsu Gallery/Tokyo Gallery, 1968), 1.

[7] Nariai, “Regarding ’Tricks and Visions: Stolen Eyes’” 26.

[8] Minemura Toshiaki, “The Lineage of Art That Questions Being,” Reconsidering Mono-ha (Osaka: National Museum of Art, 2005), 262–263.

[9] Sawaragi Noi, World Wars and World Fairs, 203-204, 319.

[10] Honnami, The Origin of “Mono-ha,” 113–114.

 

Translated by David d’Heilly

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