It was 1956, 10 years before the birth of Genshoku when “top three” art critics, Hariu Ichiro, Tono Yoshiaki, and Nakahara Yusuke began playing an active part in the magazine Bijutsu Hihyo (art critique,) and Ishiko Junzo, enrolled in the graduate school of University of Tokyo, moved to Shimizu, Shizuoka to unwind, and explore his growing passion for art. Genshoku was organized as an avant-garde group, embodying ideals born of Ishiko’s reflections on his experiences with the art group White, which he had previously established in Shimizu.

Ishiko, then in his latter 30s, crafted his criticism as an issue of facing one’s mortality, as if his work was shortening his life, and instigated young artists in Shizuoka to come to such dramatic terms with creation. The members of Genshoku on one hand included those who studied art in four-year universities, such as Suzuki Yoshinori and Koike Kazushige, who were graduates of Tama Art University, and Niwa Katsuji and Nagashima Yasunori, who were graduates of the Art and Culture Course at Shizuoka University’s Faculty of Education. But there were also those from a more production-based background, including Maeda Morikazu, who was producing abstract wood prints strongly influenced by printmaker Yamaguchi Gen, and Iida Shoji, a repatriate from Manchuria now in Shizuoka making his living painting things like Mickey Mouse on geta wooden clogs, at that time a prosperous local industry, and Nakamori Gosaku, a craftsman of wooden furniture. At a glance the group may have seemed quite happenstance, but it was indeed an elite group capable of rising to Ishiko’s expectations. In 1964 Ishiko established a workspace in Tokyo, engaging with leading thinkers and artists. On repeated trips back to Shizuoka he explored the latest critical vocabulary with the Genshoku members. Receiving Ishiko’s Zen-riddle like Socratic learning sessions, the members would continue their inquiries after Ishiko returned to Tokyo, seeking the answers through producing the work itself. In a time when the disparity between the quality and quantity of information and communication of rapidly urbanizing Tokyo vs. the less contemporary rural areas was still quite pronounced, Genshoku, through Ishiko’s information and human network, enjoyed a relative advantage over the other avant-garde groups of their generation. [1]

The 1960s was a time when art criticism functioned as a common resource: critics and artists were engaged in a vital discourse of critique and production informing each other. The 1968 Tricks and Visions: Stolen Eyes exhibition, co-planned by Nakahara Yusuke and Ishiko Junzo, was an exhibition which epitomized this period of exchange of critical and practical discourse. It was when Ishiko’s contemporary art criticism was at its apex, and similarly, this exhibition presented the new wave of art practice. This is not to say that either were Ishiko’s achievements alone. Rather, it was a summit reached by the contemporary art community, the result of critical essays by the “top three,” Hariu Ichiro, Tono Yoshiaki, and Nakahara Yusuke, as well as Miyakawa Atsushi and Ishiko’s attempts to respond, in particular, to questions of “how to evolve out of the context of modern art,” as phrased by Miyakawa Atsushi in After Informel, and attempts to “express the contemporary moment.” [2][3][4]

And to this critical problematique came Genshoku pieces between 1966 to 1968, for example Suzuki Yoshinori’s Nonexistent Tableau series, in which he painted canonical masterpieces on the rear of the canvas in a kind of trompe-l’œil style, and Niwa Katsuji’s Boxes series, which made flat surfaces appear stereographic using perspective and cutout, and Maeda Morikazu’s Measure in Perspective series, in which he expressed the idea of perspective with three dimensional objects in the form of ruler, as evidence of Western art as an embedded system of Western modernization. Capturing paintings as matters related to systems theory, as often appeared in the criticisms of Miyakawa Atsushi and Ishiko Junzo.

In this period Iida Shoji and Koike Kazushige created pieces utilizing the visual effect of mirrors reflecting false images. Iida’s Window can be taken as an homage to Marcel Duchamp’s 1920 Fresh Widow produced using a French lattice window as motif [5]. But whereas Duchamp’s piece is shuttered window, its panes of glass covered in black leather so as to obstruct viewing inside, Iida’s Window is conversely open with a mirror inside, such that those to attempt to look inside are only presented themselves. This inverted mechanism of presenting one’s reflection when trying to observe from the outside serves to engage the viewers existence inside of the work. From this piece we can read an attitude which rejects (tableau centered) modern painting as an expression of the artist’s ego. In Self-portrait, Koike Kazushige’s countenance is portrayed on the canvas, though drawn so that the image meets the viewer’s gaze. As with Iida, it deals with issues of the interior and exterior of painting.

In Lee Ufan’s otherwise withering October 1968 essay From Things to Existence, which eviscerated the state of art at that time [6], still held out hope that Tricks and Visions: Stolen Eyes might present “a new peak in contemporary art,” or a sense of “a place with promise from which we might leap to a new world.”

 

[1] There were many avant-garde groups based in various regions across the country circa 1966, when group Genshoku was established. According to “a guide-map of avant-garde groups in Japanese islands” designed by graphic designer Kimura Tsunehisa, included in a period art magazine, we can identify at least 58 different avant-garde groups in Japan between the latter 1950s to the 1960s.
Bijutsu Techo issue #296 “Featuring Regional Avant-Garde” (Bijutsu Shuppansha, 1968 April issue)

[2] “It’s important that here, the two critics, who seem to have been drawing opposite trajectories, have reached a common wall. Perhaps, it’s not wrong to find the situation in which the methodology of art criticism following Informel is approaching a reckoning period.”
Originally published in “Henbou no Suii -- Montage fuu ni” (Transition of Transfiguration -- Like a Montage) by Miyakawa Atsushi published in October 1963
Reused in Kaiga to Sono Kage (Painting and Its Shadow) written by Miyakawa Atsushi and edited by Tatehata Akira (Misuzu Shobo, 2007), 29

[3] “The problem of art after Informel was particularly a problem of criticism. The reason there are so many quotations from Hariu Ichiro is precisely because he admitted the necessity of Informel, proactively accepted it, and then became almost the only Japanese critic who confronted the ‘landslide’ caused by Informel in Japanese art, with a coherent methodology.”
(Opus citatum, 30)

[4] “In the world of art criticism (if such thing exists), the first one to unequivocally put this movement before us and point out that it could potentially carry the possibilities of new expression, was Miyakawa Atsushi. At a time when so-called ‘After Informel’ had just began, he looked back on ‘Henbou no Suii -- Montage fuu ni’ (Transition of Transfiguration -- Like a Montage) and concluded as follows. (omission) In the views of this author, and driven by his strong desire for an appropriate framing of the proposition of modernization, while still being debated fragmentally by a few people through the present day, we unfortunately have yet to see any adequate coherent response.”
Originally published in After Happening by Ishiko Junzo included in Bijutsu Journal (1967)
Reused in Image Theory -- Ishiko Junzo Collected Works II (Ramasha, 1987), 232

[5] This image of the work was included as reference in Mirror, Space, Image by Miyakawa Atsushi, published in February 1967 by Bijutsu Shuppansha. The June 1967 Genshoku issue includes notes of a discussion about windows, entitled “Windows are on my mind”. It’s possible that Iida was referring to this image of the work, as published in Miyagawa’s book.
Genshoku-ki No. 2 Journal as inside story (March 1967), 1

[6] “It should be said that contemporary art --- where the virtual image insists on self-substantiation, and media and message were embroiled in rationalization - insinuates a ‘fateful vicious cycle,’ initiated by none other than humanity itself, where the things and sights of contemporary art can only serve to further separate the individual from the natural world, and freeze them in scenes of a dematerialized (virtual) phenomenology.”
Lee Ufan, From Things to Existence --- Through structural criticism of contemporary art (October 1968)
Reused in the exhibition catalog for Group Genshoku and Ishiko Junzo 1966-1971 (Shizuoka Prefectural Museum of Art, March 2014), 332

 

Translated by David d’Heilly

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