Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art, 1990 – 2011


14 June 2012

6:00 – 7:00pm, followed by a drinks reception to 8:00pm

Daiwa Foundation Japan House

Organised by the Daiwa Anglo-Japanese Foundation

Despite the success of Takashi Murakami’s “Superflat” movement, most Japanese contemporary art remains little known or appreciated in the international art world. Before and After Superflat tells the true inside story of the Japanese art world since 1990, as Japan has stumbled through a series of economic, social and ecological crises since the collapse of its “Bubble” economy. Explaining the rise of Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara, and the distorting effects their success has had, the book presents other important artists from the 1990s and 2000s, as well as Japan’s thriving art world of curators, gallerists and art writers. Inside this world, there is an often dramatic story to be told about institutions such as Mori Art Museum and MOT (Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo), and events such as the Yokohama Triennial, or the Echigo-Tsumari and Setouchi festivals. New kinds of street art and initiatives like 3331 Arts Chiyoda are also re-inventing art in the city, outside the white cube and commercial contexts. The book ends with an epilogue about contemporary art in Japan after the Tohoku earthquake.

Adrian Favell’s book, Before and After Superflat: A Short History of Japanese Contemporary Art, 1990 – 2011was published in April 2012 by Timezone 8.

Professor Adrian Favell

Professor Adrian Favell is Professor of Sociology at Sciences Po, Paris. He has also taught at UCLA, Aarhus University and the University of Sussex. In 2007 he was a Japan Foundation Abe Fellow in Tokyo, and has since then been closely involved as a writer and observer on the contemporary art scene. He writes a popular blog for the Japanese on-line magazine ART-iT and occasional contributions to magazines such as Art Forum and Art in America. He was born in England and lives in Paris.

Jonathan Watkins (discussant)

Jonathan Watkins has been Director of Ikon Gallery since 1999. Previously he worked for a number of years in London, as Curator of the Serpentine Gallery (1995-1997) and Director of Chisenhale Gallery (1990-1995). Jonathan Watkins was Artistic Director of the Biennale of Sydney in 1998. He was guest curator for Days Like These, (Tate Triennial, London, 2003) and Negotiations (Today Art Museum, Beijing, 2010). He was on the curatorial team for Europarte (La Biennale di Venezia, 1997),Quotidiana (Castello di Rivoli, Turin, 1999), Milano Europa 2000, (Palazzo di Triennale, Milan, 2000),Facts of Life: Contemporary Japanese Art (Hayward Gallery, London, 2001), Hyperdesign (Shanghai Biennale, 2006), Still Life (Sharjah Biennial, 2007) and Riwaq (Palestinian Biennial, 2007). Jonathan Watkins has written extensively on contemporary art. Recent essays by him have focused on the work of Giuseppe Penone, Martin Creed, Semyon Faibisovich, Yang Zhenzhong, Noguchi Rika, Caro Niederer and Cornelia Parker. He was the author of the Phaidon monograph on Japanese artist On Kawara.

Bye Bye Kitty!!! – Beyond kitsch, kawaii and otaku in Japanese Contemporary Art: An illustrated talk by David Elliott

Kitsch, otaku (“geek”) and kawaii (cuteness, sometimes super-girly hyper-cuteness) – are all stereotypes frequently attributed to contemporary Japanese culture. It is true to say that Japanese society often embraces such images of itself, and some Japanese artists, such as Takashi Murakami and Kaikai Kiki, respond to, or exploit, these trends, making them even more widespread. Yet is this the whole story? Does this kind of work actually represent the most significant and powerful art being made in Japan today?

David Elliott, founding director of the Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, who spent five years in Japan, thinks not. He sees an intensely reflective, self-critical, controversial, even political, spirit within contemporary Japanese art that is less easy to appreciate than the stereotypes but more rewarding to grasp. It was this which led him to curate the successful exhibition Bye, Bye Kitty!!! – Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art held at the Japan Society in New York earlier this year. This fascinating exhibition concentrated on diverse work by talented young and middle generation Japanese artists, many of whom have not yet been well enough represented on the international art scene.

In this talk, David Elliott will offer an overview of this exhibition and the artists he chose for it, mapping them in the social context of modern and contemporary Japan. Complementing his talk will be a discussion with sociologist and Japanese contemporary art specialist Adrian Favell. Together they will further explore how significant the exhibition is today, reflecting on Japanese aesthetics, social realities and global reactions.

This event is organised in collaboration with TrAIN Research Centre.

17 October 2011 from 6.20pm

The Banqueting Hall (Chelsea College of Art and Design)
16 John Islip Street
London SW1P 4JU

This event is free to attend but booking is essential. To reserve a place, please email your name and the title of the event you would like to attend to