Japan: Contemporary Japanese Artists

Imago Mundi

Contemporary Artists from Japan

Japan, as seen through 207 artworks
Last October, Luciano Benetton visited our gallery in Paris. Mr. Benetton is the founder of the Benetton Group, one of Italy’s most high-profile companies. Benetton is famous for its flagship brand United Colors of Benetton, featuring brightly colored clothing, as well as for advertising that raises social issues in an occasionally provocative manner. Behind Mr. Benetton’s calm and gentle demeanor, I sensed great intensity. Did it spring from his illustrious career as the architect of the Benetton empire? Or rather from his passion for the arts?

Yuki Fujiwara - My Seal, 2013

Mr. Benetton said to me, “I would like to have 150, no, 200 dynamic Japanese artists create works of art.” Moreover, he specified that the works must be quite small, only 10 x 12 centimeters. I felt strongly that most artists working today need a larger canvas to express themselves adequately, so I suggested that he increase his size requirement. Mr. Benetton replied that it could not be changed as he had already launched the project in two regions and two countries – Latin America and the former Soviet Union, as well as China and Mongolia. Thus the size constraint was definitive. However, 10 x 12 centimeters is indeed extremely small. How could artists express their ideas effectively in such a small space? I felt a strong sense of foreboding about the outcome, though later my fears would turn out to be unfounded.

Manami Koike - Maiko, 2013

Shusuke Ao - FSS Type F 04, 2013

I accepted the project with the 10 x 12 size restriction and suggested that the works be shown in Venice during the 2013 Venice Biennale. Venice is only 30 kilometers to the south of Treviso, Benetton’s hometown and the site of the Benetton headquarters. I was confident that Mr. Benetton would do his best to make the arrangements, and he said right there ‘Finding the right exhibition space won’t be a problem.’ Later he sent me a photograph of the venue, and I was frankly astonished to see ‘Fondazione Querini Stampalia’, one of the most important examples of House-Museum and the well-known multi-cultural institution in Venice. Mr. Benetton decided all of the main points on the spot, so our discussion was brief and to the point, and went very smoothly in spite of my poor French.

Ryota Unno - Heaven and Hell, 2013

Sohey Iwata - Camellia, 2013

Hirotaka Kasahara - Seed of Desire, 2013

I judged that there was no need for what is generally known as a “curator” to organize the exhibition, and I deliberately avoided choosing all of the artists by myself. I allowed myself to be guided by Mr. Benetton’s vision:
“If we bring together 200 works made by Japanese artists, we will be able to obtain a vision of Japan.” I was afraid that if I chose the artists on my own, the result would be overly biased toward my own preferences. It would reflect my own individual notion of Japan. To eliminate bias, I decided to have a number of other people with an experienced eye participate in the selection process.

Hiromi Yuasa - Moon, Flower, Karma, 2013

Shion Suga - Enishi ~ Meeting Is a Treasure, 2013

Atsushi Suwa - Head of a Woman, 2013

Kagen Higuchi - Life/One’s Self Only This Road, 2013

In order to obtain a meaningful “vision of Japan,” both subject and technique were left up to the artists. The only restriction on the works was the small size, 10 x 12 centimeters, with each artist creating works in his or her own way under this condition. What sort of vision would appear when all 200 of these creations were exhibited together?

Hiroaki Kano - Final Abode, 2013

Kazuki Takamatsu - Girl, 2013

Yuya Fujita - YF468, 2013

I asked a number of art professors to recommend artists they liked. This group included (in alphabetical order) Naofumi Maruyama, Natsunosuke Mise, Satoshi Murakami, Nobuhiko Nukata, O JUN, Keizaburo Okamura, Meo Saito, Norihiko Saito, Takehiko Sugawara, Atsushi Suwa, and Takashi Yamauchi. The only condition for selection was that the artist be talented and competent. Nothing more or less. What I did not foresee was that most of the people I asked to make a selection also became participants. Mr. Benetton had told me that he hoped “the group would be made up of energetic artists,” so initially the focus was on the rather younger generation. However, in the process of obtaining recommendations there was a shift to artists with active careers. This was an unexpected turn of events yet it led to good results. I was not looking for students or inexperienced artists to participate, but because there would be no offer of any compensation, I was afraid that it might be difficult to obtain the cooperation of artists whose work has high market value. Thanks to the famous Benetton name, and our success in conveying Mr. Benetton’s enthusiasm for the project to the artists, we were able to obtain works by many leading figures in the Japanese art world. I will always treasure the joy I felt each time an artist asked me, “Can I submit a work too?”

Haruomi Izumi - Angels, 2013

Hisako Iwai - The Truth Is in a Secret, 2013

Kyohei Nogawa - TR 1522 N9, 2013

Amid the bitter cold of late February, a flurry of works as small as picture postcards began to arrive. I could not help smiling at the enthusiastic comments of the artists, who clearly enjoyed participating: “I simply had fun.” “This was a great chance to try my hand at making small works again.” “I think I’ll show works of this size at my next show.” The artists were not the only ones who enjoyed themselves. I could hardly suppress my excitement as I carefully opened each small package. To my astonishment, the works were even more accomplished than I had expected. Enveloped in excitement, I savored the threshold between my apprehension about accomplishing my mission, and my relief at how beautifully it all turned out. Every one of the 207 artworks was compelling. I must confess that until I saw them I had not expected that they would be of such high quality. In my mind’s eye I could see the painstaking creative process as the artists, with typical Japanese attention to detail, pored over every square millimeter of the 10 x 12 centimeter surface. It was overwhelming to see all 207 works together. I had worried about the size being too small, but there was no need for concern. The artists made full use of their allotted 10 x 12 centimeters. Stunned at how eloquently they expressed themselves in this condensed format, I was forced to reexamine my preconceptions about the size of artworks.

Kae Higuchi - Five Steps, 2013

Mina Ikeda - Goldfish, 2013

Akiko Yagi - Ski Man, 2013

Hiroyuki Nakajima - Sutra of Buddha, 2013

If artists have a talent for artistic expression and good technique, their individuality will naturally shine through no matter what they depict. Conversely, if viewers do not see anything in an artwork, it means that the artist does not have enough talent, skill, or individuality. If, despite my earlier statement, I have presumptuously played the role of curator in this project, all I have done is to propose a method of creating an aggregate vision of Japan and later acted as a coordinator.

Takuya Osawa - Silver Moon, 2013

Yasuko Ishihara - Soar, 2013

Masaomi Oura - Phoenix and Rising Sun, 2013

Norimoto Fujimura - Om/Aun, Alpha & Omega, 2013

In my first communication with Mr. Benetton after he returned to Italy, I proposed giving a name to the project. After long and thorough deliberation, he sent me his suggested title: Imago Mundi. As befits an Italian company like Benetton, the phrase is Latin. Its meaning, Imago means ‘Image’ and Mundi means ‘the world’ which can be interpreted in many ways. As it passes on from Japan to other parts of the world, Imago Mundi will continue to broaden. After their exhibition in Venice, these 207 works from Japan will tour the world. I hope that great numbers of people will view these artworks and gain their own visions of Japan with no need of explanation.

Tsugu Tamenaga

Tetsuya Noguchi - Someone Samurai, 2013


Credits: Story

Project management
Makoto Horita
Junko Imai
Maiko Wada
Kyoko Yoshikawa

Valentina Granzotto

Editorial coordination
Enrico Bossan

Luciano Benetton
Tsugu Tamenaga
Akira Tatehata
Demetrio De Stefano

Translation and editing
Emma Cole
Anna Franchin
Tom Ridgway
Kumiko Tamaru
Pietro Valdatta
CCFJ Translation Center

Art direction
Namyoung An

Marco Pavan

Mauro Bedoni
Marco Pavan

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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