“Tokyo 1955-1970”, the current sixth-floor exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art is subtitled “A New Avant-Garde”, and, as rich and strange and garish as the show is, I’m inclined to call it “an Other Avant-Garde.” Trauma is indistinguishable from liberation. Science fiction rules. (It reminds me of Robert Smithson’s fondness for the Museum of Natural History where, he wrote, “the time states of ‘1984’ are mixed with those of ‘One Million BC.’) The show’s two poles are the mutant and the primordial; its operating principle, for reception even more than production, would seem to be creative misunderstanding.
It’s astonishing to see postwar Japanese artists assimilating a half century of European vanguardism and coming up with analogs to Mad cartoonist Basil Wolverton (Tatsuo Ikeda) or assemblages evoking the pods from “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (Testumi Kudo), updating traditional Japanese practices as Miró-elegant modern art (Sadamasa Motonaga’s enameled stones) or trumping the East Village by 30 years with auto-slide projections (Shōzō Kitadai’s table-top epic “Another World”.) The cinematic equivalent is the great Japanese director Nagisa Oshima, who died last week at age 80. (You can find my colleague Graham Fuller’s obit here.)
Images: Museum of Modern Art