Japan, China building stronger ties through art

Norio Sugawara / Yomiuri Shimbun Senior Writer

Cultural exchanges in various fields are recently under way between Japan and China, helping the nations deepen their ties through contemporary art.

The exhibition "Avant-Garde China," to be held until Oct. 20 at the National Art Center, Tokyo, in Roppongi, Minato Ward, Tokyo, is designed to look back at the past 20 years of contemporary Chinese art.

With about 50 important works from contemporary artists on display, the exhibition shows the outline of Chinese art in the post-Cultural Revolution era.

In the past, contemporary Chinese art has been shown in one-person exhibitions or along with other Asian art.

Of the artists often known as the best four painters in China, works of three, including Wang Guangyi, are on display.

Also on display are video documentaries, including footage of radical performance pieces by artists such as Ma Liuming, that describe oppression under China's one-party rule.

The exhibition also includes works created by artists who left the country around the time of the Tiananmen Square Incident in 1989, but it focuses on the works created before they left to emphasize works originating in China.

Among the 14 artists--counting a two-person collaboration as one--and two artistic groups, the exhibition includes artists whose works were deemed immoral and were censored by the authorities around the time of the Tiananmen incident.

The most significant point of the exhibition is that the works are ones Japanese experts wanted to present to the public, rather than those the Chinese wanted to present.

According to spokesmen for the National Art Center, Tokyo, and the National Museum of Art, Osaka, which organized the exhibition, the Chinese sounded out the possibility of jointly organizing the exhibition.

Fearful of not being able to select the works it wanted to display, the Japanese side declined the joint approach and collected works directly from artists living in China and from museums and art galleries, both inside and outside China.

Consequently, the Japanese organizers had to spend extra time and money on such tasks as clearing customs to bring the works into Japan. Thanks to these efforts, the organizers were able to hold an exhibition "with contents that met our standards," as Akira Tatehata, director of the National Museum of Art, Osaka, put it.

Sun Yuan and Peng Yu's displayed collaborative work, "Home for the Aged," featured resin images of elderly people in wheelchairs, highlighting the aging society issue.

The duo, who came to Japan while the exhibition was being held, described the environment surrounding the art scene in China, saying: "No country gives its people unlimited freedom. We've presented our works in a closed-door, underground setting, but today we can exhibit our works with more freedom than ever before.

"Whether or not people really understand what we intended to create, we're becoming more popular."

Cultural interactions are deepened when we really understand our partners and the exhibition deserves some credit for the recent increase in art exchanges between Japan and China.
Six years ago, the Tokyo Gallery + BTAP, based in Ginza, Tokyo, opened a gallery in Beijing. In spring this year, two other Japanese galleries opened in Beijing.

One of the two, the Mizuma Art Gallery, based in Meguro Ward, Tokyo, opened a gallery in Caochangdi, Beijing, promoting the works of young Japanese artists such as Makoto Aida and Akira Yamaguchi.

Sueo Mizuma, who owns the gallery, said, "There are a number of foreign galleries, including first-class galleries from New York, that have opened branches in Beijing, and attracted visitors from all over the world.

"From this enthusiasm, I knew by intuition that Beijing would become the center of the art scene in Asia. In the past, Japanese artists headed for Europe and the United States to pursue success, but in the years ahead their success in China will open their way to the world, I think," he said.
The other Japanese gallery in Beijing is Wada Fine Arts, based in Tsukiji, Chuo Ward, Tokyo.

Yumie Wada, the gallery's owner, said, "We started our trading with people who came to our shop in Beijing from Indonesia and Singapore. While our headquarters are in Tokyo, our Beijing branch is serving as a key showcase."

Galleries from other Asian countries have also opened branches in China. A leading gallery in Seoul held an exhibition of contemporary Japanese art at its Beijing branch, selling almost all the works put on sale, this year and last year.

A gallery based in Taipei plans to hold a one-person exhibition of a young Japanese painter at its branch in Shanghai, indicating that Beijing is not the only place where foreign galleries are opening in China.

In China, taxes of more than 30 percent are to be imposed on imported art works and their trading. On the other hand, foreigners can enjoy lower office rent and labor costs to operate their galleries.

When it comes to art auctions in recent years, the rapidly rising prices of Chinese art have sparked interest among collectors in works created in neighboring countries, in particular, those paintings created by young Japanese artists.

Now that the Beijing Olympics are over, and with the Chinese economy losing steam, changes that could impact the art scene there are expected. Yet, there are likely to be between Japan and China a growing number of exchanges of contemporary art that promote democracy and freedom in the years ahead.


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