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NEO-TOKYO: Japanese art now

Museum of Contemporary Art Australia (MCA)


10 Nov 2001 to 10 Feb 2002


Command N, Satoshi Hirose, Yoshitomo Nara, Myeong-eun Shin, Shingo Suzuki, Momoyo Torimitsu, Miwa Yanagi, Kenji Yanobe


Rachel Kent

About the exhibition

NEO-TOKYO: Japanese Art Now presented the work of a generation of contemporary Japanese artists who came to prominence within their own country and abroad, during the second half of the 1990s. These artists, mostly born after 1960, explored urban themes in diverse and engaging artistic practices. Their works offered insight into some of the key ideas and issues facing Japanese society at the start of the new millennium.

Urban life and experience formed recurrent themes within NEO-TOKYO: Japanese Art Now. City life and subcultures, consumerism and the legacy of pop were just some of the concepts explored by artists in the exhibition.

Some artists focused on city life, consumerism, subcultural subversion and the legacy of pop where others looked to strategies of survival and adaptation. Japan was in a state of flux following the collapse of their 'bubble economy’ and artists were striving for an understanding of their volatile socio-economic and political context.

Tokyo’s high-density architecture and large population provided a point of departure for the exhibition, however this teeming metropolis proved universally engaging for viewers in urban contexts.

During the exhibition, artist Momoyo Torimitsu caused a storm when her life-size robot Miyata Jiro (1995) crawled the streets of Sydney. The battery-operated robot in the guise of a middle-aged Japanese businessman was a symbol of anonymity and conformity. Described by the artist as ‘a business soldier, a member of Japan’s corporate army … or an inebriated businessman’, the robot crawled on all fours through the crowded streets of New York, London, Paris, Amsterdam, Rio de Janeiro and Sydney, like a child’s toy, or a soldier in battle. Torimitsu, dressed as his nurse, periodically changed his batteries. The work echoed the artist’s feeling of a deep disillusionment in her generation, children of Japan’s post-1960’s economic boom, and of Japan’s defeat in World War Two and the social consequences that have resonated through the following decades.