The Kröller-Müller Museum plans a comprehensive survey of the past two decades of contemporary art
from Japan. On show from April 8 to July 8 2001 will be work by eighteen Japanese artists,
representatives of different generations. The older ones are well-known at home and abroad; the
younger ones are increasingly the focus of exhibitions in Japan and Europe.
Why stage such a wide-ranging show of modern and contemporary art from Japan in a Dutch museum
like the Kröller-MüllerNULL The main reason is that contemporary Japanese art has never been presented
on this scale in the Netherlands. Although numerous museums have highlighted the Japanese art and
culture of the past on several occasions - the history of Japan, the links between Japan and the
Netherlands - modern Japanese art has not come in for much attention, with the exception of a few
small, interesting presentations of contemporary Japanese art in Leiden and Amsterdam.
Another reason for this exhibition is that the Kröller-Müller Museum owns work by several 20th-century
Japanese artists (Isama Noguchi, Yoshishigo Saito, Kazu Kadonaga, Ufan Lee, Nobuo Sekine, Shiryo
Morita). Our frequent collaboration with Japanese museums of modern art in organizing Van Gogh
exhibitions and loaning work for them has cemented the Kröller-Müller Museum's links with Japan.
Recent Van Gogh exhibitions were staged in Yokohama and Nagoya (1995) and in Tokyo and Fukuoka
The purpose of IKIRO / Be Alive - the title of one of the exhibits - is to acquaint the general Dutch public
with the work of a group of intriguing and important Japanese artists and their world of ideas, a world
often quite different from that of European artists. A special aspect of the exhibition is that fourteen of the
eighteen artists have never exhibited in the Netherlands before, although many of them enjoy
established reputations at home and abroad, such as Ufan Lee, Isamu Wakabayashi, Shigeo Toya,
Kimio Tsuchiya and Mariko Mori.
In order to convey an impression of some important aspects of Japanese art from 1980 to the present,
we have chosen work by both older and younger artists to illustrate the striking generation gap that
became apparent in the first half of the 1990s.
The art of the older generation (Lee, Wakabayashi, Toya, Koshimizu, Kuno, Tsuchiya) is imbued with
spiritual values and concepts according to which the artist and reality are part of a universe that is larger
than man. Their work is very elementary, also in terms of material (wood, steel, stone, rice), being
related to nature and basic human existence in keeping with Japanese traditions. Much of their work
centers on the significance of nature - with an emphasis on trees and vegetation - and on the cycle of
life and death, which are implicitly influenced by Buddhism and Shintoism.
The younger generation that made its appearance in the 1990s struck out in completely new directions.
They were fascinated by, for instance, Japan's role in World War Two, by present-day Japanese society,
by the position of women, by art as a form of communication (Saitoh, Tabaimo, Miyajima, Shimabuku).
They react directly to their social environment or seek inspiration in the condition humaine (Kon,
But even among the younger artists there are those who revert in a personal and for westerners highly
Japanese manner to themes from nature (Hidaka), the experience and meaning of life (Suzuki) or
elements from Japan's centuries-old culture and traditions (Mori). This younger generation has
abandoned the traditional techniques of their elders (wood, stone, natural materials) in favor of such
media as photography, film, video and installations of everyday objects. This young generation is
moreover very open to the world of art outside Japan. Japanese artists travel extensively and are rapidly
joining the new international generation of nomadic artists. They engage in exchange with their
contemporaries, but without forgetting their roots.
IKIRO/Be Alive is primarily intended to acquaint the public with two kinds of Japanese artists: those who
traditionally seek authenticity and reflect on their own identity and their relationship to nature, and those
who are intensely concerned with the world they live in and with Japan's recent history. A third category -
consisting largely of young artists - is missing from this exhibition: Japanese neo-pop, rooted in the
popular Manga comic-strip culture, and the world of video games, PC and the Internet.
The following eighteen Japanese artists, listed here in order of seniority, will be represented in the exhibition:
Ufan LEE (1936)
Rieko HIDAKA (1958)
Isamu WAKABAYASHI (1936)
Minako SAITOH (1962)
Susumu KOSHIMIZU (1944)
Osamu KANEMURA (1964)
Fujio AKAI (1945)
Tsuyoshi OZAWA (1965)
Shigeo TOYA (1947)
Mariko MORI (1967)
Toshihiro KUNO (1948)
Yoshinori KON (1967)
Kimio TSUCHIYA (1955)
Takahiro SUZUKI (1967)
Hisaya KOJIMA (1957)
Tatsuo MIYAJIMA (1957)
All the artists will come to the Kröller-Müller Museum to install their works. The exhibition will be accompanied by a
catalogue containing three introductions and detailed information about the artists