Synopsis

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Literature / Arts

Radicalism in the Wilderness

(The MIT Press 2016)

Reiko Tomii

In this authoritative and engaging study, author Reiko Tomii sets out to achieve two goals: to narrate the history of the “wilderness” of contemporary art in 1960s Japan, and to link it with the history of global art. She does this via an exploration of conceptualism, performance art, and land art as seen respectively in the works of three different generations of artists—Yutaka Matsuzawa, The Play (a collective of “Happeners”), and Group Ultra Niigata (GUN), a regional art unit.

Wilderness here is multilayered in meaning. Taken literally it refers to the remote landscapes in which the profiled artists chose to situate their work. But it is also evocative of the “out-there”— outside the norms of thinking, outside Tokyo, outside the academy, outside power, outside commercialism. While Tomii is exhaustive in her vivid descriptions of the radical art of her chosen practitioners, she is equally concerned with situating them into “world” art history (in reality, a staunchly Eurocentric field) by devising a more expansive, multicentered framework for the history of art. Here she posits “international contemporaneity” as a geohistorical concept, a way to measure relationships between two locales at a given time in history, shaped by both fact and perception.

Tomii examines what she terms the “contact points” of connection and resonance as ways of navigating and narrating the interfaces between the local and the global. She thereby “explodes and decenters” conventional art history by revealing the synchronicity of ideas that was present in the at-once peripheral and pivotal milieu of 1960s Japan.

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