A prominent French critic of abstract art Michel Seuphor wrote in 1962 that “in the 1960s, every abstract painter is fascinated by the East, dreams of visiting Japan, perhaps to find the delights of Japanese calligraphy.”* In the 1950s and 60s calligraphy from Japan was in the vanguard of international art, and Japanese avant-garde calligraphers successfully competed with European and American abstractionists for the attention of art critics and audiences worldwide.
Calligraphers including Morita Shiryū, Inoue Yūichi, Hidai Nankoku, Ueda Sōkyū or Teshima Yūkei exhibited side-by-side with European and American abstractionists, such as Jackson Pollock, Pierre Soulages, Hans Hartung, Franz Kline, or Isamu Noguchi. The unprecedented postwar heyday of this East Asian art form, while remaining understudied, impacted the trajectories, visualities and concepts of postwar art across the globe.
This project aims to include calligraphy from Japan into the larger discussion of postwar avant-gardes. By focusing on individual artists and their networks, this project explores the understudied flows and connections between artists and art groups previously unrelated to each other, decentering the concept of avant-garde in terms of its geographic localisation, but also the art forms it engaged.
The outcome of this project is a book on the Bokujinkai group; an exhibition on 1965 performance in New York; and several smaller publications.
Key expected outputs
- Book: Bokujinkai: Japanese Calligraphy and the Postwar Avant-Garde (Japanese Visual Culture Series 19, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2020)
- Article: ‘Ink Splashes on Camera: Calligraphy, Action Painting, and Mass Media in Postwar Japan’. In Modernism/Modernity Journal, The Modernist Studies Association.
- Event: ‘Japan Boom, 1954, New York’ 8 Jun 2019, Japan Society New York.