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  • Radicals and Realists in the Japanese Nonverbal Arts: The Avant-Garde Rejection of Modernism
  • William O. Gardner
Radicals and Realists in the Japanese Nonverbal Arts: The Avant-Garde Rejection of Modernism. By Thomas R. H. Havens. University of Hawai'i Press, 2006. 296 pages. Hardcover $38.00.

Thomas R. H. Havens's latest study provides a historical overview of the development of the Japanese arts in the tumultuous years of 1952 through 1970. His purview spans the "nonverbal arts" of painting, sculpture, dance choreography, and art-music composition, with an emphasis on the activities of the avant-garde in each of these forms. As readers will recognize, this is a gargantuan, contested, and still understudied territory, but Havens makes credible work of outlining the genesis and distinguishing features of the numerous artistic groups and movements to emerge during these decades, including Gutai, Kyūshūha, Monoha, Neo-Dada, High Red Center, and Butoh. Perhaps more importantly, he helps to elucidate the importance of institutions such as the Yomiuri Independent art show and the Sōgetsu Arts Center in nurturing the development of the postwar arts, as well as the role of such relatively behind-the-scenes figures as poet, artist, and critic Takiguchi Shūzō, editor and critic Hanada Kiyoteru, or ikebana artist and Sōgetsu Center director Teshigahara Sōfū as mentors and facilitators for younger generations of artists, musicians, and dancers. This attention to the institutional and interpersonal underpinnings of creative activity marks a continuity with Havens's previous book on the postwar arts, Artist and Patron in Postwar Japan: Dance, Music, Theater, and the Visual Arts, 1955–1980 (Princeton University Press, 1982).

In addition to movements, institutions, and mentors, Havens also gives consideration to major artists in each genre, including such leading figures as painter Okamoto Tarō, Gutai instigator Yoshihara Jirō, High Red Center's Nakanishi Natsuyuki and Akasegawa Genpei, Monoha's Sekine Nobuo and Lee Ufan, composers Takemitsu Tōru and Yuasa Yōji, and dancers Atsugi Bonjin and Hijikata Tatsumi. While some of the works of these artists are also discussed briefly in the course of the study, it should be noted from the outset that Havens concentrates on outlining the broad contours of postwar art movements, rather than on providing close analysis of specific works.

Even a study with such a broad scope as Havens's will have to stop somewhere, and it is probably best to be grateful for the sweep of his study across numerous art forms, rather than regretful of genres, movements, or artists left out. Nevertheless, [End Page 203] among the many vibrant artistic fields omitted—including architecture, theater, film, and photography—the exclusions that seemed most serious to me were those of design and the applied arts. During the 1960s, graphic designers such as Yokoo Tadanori and Awazu Kiyoshi played an important role in connecting the visual arts with the performing arts—especially such radical movements as underground theater and Butoh—and served as an interface between the mass energy of student protest movements on the one hand and developing commercial practices and commercialized popular culture on the other. The absence of discussion of the activities of such artists makes the arts appear aloof, cerebral, and disconnected from the energy of 1960s youth culture.

Radicals and Realists is organized chronologically, beginning with an introductory essay on the arts under the Allied Occupation, followed by the two main parts of the text, devoted to the 1950s and 1960s respectively, and closing with a discussion of the 1970 Osaka Expo. Havens presents this last event as both a culminating celebration of the avant-garde arts and the manifestation of a new alignment between art, money, and politics in Japan that marked a shift in the avant-garde's oppositional stance towards commercial institutions and the state. A historical overview precedes each of the main sections of the study, and, as one would hope from the work of a historian, these introductions are exemplary in describing the historical circumstances and issues affecting the development of artistic expression in each era. Especially welcome are Havens's forthright discussion of Japan's "neocolonial" relationship with the United States during the Occupation period...


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pp. 203-205
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