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Reviewed by:
  • Avantgarde Männersache? Künstlerinnen im Japan der 50er und 60er Jahre des 20. Jahrhunderts
  • Franziska Seraphim (bio)
Avantgarde Männersache? Künstlerinnen im Japan der 50er und 60er Jahre des 20. Jahrhunderts. By Maren Godzik. Iudicium Verlag, München, 2006. 255 pages. €25.00, paper.

Japanese avant-garde art is in the air. If, until recently, avant-garde artists of the 1950s and 1960s had garnered little serious academic interest, they are now the subject of three new studies, each from a different perspective. The Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles produced an exhibition and accompanying catalogue of its own collection of postwar Japanese avant-garde art entitled Art, Anti-Art, Non-Art: Experimentations in the Public Sphere in Postwar Japan 1950–1970 (Getty Publications, 2007). The accomplished historian Thomas Havens turned his pen to the cultural politics of "the avant-garde rejection of modernism" in his latest book, Radicals and Realists in the Japanese Nonverbal Arts (University of Hawai'i Press, 2006). The same year, the Japanologist Maren Godzik presented her sociological study of female avant-garde artists in Japan and their reception by the art establishment. With a title roughly translatable as "Avant-garde: A Male Matter?" the book was written as a doctoral dissertation at Bonn University and secured publication with Germany's foremost academic press in Japan studies.

All three books cover the same time span (from postwar reconstruction to 1970), examine the same genre of avant-garde art (the visual as opposed to the literary arts, although Havens also includes music), and focus on the same main groups of artists, in particular Jikken Kōbō, Gutai, Kyūshūha, Mono-ha, Zero-kai, and Neo-Dada. All seem to have been inspired, in part, by a series of avant-garde retrospectives that colored Japan's art world in the 1990s. It is therefore surprising that none of the books seriously engages the latter historical moment to interrogate why the early postwar art movements came to be of considerable public interest at the turn of the millennium. These works instead set out to recover the dynamism and diversity of the avant-garde art world as a response to war and postwar reconstruction. Godzik's Avantgarde Männersache? distinguishes itself by its explicit focus on female artists and the gendered nature of the modern art establishment. [End Page 117] Indeed, Godzik uses the careers of a handful of prominent female avant-garde painters and their reception as women within the art world as a lens for viewing the gendered landscape of postwar Japan. Her larger framework, moreover, is a feminist reading of the institutional and social norms that governed the reception of professional artists in the modern age by way of a "sociology of art" (Kunstsoziologie).

The book is structured into four substantive chapters. The first three chapters frame the subject matter theoretically and historically based on extensive readings in recent Japanese, American, and German art criticism, gender theory, and historical sociology. The fourth chapter, which is almost equal in length to the foregoing three, presents Godzik's primary research on five selected female artists in the form of case studies, which are subsequently analyzed from a sociological perspective. A long glossary lists art institutions and artist groups (in German and Japanese) and serves as a reference tool for avant-garde artists' names, exhibitions, and selected works. The extensive bibliography is particularly useful for its references to art catalogues in various languages, both contemporary and recent art criticism, and the latest writings on gender and art.

Godzik's analysis, in the first chapters, of how female artists built their careers revolves around historically specific conceptualizations of women's legal and social rights, the place of art in public life, and the relationship between women and art in society (p. 14). More concretely, she is interested in women within an established network of artists, art schools, museums, critics, and art dealers: in other words, within "art" as a set of interrelated institutions first invented in the European Enlightenment and (re)created in Japan during the Meiji period. In Japan as in the West, Godzik finds, the modern invention of an art "system" granted women more...


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pp. 117-120
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