Neo-Dada Mix/Remix: Contemporary Japanese Art

L to R: Ushio Shinohara, Asia Society Museum Associate Curator Miwako Tezuka, and Tomokazu Matsuyama at Asia Society New York on Mar. 28, 2011. Behind them on screen is a 1965 work by Ushio Shinohara.

NEW YORK, March 28, 2011 - The idea of cultural collage is a priority shared by two Japanese artists from different generations, Ushio Shinohara and Tomokazu Matsuyama, who have lived and worked in New York since 1969 and 2001, respectively. In a recent discussion called "Neo-Dada Mix/Remix" here at the Asia Society, they explored similarities and differences in their artistic methodologies as well as their favorite music.

Born in Tokyo in 1932 Ushio Shinohara achieved iconic status as a Neo-Dada artist in Japan in the late 1950s. Tomokazu Matsuyama, on the other hand, born in Tokyo in 1976, adopts traditional images from Western and Japanese art history to create new works that reflect the age of reproduction and information.

Dr. Miwako Tezuka, Asia Society Museum Associate Curator, moderated and translated the discussion. According to her, in many ways Shinohara and Matsuyama have similar approaches. Shinohara directly mixes foreign elements into his work, while Matsuyama focuses on a "remix" of Japanese culture.

Early in his career, Shinohara began appropriating the work of other artists and ten years later named it "imitation art." However, Shinohara admitted that his motivation for appropriating art was quite different from Matsuyama's.

"In 1960, I saw Rauschenberg's Coca-Cola Plan (1958) in a black and white reproduction of the work. As I was closely looking at how it was made, I noticed the use of three empty Coca-Cola bottles, and I realized that there were tons of empty Coca-Cola bottles in my backyard."

Rauschenberg encouraged the use of castoffs as "junk art," but Shinohara was also working from the idea that a scarcity of materials inspires the artist. In 1963, Rauschenberg actually saw Shinohara's version of Cola-Cola Plan when he visited his studio in Japan. "This is my son!" he exclaimed. Shinohara recalls that he felt reassured because he had had a little guilt about imitating others.

The concepts of mixing and remixing were largely legitimized in 1980s, and working in a very different time and situation, Matsuyama had his own motivations for appropriation. Scarcity of materials and information was not an issue.

"For us there were too many expressions, too much information to absorb," he noted. "[We had] to pick what was important, what was different, and what was new. For me, I was interested in going back and bringing something that was very rare."

The conversation suggested that even if they seem to share a similar approach, the artists' distinct situations make their work quite individual. Their contrasting tastes in music, for example, magnify their differences: Shinohara loves the rock and roll music that American GIs listened to, while Matsuyama is influenced by the electropop music of Ryuichi Sakamoto. The event provided unique perspectives on the work of both artists and new ideas for future conversations.

Reported by Saori Kashio