Carleton Art History Professor Co-curated Exhibition in New York’s Guggenheim Museum
It received international attention from the likes of the New York Times, which called it “a mind-shifting exhibition about Japan’s best-known postwar art movement.” And now Ming Tiampo’s Gutai: Splendid Playground exhibition, an exploration of the Japan’s Gutai art movement held in early 2013 at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, is being recognized by the International Art Critics Association (AICA-USA) for exceptional aesthetic and scholarly accomplishments in the visual arts. The exhibition was named Best Thematic Museum Show in New York.
“It’s incredibly exciting,” said Tiampo. “This award speaks to how the exhibition has been received as central to the field, and to how non-Western modernisms are reshaping the way that we think about 20th century art transnationally. It is no longer possible to think of modernism as purely a Euro-American phenomenon.”
Tiampo is an art history professor at Carleton University who specializes in Japanese art after 1945. She co-curated the exhibition with the Guggenheim’s senior curator of Asian Art, Alexandra Munroe, whose work is recognized for initiating the field of postwar Japanese art history in North America.
Though the Gutai movement has been featured in other exhibitions, Splendid Playground was among the first devoted solely to the subject. The exhibition featured 100 works across a variety of media, including sculpture, installation art, painting, drawing, film, participatory art and performance. The show traced the Gutai Art Association from its inception in 1954 until its dissolution in 1972, and 27 of the group’s 59 members were represented.
Patrons of Splendid Playground were greeted with a work called Please Draw Freely, a participatory work by Gutai founder Jiro Yoshihara in which the public was invited to contribute to a collective public drawing. Further into the exhibition, viewers were invited to disturb other patrons by triggering a line of jangling bells in a 1955 work by Atsuko Tanaka. Even the elevators and bathrooms were transformed by Shuji Mukai into installations, inspiring an entire subgenre of #Gutai selfies on social media.
“One of the keys to the show’s success was that we designed an exhibition that could speak on multiple levels,” said Tiampo. “It was engaging for children and resonated with the general public, but also excited art historians and critics, who saw the importance of the work as well as the fundamental paradigm shift that we were proposing.”
Carleton students were treated to an insider’s perspective on Gutai: Splendid Playground. In 2012-2013, Tiampo taught a special exhibition seminar in which students studied the group in depth, as well as the curatorial process of designing and mounting the exhibition. The students travelled to New York with Tiampo and attended special seminars at the Guggenheim Museum.
“I was especially pleased about being able to use this exhibition as a teaching opportunity,” said Tiampo. “I hope to bring this kind of experience to Carleton students in the future through the curatorial studies concentration that we are launching this fall.”
In 2011, Tiampo published the first English book examining the movement. Called Gutai: Decentering Modernism, the book featured previously unpublished photographs and archival resources that she obtained while in residence at the Ashiya City Museum of Art from 2000 until 2002. The book considered Gutai’s pioneering transnational practice, which was spurred on by mid-century developments in mass media and travel that made the movement’s field of reception and influence global in scope. The book claimed a place for Gutai among modernist art practices while tracing the impact of Japan on art in Europe and America. It has been translated into Japanese, excerpted in Swedish, and will soon be excerpted in Chinese. Tiampo is also the co-editor of the book Art and War in Japan and its Empire: 1931-1960, which was published in 2012. Carleton alumna Asato Ikeda, who graduated in May 2008, collaborated with Tiampo on the book.
In addition to her work on Gutai, Tiampo has published on Japanese modernism, war art in Japan, globalization and art, multiculturalism in Canada, and the connections between Inuit and Japanese prints. Tiampo serves on the board of the Institute for Cultural Inquiry in Berlin, and is a founding member of the Center for Transnational Cultural Analysis at Carleton University.
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