Art and the human touch

In this city, we rarely get a chance to see Japanese contemporary art and how Western art of our times made its mark on it. Art lovers and visitors enjoyed the opportunity to do so at the exhibition, Japanese Prints of the 1970's: Photographic Images and Matter (December 9-24, 2017), held in the Portrait Gallery of the Victoria Memorial Hall in collaboration with the Japan Foundation, which promotes cultural exchange, and the Consulate General of Japan in Calcutta. Anyone interested was offered an excellent handout that contained an essay on the exhibition by Kyoji Takizawa, curator, Machida City Museum of Graphic Arts.

The title of the exhibition indeed spoke volumes about the show itself. After World War II, the Japanese government held the first International Biennial Exhibition of Prints in Tokyo in 1957 to showcase the much-appreciated prints created by Japanese practitioners.

What strikes viewers is the technical perfection of these works, and how, defeating the efforts of artists to drain their works of any trace of emotion, they do arouse complex feelings in visitors. The artists used photographs and a method that "dealt with the relationship between the print block, support medium, ink, the state of the ink seeping into the paper, and the act of printing." Printmakers like Tetsuya Noda, combined silkscreen and woodblock printing, while Akira Matsumoto heightened the reality of photoengraved images by substituting them with dots. The film-maker, Sakumi Hagiwara, used silkscreen images of disparate frames from his videos and juxtaposed them to question the relationship between reality and images. Japanese artists had reacted strongly to Pop art, and produced works done with minimum of human intervention.

The "stains" of stone on paper in the works of Koji Enokura and Shoichi Ida produced effects that allowed autonomy to matter. While these works were cool by nature, Mitsuo Kano produced the most dramatic works in brilliant colours like cobalt blue (picture), that may remind viewers both of the impress of metal on paper and of the "Rorschach test". Using corroded metal sheets, Arinori Ichihara produced highly textured surfaces. Beautiful as the show was, it raised the question, can art be dehumanized?


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