In the wake of World War II, Japan experienced sweeping trans-formations. Rapid industrialization and the economic surge that began in the mid-1950s were soon overshadowed by deep anxiety, sparked by the US–Japan Security Treaty (Anpo), which sustained American military presence within Japan’s borders. This tension reached a fever pitch in the late 1960s, when political radicalism and mass protests erupted across the nation. Two flashpoints were the imminent renewal of Anpo, which embroiled Japan in the Vietnam War, and the Expo ’70 world’s fair in Osaka, which presented Japan as a techno-logical powerhouse but was widely viewed as a government-orchestrated distraction from Anpo. Following these two events of 1970, Japan’s post-war “economic miracle” gave way to recession, and activism dissolved into apathy.
In response to this turbulence, many in the 1970s began to reimagine the role of visual media in Japanese society. Artists and photographers (whose work was traditionally considered distinct from one another) pursued novel forms of expression that would capture the era’s complexities, forging new directions for the future. A critical feature of this experimental impulse was their embrace of innovative camera-based practices.
For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968–1979 is the first major exhibition devoted to this groundbreaking shift in the Japanese cultural landscape. The show’s point of departure is the tumultuous 1968–70 period, when the burst of social discord in Japan coincided with the emergence of new photographic styles, epitomized in the defiant, raw aesthetic of the avant-garde photojournal Provoke (1968–69). After 1970, many Japanese artists and photographers moved toward a cooler, deadpan, at times introverted viewpoint. Examining the camera’s fundamental role in the practices of artists engaged in international conceptual art currents of the 1970s, For a New World to Come focuses on the cross-pollination between these media at a time when jet travel and telecommunications were collapsing geographic distances.
In illuminating a pivotal, though often overlooked decade, when the realms of art and photography drew closer together than ever before, For a New World to Come spotlights Japan’s vital contributions toward shaping the global development of contemporary art.