Introduction

A rtists fr o m
an o ther era
A rtists
fr o m
an o ther
era
res p on d ing to
the q uestions
p osed by
B euys.
res p on d ing
to the
q uestions
p osed by
B euys.

Through their own works,
contemporary artists share
their thinking.

Joseph Beuys’ diverse practice questioned the very concept of art. Joseph Beuys made it clear that there is no boundary between society and art, but instead, if anything, they are interrelated. This exhibition features works by Beuys and also works by six contemporary artists. How did the questions that Beuys once posed to society reach these artists? Their silent dialogue—an exchange of works rather than words—resonates in the exhibition space, and is replete with a dignity that reverberates throughout society.

エントランス

Joseph Beuys

Vitrines are questions
posed by Beuys

“Vitrine” refers to a format in which relics are kept in a glass case. Joseph Beuys arranged items and messages he used in his performances in such cases. His inspiration for this was a museum exhibition about Auschwitz. Everyday items such as shoes and clothes, and even body parts such as hair and bones, became objects for permanent display. The vitrine made the viewer aware of the boundary between life and death, while at the same time functioning as a device to indicate a shift in values. Or perhaps Beuys was sealing away his own trauma from the war while making it visible. The vitrines are works that will continue to carry a powerful message as long as humans keep waging war. Their mordant structure sheds light on our own times, when the bloodshed continues. The works exhibited here are items from artist Kanji Wakae’s own Beuys collection that he has placed in vitrines.
Joseph Beuys

Beuys was born in 1921 in Krefeld, Germany. After the war, he criticized totalitarianism and strongly questioned society through his works. In his performance, I Like America and America Likes Me, he lived with a coyote, taken as a symbol of indigenous people. In Kassel, Germany, he planted 7,000 oak trees alongside stone pillars. He argued that all attempts to change the structure of society, even in the fields of politics and economics, are art; and therefore, every man is an artist. In 1984 he came to Japan, where he interacted with artists including Kanji Wakae and Naoya Hatakeyama. Beuys died in 1986.
Photo by Naoya Hatakeyama

H ave t h ese six
c o ntemp o rary
artists in h erited
s o met h ing fr o m
B euys?

6 Artists

In submitting works for this exhibition, the artists came face to face with Joseph Beuys yet again. If each work is a response to Beuys, then what was Beuys’ question in the first place? In order to listen intently to the silent dialogue that is this exhibition, we asked each artist two questions. The responses serve as a kind of commentary on each piece, while at the same revealing the attitude of each artist.

  • Q1

    What was Joseph Beuys
    questioning?

  • Q2

    What question do you
    want to
    pose to
    contemporary society?

Artist01

Q1

What was Joseph Beuys questioning?

Everyone is deeply immersed in the ideology of art for art’s sake that began with the modern art of the nineteenth century. In these sensory arts, there is nothing beyond preference, there is only art for the sake of art. In what I call entertainment art, popularity is proof that one is not playing a pioneering role in the sphere, and it is therefore inherently humiliating. This is because you are just a pet. Marcel Duchamp tried his hand at post-modern art. Joseph Beuys is, of course, also part of the same current. Post-modern art is contemporary art, and it is a place for grand experiments. Beuys expanded the concept of art to encompass influencing and transforming political society itself, something that neither Dada nor Duchamp did. So what is true art? It is art that serves life. In other words, it must be something that can serve as a textbook for the future.

Q2

What question do you want to pose to contemporary society?

I have been witness to various artistic movements, beginning with Beuys in the 1970s. Exactly how much remains after fifty years? Almost everything has ended up on the trash heap. We must think about things in terms of a 100-year time horizon. The term “contemporary art” does a poor job of conveying what is truly meant, so I’ve replaced it with the term “socially universal art.” Is democracy truly a universal value? The environment is a matter of equal concern to all people. Considered in this light, how much art is there that is philosophical, religious, and also ethical and universal to society?

O ur art m u st
ser v e life.
Kanji
Wakae

Wakae is an artist who was born in 1944 in the city of Yokosuka. In 1974 he won an award at the 9th International Biennial Exhibition of Prints in Tokyo, and in 1975 he took the opportunity of an exhibition to visit West Germany and the Netherlands. During this time he was invited to work as an artist at the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam and the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg. In 1982–1983 Wakae studied at Bergische Universität Wuppertal on a fellowship for overseas study for artists sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. While there, he made a plaster cast from Joseph Beuys’ feet while he was still alive. In 1994 he opened Museum Haus Kasuya, with an exhibition room dedicated to works by Joseph Beuys. Wakae received the Kanagawa Culture Award in 2018. His works have been shown at numerous solo and group exhibitions inside and outside of enpan. Major exhibitions include the 11th enpan International Art Exhibition in 1974 (Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum and Kyoto Municipal Museum of Art), as well as solo exhibitions at Gallery M (in what was then West Germany) in 1975, Kunst-und Museumsverein Wuppertal (in what was then West Germany) in 1989, The Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura (Kanagawa) in 2004, Aomori Contemporary Art Center (Aomori) in 2004–2005, and Yokosuka Museum of Art in 2011. He has organized exhibitions such as Art – a Dialogue on Peace (Okurayama Memorial Hall, Yokohama) in 1986, and The Berlin Wall (shown in four cities in Kanagawa Prefecture) in 1987. Wakae is the co-author of Joseph Beuys no ashigata [The Footprints of Joseph Beuys] (Misuzu Shobo).

Artist02

Q1

What was Joseph Beuys questioning?

When Beuys came to enpan in 1984, I spent several days closely following him, observing his every move. Perhaps because of this, even now, whenever I think of him or his work, I feel as if he is asking me in that husky voice, “You saw me, didn’t you?” What was important to me was not so much the scholarly content of his words, but the primal fact that he was alive, moving around, drawing, creating sculptures, and still speaking out. I gazed upon him in amazement at the sight of an artist, a “living thing,” earnestly striving to keep human tradition alive, and I will never forget that time. He wasn’t telling people to be powerful or to climb high. He was telling everyone, no matter who they were, “Be an artist,” and “Be an artist wherever you are.” It was an order that was both easy and difficult.

Q2

What question do you want to pose to contemporary society?

I don’t have anything in particular that I’d like to ask, but I feel like in the last few years it has become clear that society as community is maintained by human beings. Perhaps because we have placed too much emphasis on being free and equal individuals, we have lost our status as human beings, and society has become so indistinct that it is indistinguishable from a mere herd. It is fair to say that these days people are more interested in the survival of the group than in maintaining society. What can I ask of a society that may or may not exist? When I think about it like that, sadly what comes to mind is “nothing in particular.” Human being and individual are similar yet different concepts. If Beuys were alive today, forty years later, he might say, “Be a human being,” rather than, “Be an artist.”

Y ou sa w me,
d i d n’t you?
Naoya
Hatakeyama

Hatakeyama is a photographer born in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture in 1958. In 1984, after completing his master’s degree at the University of Tsukuba, School of Art and Design, he was picked up by Seibu Saison Group’s in-house ad agency, SPN. When he began working in video production there, his boss, Hideki Izumi, asked him to direct a documentary film on Joseph Beuys’ visit to enpan. The resulting 60-minute video work, Joseph Beuys in enpan, was subsequently screened around the world. In the same year, Peyotl Kobo produced and published Ein Dokument: 1984 Joseph Beuys in enpan, a set containing video recordings and a book with the transcripts of all the lectures he gave during his stay in enpan, attracting much attention. Hatakeyama is currently a professor at the Graduate School of Film and New Media, Tokyo University of the Arts (scheduled to retire in March 2025). Recent major exhibitions include Natural Stories (Tokyo Photographic Art Museum; Huis Marseille, Museum for Photography; and San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) in 2011–2012; Cloven Landscape (Sendai Mediatheque) in 2017; and Naoya Hatakeyama – Excavating the Future City (Minneapolis Institute of Art) in 2018.

Artist03

Q1

What was Joseph Beuys questioning?

I think he is someone who clearly showed through his own attitude that it is the attitude that is the work and the art. This is because the fact that he used materials that were not very durable and prone to change also reflected a consistent attitude. He was questioning whether attitude can be a foundation of art, or even the basis of art, and the extent to which it can be a movement with an impact on society. This is a question that is addressed not only to creators, but equally to the audience. Viewers are expected to take initiative in observing the works, not merely passively appreciate them. Perhaps that is why he used materials susceptible to change. What is the meaning of democratization and what will happen in the wake of capitalism? This is the klaxon that Beuys was sounding. I think that what was being questioned was the act of creation itself.

Q2

What question do you want to pose to contemporary society?

It’s only paraphrasing Beuys, but can each and every individual find their own voice? I think that’s all there is to it. Beuys’ provocations were effective in the post-war era—a time that called for revolution—in which he lived. However, it is clear that society will not change through this alone, and the very act of destroying the old and establishing the new leads to a chain of disconnection and hatred. We now know that this alone is not the solution. So what are we to do? This might be my question.

W hat is b ein g
q uesti o ne d is
the act o f
creati o n itself.
Hirofumi
Isoya

Isoya was born in Tokyo in 1978. After majoring in architecture at Tokyo University of the Arts, he studied art as a graduate student at that same university and also at Goldsmiths, University of London. Through the mediums of photography, sculpture, and drawing, he reconsiders the plurality of perception and the diverse nature of time. Recent major exhibitions include Find Your Verb (Koumi-machi Kogen Museum of Art) in 2022, Constellations: Photographs in Dialogue (San Francisco Museum of Modern Art) in 2021, L’image et son double (Centre Pompidou) in 2021.

Artist04

W e are i n
the p rocess of
a slo w -mo v i n g
exti n ctio n .
Akira
Kamo

Kamo was born in Tokyo in 1982. After graduating with a degree in painting from the Tokyo University of the Arts Faculty of Fine Arts in 2008, he received a graduate degree in painting from the Tokyo University of the Arts Graduate School of Fine Arts in 2010. After the Great East enpan Earthquake (March 11, 2011), he came to regard painting and survival as synonymous, and by interweaving impressions and real events, he creates paintings in which the individual and society appear relative to each other. Recent major exhibitions include Prayers in the Wind and Soil (PARCEL) in Tokyo, Soil as a planet/Soil as reconstruction (NANAWATA) in Saitama, and Wind Blowing Through Boundary (LOKO gallery) in Tokyo; all in 2023.

Q1

What was Joseph Beuys questioning?

What kind of agency do you have in your life? This question, which is always at the back of my mind, may be the same question that Beuys once posed to society. Now, when I think about the questions asked by Beuys, I think the biggest question that he is asking is, “What kind of economic sphere are you living in?” This is easy to understand when you consider what is happening in Gaza right now. Even if you absolutely do not want to be on the side of the perpetrators, if you lose focus you will end up on that side. What kind of money is being used to buy my work? It’s not as if I’ve checked everything. I think we are now being questioned about our awareness as a parties to the global economy.

Q2

What question do you want to pose to contemporary society?

I think that the species Homo sapiens is slowly heading towards extinction. I feel a sense of crisis: just like the frog boiled in water that dies without realizing it is getting hotter and hotter, we are in the process of a slow-moving extinction in the not far distance. Even if we survive as a species, the culture and civilization of today will eventually become extinct if things continue this way. Just like the end of the Mesopotamian civilization, and just like the end of the Egyptian civilization. We are in the process of a slow-moving extinction, but of course we don’t want to become extinct. I would like to express myself in order to survive the slow extinction.

Artist05

I n the liminal s p ace
b etween s o cial
d ecisi o ns an d
in d ivi d ual sensi b ilities.
I n the liminal
s p ace b etween
s o cial d ecisi o ns
an d in d ivi d ual
sensi b ilities.

Artist05

AKI
INOMATA

INOMATA was born in 1983, and completed her graduate studies at the Tokyo University of the Arts, Department of Inter-Media Art in 2008. She lives and works in Tokyo. She presents works that arise from interactions with non-human living creatures and nature. She has shown many works that were created in collaboration with living creatures. These include Think Evolution, in which she brought together an ammonite and an octopus across the long span of evolutionary time; Why Not Hand Over a “Shelter” to Hermit Crabs?, in which hermit crabs move into transparent “shelters” in the form of cityscapes from around the world; Memory of Currency, in which she inserts a small, three-dimensional core into an oyster’s nacre to create a pearl with a coin motif; and I Wear the Dog’s Hair, and the Dog Wears My Hair. Recent major exhibitions include Roppongi Crossing 2022: Coming & Going (Mori Art Museum, Tokyo) in 2022–2023, Aichi Triennale 2022 (Aichi) in 2022, and Broken Nature (Museum of Modern Art, New York) in 2020–2021.

Q1

What was Joseph Beuys questioning?

What I find interesting about Beuys as an artist is the ambiguity between the fact that he executed his various projects based on his view that social activism is art and the fact that he produced works based on his sui generis theory of sculpture and his sensibility toward materials. Beuys’ sensibility, nurtured in bountiful nature, is apparent in his vivid expressions that are akin to living creatures. I think that his focus on materials that are plastic in response to temperature, such as beeswax, is something that is relevant to my own work. At the same time, he was involved in a project to plant oak trees and in the founding of a political party. Politics can be thought of as society’s mechanism for making yes or no choices, but I think that an artist’s sensibility has an ambiguity that does not necessarily lend itself to this, and that is open to alternative possibilities. Therefore, there are bound to be contradictions and conflicts between social decisions and individual sensibilities. Beuys’ social sculpture and its practitioners were forced into this conflict, but I also think that they call upon us to face the difficult problems we face today.

Q2

What question do you want to pose to contemporary society?

By exploring new relationships with living things and nature, I intend to reconsider the human condition. But faced with the complexity of the living world, setting specific questions from the very start is not just difficult, it can even be an obstacle. This is something that I can say based on my own experience as a creator. Rather than setting out with an idea of how things should be, I believe it is necessary to learn about how nature works while cautiously inserting ourselves into the living world. What I present to society is this process as a work of art. Ever since I made my debut, I have focused on how humans relate to nature, through shakkei, or borrowed scenery. This can be found in ancient Chinese landscaping techniques, but also in contemporary art such as Juro Kara’s tent theater and Antony Gormley’s sculptures. I would like to update the borrowed scenery concept for the modern era. This is my own approach to the reality that human society, having become a modern civilization, is now being forced to reconsider its view of nature, including the environmental problems we are facing.

Artist06

Q1

What was Joseph Beuys questioning?
 

I think that we are being asked, “What do you think about every day, as an artist and as a citizen?” The motifs in my work are also from everyday life, such as a view from a train window or a construction site scene. Rather than seeing art as something in the distance, I have been working under the belief that it can be found in familiar scenery. From this standpoint, I feel a strong synergy with Beuys’ idea that observation and thinking are art in themselves. The same can be said to be true in our own daily lives. There is the me that works to earn a living and the me that engages in artistic activities. I used to feel like there was a separation between the two, but I think that from now on my goal will be to seamlessly connect all of my everyday life as art. For people who feel like art is something in the distance, I hope my work will act as a trigger that changes the way they see the landscape around them and that gets them thinking.

Q2

What question do you want to pose to contemporary society?

I will be exhibiting my Day Tripper series, and the theme of this work is something like creating an opportunity to take another look at the everyday scenery from the train window. Although it is not directly stated, I think there is a message about being aware of indifference and paying attention to things that we have been indifferent about. If you live in Tokyo, you can go about your life even if you are indifferent to society and politics. The morning news is full of stories about major league players and delicious food. But there are wars going on. The gap between these things gives me a sense of crisis. Even if I were to say, “Hey, let’s get politically active and join a demonstration,” it might be hard for people of my generation to grasp the reality. This is why I hope that by taking another look at things that normally escape notice, like the scenery from a train window, we will pay closer attention to the reality of every moment in the city. I think that this small first step is like a modest steppingstone towards addressing the questions posed by my work.

I h o pe my w o rk
w ill act as a tri g g er
that g ets pe o ple
thinkin g .
I h o pe my w o rk
w ill act as
a tri g g er that
g ets pe o ple
thinkin g .
Moka
Takeda

Takeda was born in Tokyo in 1997. She completed her graduate studies at the Tokyo University of the Arts, Department of Inter-Media Art in 2024. In 2022, she studied at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste München in Germany. While she was living in Germany she traveled to twenty-six cities in thirteen countries. Inspired by everyday urban scenes such as the view from a train or a construction site, Takeda creates installations that question the meaning of reality in the world of today, in which we are inundated with information and images. Major exhibitions and awards include the JR East Award in the digital art category of Geidai Art Plaza Art Awards 2024, solo exhibition A Day in the Life in 2024, NTT InterCommunication Center Emergencies! 045 (ICC) in 2023, Tokyo Geidai ART FES 2023 Excellence Award, selection for the Gunma Biennale for Young Artists in 2021, group exhibition Storage (Germany) in 2022, ART MEETS TOKYO in connection with the 23rd enpan Media Arts Festival in 2020, and participation in the Kyoto Re;Search Kyoto Prefecture Artist-in-Residence Program in 2019–2021.

若江漢字 畠山直哉 磯谷博史 加茂 昴 AKI INOMATA 武田萌花 若江漢字 畠山直哉 磯谷博史 加茂 昴 AKI INOMATA 武田萌花

Dialogue with
Joseph Beuys

Dates
July 17 – September 24, 2024
Closed : August 19th, 2024
Venue
GYRE GALLERY, GYRE 3F, 5-10–1 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Contact
Navi Dial 0570-05-6990
(11:00am-6:00pm)
Organizers
GYRE GALLERY
Sgùrr Dearg Institute for Sociology of the Arts
Curator
Takayo Iida
(Director of the Sgùrr Dearg Institute for Sociology of the Arts)
Public relations
HiRAO INC
Cooperation
Museum Haus Kasuya
Exhibiting artists
Joseph Beuys / Kanji Wakae / Naoya Hatakeyama / Hirofumi Isoya / Akira Kamo / AKI INOMATA / Moka Takeda
Press contact
HiRAO INC|#608 1-11-11 Jingumae, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo
Tel. 03.5771.8808 | Fax. 03.5410.8858
Contact: Seiichiro Mifune / Shohei Suzuki
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