NGV Gallery of Japanese Art Opening Remarks: Director Yuji Akimoto

LKG_JapaneseArt_NGVPaulineGandelGalleryopening_akimoto_640Photo courtesy of William Hung

Opening Speech  Yuji Akimoto (Director 21st Century Museum of Art Kanazawa Japan)
Pauline Gandel Gallery of Japanese Art Opening
October 2 2012
National Galley of Victoria

Ambassador Sato, Ambassador Rotem, Consul-General Sobashima, President of Trustees Myers, Director Elwood, Mrs Pauline Gandel, Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

May I start by acknowledging my deep pleasure in receiving an invitation to be part of this exciting development in Australia at the National Gallery of Victoria. The Pauline Gandel Gallery of Japanese Art is a significant development in the representation of Japanese art and culture in Australia…I understand the first at the NGV and the first at an Australian public art institution.

The pieces on exhibition start in the 12th century Heian period, continue through the Kamakura and Edo periods and extend into the 21st Century. Historically speaking, they represent the essence of Japanese culture. Each work is of the highest quality and particularly suited to a museum collection. As you may know, my particular interest is contemporary art, and I am pleased to see in the collection, the works of the talented Mariko Mori, Takahiro Kondo, and those of contemporary lacquer master Unryuan, a very popular artist in a recent exhibition at the 21st Century Museum of Art in Kanazawa. A significant loan to that exhibition from the Pauline Gandel Collection started my relationship with Mrs Gandel and brought me here today.

The 2011 twin disasters of tsunami and Fukushima have intensified my thinking about Japan’s modernization and cultural values. In the Meiji Period and again at the end of the Second World War, Japan faced great challenges, social, political, cultural and artistic. It does so again. It is to be noted that ‘craft’ was a significant factor in Japan’s responses to those challenges.

Modern society developed from Western science, separated from Nature and increasingly materialistic. The contemporary manifestation of this is today’s technological IT society. Contemporary art and design was largely born from this environment. As you see in this exhibition, much of Japanese art is three-dimensional, generally perceived as craft. Craft existed long before modern and contemporary art designations. We must be careful not to fall into the trap of defining ‘contemporary’ and ‘traditional’ as irreconcilable opposites. ‘Traditional’ is increasingly seen by Japanese scholars as an imposed translation of Western art theories not relevant to Japanese history and practice.

In the dynamic world of contemporary art and changing perspectives, craft must be reassessed. The most significant problem for craft is that it is identified with tradition. How ‘contemporary’ and ‘traditional’ interrelate, particularly with respect to Japan, is an important point of discussion in today’s art world. The broad view of Japanese art that the NGV gallery presents is particularly relevant to this discussion.

The Pauline Gandel Gallery of Japanese Art at the NGV will bring a lot of pleasure to many people. As a Japanese, I am deeply gratified by this appreciation of Japanese culture. It expresses the subtlety, poetry and creative power of Japan. For the acknowledgement of these strengths in Japanese art, I extend my sincere appreciation to Pauline Gandel, the State Government of Victoria and to all concerned at the National Gallery of Victoria. I sincerely hope that this gallery sees an increasing cultural interchange with Japan. With warmest congratulations and best wishes for the future, I take great pleasure in declaring the Pauline Gandel Gallery of Japanese Art open.