No. 156., Section 4, Xinyi Road, Daan District, Taipei, Taiwan

Status: Gallery

PROVOKE - Opposing Centrism
12 March - 27 June 2021
Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts, Taipei (First Floor)

Exhibiting Artists:
PROVOKE | Takuma Nakahira Takahiko Okada Yutaka Takanashi Koji Taki Daido Moriyama
Genpei Akasegawa Kazuo Kitai Susumu Koshimizu Lee Ufan
Sigmar Polke Shomei Tomatsu Hitomi Watanabe

Curatorial Team:
Wang Rui-Xu (Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts)
Akio Nagasawa (Akio Nagasawa Gallery)
Yoko Sawada (Osiris Co. Ltd)
Huang Yaji, Lan ChungHsuan, Huang ZiHsuan (Each Modern)

Organizer: Kuandu Museum of Fine Arts
Co-organizer: Each Modern
Special thanks to Aki Gallery, Joce Chen, Yumiko Chiba Associates, Galerie Nagel Draxler, Getsuyosha, Hsiao YongSeng, Kazuya Kimura, Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation, nitesha, Estate of Takuma Nakahira, Collection Georg Polke, Leo Shih, SCAI The Bathhouse, Zen Foto Gallery

PROVOKE was founded in Tokyo in 1968 by Takuma Nakahira and Koji Taki. Members included Takahiko Okada, Yutaka Takanashi, and Daido Moriyama who joined the second issue. The group and magazine examined Japan’s socio-political situation with a radically inventive style. Although only three issues were published, PROVOKE’s impact would prove to be profound, revolutionizing photography inside and outside Japan.

Today, the influence of their work can still be seen in new generations of image-makers. Recent research of two key members, Takuma Nakahira and Daido Moriyama, reveal their complicated context with world avant-garde movements. Rather than a breakthrough of photography, PROVOKE should be considered as an important movement in dialogue with parallel international contemporary art happenings during the late 1960s to early 1970s. Therefore, the exhibition is composed by three sections - PROVOKE and Activism, PROVOKE and Mono-Ha, PROVOKE and Capitalist Realism – to clarify and to compare the innovations formed in the criticism.

“PROVOKE – Opposing Centrism” This is the first research-based exhibition revaluates PROVOKE which takes this perspective, following many important museum shows valuating PROVOKE’s contributions in photography and Japanese art history, including “Tokyo 1955–1970: A New Avant-Garde”(MoMA, 2013), “For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968–1979”( The Museum of Fine Arts Houston and tour, 2015-16), “Provoke: Between Protest and Performance, Photography in Japan 1960–1975”(The Art Institute of Chicago and tour, 2016-17).

This exhibition is curated by Each Modern and two curators Akio Nagasawa and Yoko Sawada. It is fully supported by Daido Moriyama Photo Foundation and Estate of Takuma Nakahira with Special thanks to Aki Gallery, Joce Chen, Yumiko Chiba Associates, Galerie Nagel Draxler, Getsuyosha, Hsiao YongSeng, Kazuya Kimura, nitesha, Collection Georg Polke, Leo Shih, SCAI The Bathhouse, Zen Foto Gallery.

PROVOKE and Activism

With its subtitle “provocative materials for thought”, PROVOKE advocated independent thinking, featuring photography and critical writing that sought to challenge its readers to reconsider the existing images of a politically and ideologically revolutionary time. Totaling three issues and printed in small runs of a few hundred copies each, PROVOKE stood in contrast to the collective spirit of the times; as alternatively evidenced in proliferation of “protest books” distributed in Tokyo made by anonymous student committees. These books existed in a context of disillusionment: at the end of a decade of fruitless protests and upheavals. However, unlike the documentary style of other protest books, PROVOKE members seized a subjective, fragmented, and explosive method to capture experiencing the world.

In 1969, Takuma Nakahira ended PROVOKE activities and published his own photobook “For the Language to Come”. In 1973 after releasing his critical collective “Why an Illustrated Botanical Dictionary?”, he set fire to his negatives and photographs taken during PROVOKE. Yet there still remains some very rare works: the photogravure he made for 1969 Paris Biennale – rather than gelatin silver prints, Nakahira preferred photogravure to refer the reproducibility and distributivity of posters and processions.

Daido Moriyama also focused on silkscreen at that time. He seldom produced gelatin silver prints but produced silkscreen on site as performance. From 1969 to 1972, he particularly photographed images from newspapers, advertisements, or real scenes; distinction between them was unrecognizable. Two bodies of work, “Scandalous” and “Farewell Photography”, uncovered his experiments and his relation to Pop Art.

Returning to direct photographs, there are three other photographers who indirectly contributed to PROVOKE: Shomei Tomatsu, Kazuo Kitai, and Hitomi Watanabe. Tomatsu’s major projects include photographing the U.S. occupation and subsequent Americanization of Japan, and pictures of both violence on the streets and the roaring underground of Tokyo. These visually and consciously mentored the members of PROVOKE. Kazuo Kitai, well-known for recording the life of protesters, is the earliest individual artist who published the protesters images in a very personal style. Watanabe is the most important female photographer at the time. She thoroughly photographed the student protests in both emotional and documentary way.

While PROVOKE eventually disbanded, Shomei Tomatsu, Daido Moriyama, and Takuma Nakahira still played a key role in the developments of photography and avant-garde art. The discussion extended to two magazines in particular: KEN, first published in 1970 which lasted for only three issues, and DESIGN, a publication which became the core of the culture.

PROVOKE and Mono-Ha

Mono-ha artists tended to present natural and industrial materials such as stone, soil, wood, paper, cotton, steel plates, and paraffin—things (mono)—on their own or in combination with one another. Natural matter and objects were considered not as material, but in and of themselves significant and autonomous, deviating from existing cognitions and rebelling against the values of the Western modern art.

In 1968, assisted by his friends, Nobuo Sekine constructed an earthwork titled “Phase—Mother Earth” for the first Suma Rikyu Park Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition in Kobe. These artists were all from Tama Art University, a location of student protest and lock downed. During lock down, Takuma Nakahira went to school for student activities, and later both Sekine and Nakahira met Lee Ufan. From this encounter began their interesting dialogues. In 1971, Nakahira, Lee, and Susumu Koshimizu were invited to show at Paris Biennale and spent times together. Later the year, Lee published his important writing collective “The Search for Encounter” and Nakahira designed the book. In 1970, Tokyo Biennale made a historical exhibition “Between Man and Matter” and framed Mono-ha with the commonalities of Supports/Surfaces in France, Arte Povera in Italy, and Minimalism in the United States. The Biennale catalogue used Nakahira’s work as cover: a desolating industrial land with inverting view.

Discussions revolved around questions of how to transcend Western Modernism by ending representation, a sentiment endemic to postwar Japan, a re-examination of indigenous culture as a means to bring attention to the physicality of things, and the limits of creativity: these were equivalence of PROVOKE and Mono-ha. In fact, the essential economy of gesture - a critique of hyper-productivity and the 'imagery overload' in contemporary art and society - is a constant feature throughout the careers of Lee Ufan and Susumu Koshimizu. The context in which Lee envisages his work is not limited to its immediate surroundings but encompasses the whole city. His sculptures are as much about the invisible as the visible, about the rebellion of making. Meanwhile, Koshimizu also tried to understand the real world through the surface of the object and the space of the body. All these concepts were clearly seen in Nakahira’s two large photo installation from the 1970s: “Circulation” and “Overflow”.

On the other hand, Genpei Akasegawa, an artist who emphasized the trace of Capitalism in everyday life and put forward “Capitalist Realism” published “The Red-Horse Looked at it” as a serial with Takuma Nakahira in the magazine Film Critic from July to December, 1971. The title of the series is apparently inspired by the revolutionary Russian writer Boris Savinkov’s novel The Black Horse(translated by Gendaishichosha in Japan, 1968). Both Akasegawa and Nakahira conveyed their admiration and disappointment to the revolution. Eventually, Akasegawa concluded the avant-garde art of this era by his “Hyperart Thomasson” created in 1972.

PROVOKE and Capitalist Realism

In 1963, Capitalist Realism, a group of artists similarly interested in mass media, Capitalism, and the banal, attempting to challenge the dominating influence of American pop art, was formed in Berlin, Germany. Its cultural value was political, facing Cold War Berlin, using Germany’s post-war society as its starting point. Most of them investigated the terrain of collective visual culture and questioned the meaning of images. Artists associated with capitalist realism included Sigmar Polke, Gerhard Richter, Manfred Kuttner and Konrad Lueg.

Sharing similar background and challenges, PROVOKE and Capital Realism both had short existences but from these two groups, important artists emerged. During late 1960s, Sigmar Polke and Daido Moriyama were independently developing parallel experimentations. Polke’s paintings ask questions about the meaning of being an artist in a world bombarded with images, and explore the relationship between different kinds of imagery. Since the early 1960s he has juxtaposed images from very different sources, such as fabric patterns, magazine advertising, cartoons and the icons of art history. These works challenge the traditional hierarchy of imagery, and confront the fact that in today’s world no image is sacred: everything is subject to instant reproduction and dissemination all over the world, all words and images are subject to personal interpretation and visual information is often unreliable.

Throughout his career Polke has used newspapers as a source of inspiration in his work. They have provided subject matter for paintings and drawings, and have also inspired a technique of imitating the ‘dotted’, half-tone process of commercial printing. In the mid-1990s Polke began to work on a new series called Druckfehler, or ‘Printing Mistakes’, inspired by printing errors found in newspapers. This series explores the fragile nature of perception and the inherent problems of trying to convey fixed meanings.

From January to December 1969, Moriyama serialized


AddressNo. 156, Section 4, Xinyi Road, Daan District, Taipei City, Taiwan 106


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