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Japanese Women Star in International Exhibitions

February 27, 2001
As ever, international art exhibitions will be held all over the world in 2001. Japanese women are the center of attention for their exciting contributions to art more than ever before. The commissioner of the Japanese section of the forty-ninth Venice Biennale and the curator of the seventh International Istanbul Biennial, to begin in June and September, respectively, are both women from Japan. The two artists attracting greatest attention among those whose works will be featured at the first Yokohama Triennale are also both Japanese women. At the dawn of the new century, Japanese women are powerfully stepping forth into the limelight of the art world.

Venice Biennale
The forty-ninth Venice Biennale will be held from June to November 2001. This exhibition has a history spanning over 100 years and is the most influential event of its kind. It has been the setting for the international debuts of many artistic legends. Its reputation as the gateway to global art has led to its being described as the "Olympics of modern art." The commissioner of the Japanese pavilion is Eriko Osaka, the first woman to be chosen for the post.

Having worked in the field of contemporary art since the 1970s, including stints editing an art magazine and publicizing Japanese art abroad through the Japan Foundation, Osaka is currently art director for the Contemporary Art Center at Art Tower Mito. She chose the works of three artists to take from Japan to Venice: Masato Nakamura, who uses urban neon signs in his work; Naoya Hatakeyama, who has photographed such subjects as underground pipes and mines; and Yukio Fujimoto, who uses sound to create art from space itself. Osaka explained her choice thus: "I want to create an experience-centered exhibition using not just sight but all five senses." Unlike in other years, no overall theme was decided upon for the upcoming Venice Biennale. Instead, "A Human Stage" was suggested as a general direction to the work on display. The effort of Osaka as an organizer is expected to make 2001 a vintage year for the exhibition.

International Istanbul Biennial
From late September to November 2001, the seventh International Istanbul Biennial will be held in Istanbul, Turkey, where Europe meets Asia. It is one of the newer international art exhibitions, but it has always attracted wide interest because of the distinctive venues in which it takes place and the rich variety of artists chosen. Yuko Hasegawa, chief curator of the Kanazawa Contemporary Art Museum (currently under construction), has been chosen as the curator of the exhibition. Many Asian artists have been featured in the Istanbul Biennial before, but Hasegawa is the first Asian to be chosen as general director, with responsibility for managing all aspects of the exhibition. Before being appointed to the Kanazawa museum, Hasegawa honed her abilities at top domestic art museums, including Art Tower Mito and the Setagaya Art Museum. She finds herself in a crucial position, as she is expected to bring a fresh perspective to the exhibition, and is currently deliberating over which artists should be featured. Of course she will not choose exclusively Asian artists, she says.

Hasegawa and Osaka are among the highest-placed women in the Japanese art world. In the West, however, it is by no means unusual for women to occupy such posts as director of a top museum or curator of an international exhibition. While the track records of women like Osaka and Hasegawa have been more widely recognized abroad than in Japan, their achievements undoubtedly represent a leap forward for Japanese women.

Yokohama Triennale
The first Yokohama Triennale will be held from September to November 2001; the event will then be held every three years. As one of the largest art festivals in the world, with about 100 artists taking part, it offers a unique chance to see works by contemporary artists from around the world under one roof. The four Japanese curators--or "artistic directors"--responsible for putting the exhibition together are all men, but the two artists attracting most attention are both Japanese women who have enjoyed remarkable success overseas, especially in the United States. Yayoi Kusama was known as the "queen of avant-garde" in New York in the 1970s, while the other, Yoko Ono, also happens to be the widow of John Lennon. This may be the first time that Kusama and Ono, who shot to international fame at around the same time, have been featured in the same major exhibition. The event seems sure to capture headlines in the art world in autumn 2001.

Even though the Japanese art world is renowned for its conservatism, in 2001 it looks like it will be Japanese women who dominate the headlines.

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Trends in JapanCopyright (c) 2001 Japan Information Network. Edited by Japan Echo Inc. based on domestic Japanese news sources. Articles presented here are offered for reference purposes and do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Japanese Government.