Exhibition Beijing

Yukihito Tabata with Chinese Contemporary Art 1989—2018
2018.12.22 (sat) - 2019.4.6 (sat)

On December 22, 2018, the exhibition “ Yukihito Tabata with Chinese Contemporary Art (1989—2018)” will be held at Tokyo Gallery +BTAP in Beijing’s 798 Art District, to commemorate the 30-year anniversary of the commencement of ties between gallery founder Yukihito Tabata and the Chinese contemporary art scene.

The exhibition’s follows a central thread of occurences, from the first visit Tokyo Gallery +BTAP’s director Yukihito Tabata paid to Beijing in February 1989 to see the China/Avant-Garde Exhibition, leading up to the year 2002 which, in a true sense, saw the founding of the first professional gallery in China set up with foreign capital in Beijing’s Dashanzi 798 Art District, all the way to the present. Serving as contextual framework, are the many dealings [Yukihito Tabata] had with a great deal of Chinese contemporary artists. The exhibition teases out a pattern of historical development of Chinese contemporary art over the past thirty years. Otherwise put, through the interactions and encounters of one individual, through the planning and implementation of an art institution’s exhibition projects, we can look back on and exhibit a veritable cross section of the history of Chinese contemporary art.

Through chronological overviews, images and documents, the exhibition gives visitors a look at the connections forged between Yukihito Tabata and Chinese contemporary art history, while also presenting a total of 23 artworks by an equal number of Chinese contemporary artists who used to or still engage in close collaboration with Tokyo Gallery +BTAP. The participating artists, in alphabetical order, are as follows: Ai An, Guan Wei, Gao Xiaowu, He Yunchang, Huang Rui, Jin Sha, Li Feng, Lin Yusi, Song Dong, Sui Jianguo, Tian Wei, Wang Shuye, Wu Qiang, Xu Bing, Yang Yingsheng, Ye Jianqing, Zeng Jianyong, Zhu Jianzhong, Zhu Lan, Zhang Quan, Zhang Tianjun, Zhang Tianmu and Zhang Xiaotao. The artistic language of the exhibited artworks is highly diverse, covering ink wash (shuimo), oil painting, engraving, sculpture, photography, video and installation works. In particular, the works strive to present to spectators what Tokyo Gallery +BTAP has aspired to do in recent years by arduously organizing exhibitions on a sound academic footing.

In the early 1950s, Yukihito Tabata’s father Takashi Yamamoto founded Tokyo Gallery in Tokyo‘s Ginza area, marking the establishment of Japan’s first gallery in a modern sense. At first, the gallery was operated with an emphasis on old Japanese art objects. Later on, in 1958, at the suggestion of fine arts critic Shuzo Takiguchi, the gallery started hosting exhibitions by Japanese contemporary artists, which culminated in the massive contributions made to promote the collective of Mono-ha artists during the period from the late 1960’s to the 1970’s. In effect, prior to following the endeavors of this group of Mono-ha artists, Tokyo Gallery already introduced Western avant-garde artists to the Japanese public, having organized exhibitions by such world-renowned artists as Yves Klein, Lucio Fontana and Jackson Pollock. Meanwhile, through such artists as Kim Whan-ki and Lee Ufan, the gallery paid close attention to the development of Korean contemporary art, thus providing ample support for its rapid rise.

Yukihito Tabata, who grew up alongside Asian contemporary art, spent his young years studying and researching European and American contemporary art. He has an increasingly profound understanding of how hard it is for Asian contemporary art to take to the center of the world stage. In the wake of the development and upsurge of Japanese and Korean temporary art in the 1960’s and the 1970’s, Yukihito Tabata grew aware of the promising potential of Asian contemporary art. In the process, his increading knowledge regarding traditional Japanese and Korean culture also further deepened his interest in traditional Chinese culture. However, because diplomatic relations between China and Japan had yet to be established at the time, he remained clueless as to the state of development of Chinese contemporary art.

In 1972, the governments of both China and Japan actively pushed for moving ahead with the normalization of diplomatic relations, prompting them to cosign the China-Japan Joint Statement which helped foster the two nations’ mutual political trust and resume dialogue. It only gradually became common practice in the early 1980’s, after the Chinese reform and opening-up policy, for Chinese and Japanese exchange students to students to go and study in each other's countries. This led to numerous Chinese contemporary artists residing in or paying visits to Japan, for instance Huang Rui and Cai Guoqiang, with whom Yukihito Tabata maintained close partnerships. Upon having been introduced by these artists, he became more knowledgeable about and familiar with the extent to which Chinese contemporary art had developed, which in turn justified the immeasurable expectations he cherished towards the development of modern art in this country, boasting such ancient and vast territory as well as abundant cultural and ideological resources. In February 1989, upon hearing about a modern art exhibition held at the National Art Museum of China (NAMOC), Yukihito Tabata did not hesitate to travel to Beijing to see the show, where he purchased works by artists Yang Jiecang, Wang Guangyi and Xu Bing, among others. Then, in July of 1989, these works were then used for the conception of a show entitled Chinese Contemporary Art in the Now, which incidentally was a global debut show for Chinese contemporary art.

In March of 2002, prior to setting up Tokyo Gallery +BTAP’s predecessor Beijing Tokyo Art Projects in Beijing’s Dashanzi 798 Art District, Yukihito Tabata made frequent trips between China and Japan for the purpose of getting solo exhibitions by artists such as Xu Bing, Cai Guoqiang and Huang Rui off the ground. He visited the artists’ studios, inspected the conditions in which Chinese contemporary artists were making their art, and met with the likes of artists Sun Liang and Sui Jianguo as well as art critics Fei Dawei and Yin Jinan, and went on to purchase a great deal of Chinese contemporary art works. As far as Yukihito Tabata was concerned, Chinese contemporary art displayed ample vigor and potential, so he devoted himself to promoting liaisons between the burgeoning contemporary art scenes of Japan, Korea and China, with the expectation of one day, in concert with contemporary artists from these countries, setting up a system of Asian art language and ideology that could symbiotically coexist with the European and American contemporary art ideologies that were in place. In July, 2002, after a decade of meticulous study, Yukihito Tabata decided to set up shop by establishing Tokyo Gallery in Beijing’s Dashanzi 798 Art District.

In October of 2002, Tokyo Gallery’s predecessor Beijing Tokyo Art Projects was inaugurated at Ceramics Third Street in Beijing’s Dashanzi 798 Art District. With Yukihito Tabata at the helm, the aim of Beijing Tokyo Art Projects was to hold a series of experimental exhibitions and take the initiative to promote Asian contemporary art to the world, with China, Japan and Korea as its centers of gravity. Yukihito Tabata characterized the space as an experimental space of limitless potential and imagination, a project that would be forever ongoing. Henceforth, under the moniker of Tokyo Gallery +BTAP, through daring and frequently held experimental shows, the space garnered praise in Chinese, Japanese, Korean as well as European and American contemporary art circles. It came to play a crucial part throughout the process of the Dashanzi 798 Art Zone becoming a leading nucleus for Asian contemporary art. Yukihito Tabata reminisces on this period as follows: “Our never-failing enthusiasm and confidence has allowed us to turn an erstwhile industrial wasteland into the elaborate art exhibition zone to which Tokyo Gallery +BTAP owes its continued success.”

In the 16 years since the founding of Tokyo Gallery +BTAP, under the guidance of Yukihito Tabata, the gallery has carried out a total of 106 exhibitions, to be divided into two categories: one consists of solo exhibitions by 30+ Chinese contemporary artists among whom He Yunchang, Lin Tianmiao and Song Dong, as well as over 10 Japanese contemporary artists including Kishin Shinoyama, Hiroto Kitagawa, Hiroyuki Matsuura, Danshaku Miyazawa and Shingo Suzuki; the other category is comprised of rather large-scale, academically oriented exhibitions with such titles as Beijing Ukiyo-e, Beads and Brushwork, What is Mono-ha?, all of which have generated positive influence within the Chinese contemporary art world.

Of the aforementioned exhibitions, What is Mono-ha? carried the most weight, as it showcased representative works by 8 of the most notable artists of the Mono-ha school, i.e. Lee Ufan, Nobuo Sekine, Koji Enokura, Susumu Koshimizu, Kishio Suga, Katsuro Yoshida, Katsuhiko Narita and Jiro Takamatsu. In the meantime, works were on display by Chinese contemporary artists who’ve been heavily influenced by the Mono-Ha group, such as Sui Jianguo, Shi Hui and Zhu Jinshi. In a bid to introduce the Mono-ha art more comprehensively and clearly to Chinese contemporary art circles, Tokyo Gallery +BTAP organized four solo exhibitions that were more retrospective in nature, for artists Nobuo Sekine, Koji Enokura, Kishio Suga and Shim Moon-Seup, all of which met with tremendous response.

In recent years, at the initiative of Yukihito Tabata, the curation of exhibitions at Tokyo Gallery +BTAP has revolved around the central theme of “Neo-Mōrōism”. This series of projects aimed to consolidate the experiences unique to East-Asian modernity, and explore the possibilities of art while striving to establish an axiom-based aesthetics. These exhibitions received the support of the 798 art hub, the CAFA Art Museum (CAFAM), the Redtory Museum of Contemporary Art (RMCA) as well as the Art Gallery of the Academy of Arts & Design, Tsinghua University. It also gained the support of Chinese, Japanese and Korean theorists and curators. Pooling together the collective strengths of these institutions and individuals, it aims to promote Asian culture and art to the world. From 2013 until 2018, a total of 5 installments was held, showcasing 300+ works by over 50 artists from different countries and regions such as China, Japan and Korea.

Ever since modern art in China got off to its roaring start in 1989, Chinese contemporary art has experienced three decades of development. At present, the country boasts nearly a hundred domestically bred, high-quality contemporary art galleries, as well as several tens of art spaces established in China by European and American contemporary art institutions, not to mention the newly built museums and foundations devoted to putting on display and researching contemporary art, and the increasing number of traveling contemporary art exhibitions being introduced non-stop by European and American art museums. It may even be said that the mode of development of contemporary art seen in China today more or less runs parallel to that of Europe and America. In other words, the works of art on display in a contemporary art exhibition in New York, can also be admired in China. The same goes for today’s reputable contemporary artists, who all comto China in succession to hold large-scale exhibitions. All the above achievements are inseparably linked to the arduous efforts undertaken by Yukihito Tabata.

Evidently, Yukihito Tabata has earned his title of ambassador of Sino-Japanese contemporary cultural exchange. Over the last three decades, he has made countless trips between Japan and China, and he has arguably been a live, on-the-spot witness of the emergence of Chinese contemporary art. Not only did he get Tokyo Gallery +BTAP off the ground for the sake of organizing a plethora of exhibitions covering a wide range of styles concert with Chinese contemporary artists and introducing Japanese contemporary artists to China, he also brought works of Chinese contemporary artists back to Japan, featuring them in exhibitions held at Tokyo Gallery. What’s more, he consistently paid in-depth visits to artists’ studios, engaged in exchanges with artists, art critics and curators alike. During these sessions, he would express his academic ideals and cultural convictions, thus proving influential for the creative direction of a great many artists. As planning was underway for the “Neo-Mōrōism” exhibition, he held the firm conviction that in the future, the global epicenter for contemporary art would shift to China thanks to the pioneering efforts of Chinese contemporary artists.

Featured among the works showcased in this exhibition, are Huang Rui’s installation named One world One Dream; Xu Bing’s books and scrolls printed from wood letterpress type, entitled Book from the Sky, and his installation piece Background Story-Huangshan; Sui Jianguo’s sculpture Jasmine Flower; Song Dong’s photographic work entitled Waste Not; He Yunchang’s video work Better to Go Back. These artworks, done by Yukihito Tabata’s close friends, help lift up the veil of time. All serve to illustrate Yukihito Tabata’s frame of mind. His cultural convictions and ideals have remained unaffected by time’s constant state of fluctuation and the profound changes that take place in this fickle world of ours at any given moment. Equally unwavering is the constant pursuit for beauty and goodness that lies at the heart of his thought. For these reasons, this exhibition aspires to pay him the deepest respects.

This exhibition will be on view until April 6, 2019.