Beijing

The Pioneer of Japanese Pop Art

2020/8/15–9/30

Tokyo Gallery+BTAP is honoured to announce the forthcoming solo exhibition of the Japanese artist, Shinjiro Okamoto, which will take place from 15th August to 30th September 2020. Six sets of works by the artist from the 1950s will be displayed in the BTAP gallery space, including the Ten Indians series which was awarded Grand Prize at The Museum of Contemporary Art Nagaoka Prize exhibition in 1964, the Insect World series shown in the 1966 solo exhibition at Tokyo Gallery, as well as the Cherry Blossom series from the 1980s that reflects on war. This exhibition offers a retrospective overview of the artistic career of Shinjiro Okamoto after the artist’s decease earlier this year.

Preface
Shinjiro Okamoto is a widely acclaimed pioneer of Japanese Pop Art, despite personally never having identified with this moniker bestowed upon him by outside observers. I believe this might have to do with the complex versatility of his art, which has made it difficult for some to understand the full scale of his achievements. Two ideas can be teased from Okamoto’s own description below on the complex features of his art: “In the Japanese literary world, you’ve got the Akutagawa Prize for fine literature (or belles lettres), and then there’s the Naoki Prize for popular literature. A middle ground between the two has also been established. My paintings run the gamut of all of these categories. Or perhaps they reflect on everything from a transcendent vantage point.”

Born in 1933, Shinjiro Okamoto’s childhood coincided with post-war Japan’s era of rapid changes. Overnight, the USA and Britain – the “demon allied forces” as they had previously been called – became idealized states revered by the entire population. That which had been considered righteousness in the past, was now regarded as evil. Still at an impressionable age, the young artist experienced a full-fledged reversal of social values as well as the people’s disillusionment of the reality they had previously regarded as true. This ended up influencing his later artistic creations at a fundamental level. His profound nilhistic critical attitude, maintaining his doubt and estrangement to mainstream values; his expressive modalities which fictionalised reality, creating works at once conventional and profound. The ambiguity of his oeuvre’s content, as well as the artist’s foothold in secular society while at the same time distancing himself from ordinary ideas, are inherently related to the life-changing psychological impact he underwent during his formative childhood years.

Shinjiro Okamoto’s outstanding artistic contribution lies in his innovative use of a novel, critical style of painting which differed from the types of painting and manga that prevailed at the time. His painterly explorations, which combined manga and modern art, provided inspiration and references for his successors. In the early 1960’s, the artist had already received various art prizes with his original brand of art. His works eventually made their way into noteworthy international art institutions such as New York's Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) and the Kunsthaus Zürich. It’s safe to say his pioneering contributions to the art world cannot go unnoticed. Following Okamoto’s passing in the spring of this year, Tokyo Gallery has put together a commemorative exhibition. As a good friend who is quite familiar with the particulars of his personal life, I am also taking part in the exhibition. It is my hope that this exhibition will lay the groundwork for further delving into the complex nuances and indubitable value of Okamoto’s art.

Wang Shuye in August 2020

WORKS

Title
The World of Insects
Year
1997
Material
Liquitex
Size
80.3 x 116.7 cm (14 pieces set)
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Title
Three-dimensional Picture, Mental Oparation
Year
1987
Material
Liquitex, A wood tub, Plastic spheres
Size
145.6 x 162.5 cm
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Title
Ten Indians
Year
1996
Material
Liquitex
Size
100 x 72.7 cm (10 pieces set)
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Title
The World of Insects, Swarm-50 or 100. It Makes No Difference.
Year
1997
Material
Liquitex
Size
390.3 x 162 cm
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Title
Roly-Poly Cherry Blossoms: Roly-Poly Bomb
Year
1999
Material
Liquitex, plastic sphere
Size
91x91cm (4 pieces set)
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Shinjiro Okamoto

Born in Tokyo in 1933. After graduating from the Tokyo Metropolitan Nihonbashi High School in 1952, Okamoto worked for 26 years as an art director at Toppan Printing Co., Ltd. During this time, he began to teach himself watercolor painting, and started submitting his work to the Japan Watercolor Exhibition and the Niki Exhibition. He held his first solo exhibition at Muramatsu Gallery in 1956 and also founded the “Seisaku Kaigi (Artist Conference)” that same year along with Yoshie Yoshida and others. An encounter with the Neo-Impressionist works of Georges Seurat inspired him to depict contemporary illness and malaise using bright, vivid colors and simple forms. In 1956, Okamoto exhibited at the Yomiuri Independent Exhibition. He received honorable mentions at the Shell Art Prize Exhibition in both 1962 and 1963, and the Grand Prix at the exhibition for the inaugural Nagaoka Contemporary Art Museum Prize in 1964. During this time, he exhibited a series of works including “Holy Scenery” and “Ten Indians” that conceal a sense of hollow emptiness beneath a humorous surface. Okamoto has shown his work at several museums both in Japan and abroad. He participated in the “Trends in Contemporary Art” exhibition held at the National Museum of Modern Art in Kyoto (1964), “15 Contemporary Japanese Artists” at the Kunsthaus Zurich (1965), and “The New Japanese Painting and Sculpture” at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (1966). In 1968, Okamoto visited the US at the invitation of the Japan Society, touring New York and other American cities as well as Europe. In 1969, he received the Frontier Prize at the “Contemporary Japanese Art” exhibition. Okamoto has also held numerous one-man shows, including “The World of Shinjiro Okamoto: 25 Years” at the Ikeda Museum of 20th Century Art (1979), “The World of Shinjiro Okamoto – Tokyo Shonen” at the Niigata City Art Museum (1988), “Shinjiro Okamoto - The Laughing Panorama Museum” at the Museum of Modern Art, Kamakura & Hayama (1998), “Shinjiro Okamoto – Laughing Snow, Moon and Flower (Roly-Poly Cherry Blossoms)” at the Ikeda Museum of 20th Century Art (2001), and “Shinjiro Okamoto’s Panoramic Humour Universe (The Philosophy of Humour 1950-2001)” at Tokyo Gallery + BTAP Beijing (2008). Okamoto is a well-known Japanese pioneer of Pop Art.

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