The Coolest Japanese Artists of the 1960s

I’m excited to introduce you to my top three favorite Japanese Artists of the 1960s! I got most of my information from Radicalism in the Wilderness by Reiko Tomii. If you are interested in contemporary Japanese art, this book is a must-have.

Matsuzawa Yutaka– This eccentric artist made it his life’s mission to create a universal language anyone could understand. After failing to do this through a symbol system, he transitioned to evoking feelings and creating shared experiences. He received a full-ride scholarship to study in the US and had a passion for quantum physics. He was also a believer in UFOs.

His most influential idea was a concept he called “psi” inspired by parapsychology. He believed humans have a sixth sense and this sense could also factor into enjoyment of art. His artwork included interactive puzzles, rituals, and repetitive patterns, meant to mentally engage the viewer. If these experiences were powerful enough, hopefully, they would employ the sixth sense that he believed could offer a deep emotional connection between all people.

Matsuzawa Yutaka, 1968

Yoko Ono– Although fiercely independent, this artist had deep contacts in the 1960s art community due to her involvement in various art movements from performance art, to visual art, poetry, and music. Her work encourages expression from the viewer either through visualization or direct participation. Despite most of her fame coming from her husband, former Beatle John Lennon, she is well known as an individual artist.

Prephapes her most famous work is her book of poetry, Grapefruit. The poems within it challenge the reader to visualize incredible or impossible things using their imagination. What I personally love about this book is, during the 60s many performance artists encouraged audience participation but only a select number of people could attend. These poems allow anyone to be part of the artwork without having to travel anywhere. They were also the inspiration for the lyrics in John Lennon’s greatest hit, Imagine.

It’s sad that the air is the only thing we share.

No matter how close we get to each other,

there is always air between us.

It’s also nice that we share the air,

No matter how far apart we are

the air links us.

Yoko Ono, Air Talk, 1967

Horikawa Michio– During the 1960s, avant garde groups were on the rise and many interested American artists went to visit these groups in Japan (including John Cage and Jasper Johns). This provided middle-school teacher Horikawa with the opportunity to influence not only the Japanese but people abroad. 

His most recognised technique was “mail art” where he would send poems, stories, or objects through mail. This reached people from all around the world who would occasionally pass on the letters or send something in return. He even sent a small black rock to US President Richard Nixon as a Christmas gift. This was symbolic of Horikawa’s disapproval of Nixon and his  “throwing a stone” at the president (he did not agree with Nixon’s involvement in the Vietnam war). With no explanation provided, this went over the president’s head and Horikawa received a thank you letter in return for the “thoughtful” but “unusual” gift.

Horikawa Michio, Stone, 1969 (Sorry I wasn’t able to find many pictures of Horikawa himself but the image of this rock ready- to -ship is amusing.

I hope you enjoyed reading about these artists! Whether you think their ideas are insightful or just plain weird, there’s no doubt they are/were interesting people.

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