Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York
Marshall, Jonathan, Australasian Drama Studies
Midori Yoshimoto, Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2005)
In her fine introduction and opening chapter to Into Performance, Midori Yoshimoto notes the increasing historicisation of those mixed media and inter-generic avant garde arts movements which characterised the twentieth century. In 2005-06 for example, the Pompidou Centre hosted the most comprehensive exhibition of Dadaist art yet, while Yoshimoto acknowledges her debt to Kristine Styles and Paul Schimmel - who organised the 1998 LA Museum of Contemporary Art exhibition Out of Actions: Between Performance and the Object - as well as to Jon Hendricks (In the Spirit of Fluxus, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, 1993). Major retrospectives of Fluxus toured the USA, Europe and Australia throughout the 1990s, while more recent related shows have included Andy Warhol's boxes (in Time Capsule 21, Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh; Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2003-05) or the section on British event art and the London Destruction of Art Symposia within the Tate's Art and the 60s: This Was tomorrow exhibition (Tate Modern, London; Birmingham Museums and Art Gallery, Birmingham; National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne, 2004-06). The recent growth in the historiography of performance art reflects the increasing space devoted to intermedia - and event - art ephemera in these exhibitions, with such forms having established an important and ever more lucrative niche within the realm of the international touring show.
These developments make timely any study on the internationalism of twentieth-century avant gardisme. As Yoshimoto observes, both Fluxus and its progenitor Dada had a significant Japanese membership and although Dada left little lasting impression in Japan itself, the same was not true of Fluxus. More than Dada, Fluxus was an art movement whose chief feature was a paradoxically hydra-headed yet centralised social formation. The widely dispersed centres of New York, Berlin and Paris were its chief foci, with the charismatic figures of John Cage and George Maciunas, Joseph Beuys and Yves Klein, respectively, tending both to open up and close off discourse regarding what Fluxus should or should not be. The relationship of the Maciunas chapter to that in Tokyo remains therefore an intriguing and underexplored issue.
The significance of Japanese Fluxus was manifest through such figures as Nam June Paik, who, although originally from Korea, resided in Japan before becoming during the late 1960s the pre-eminent figure in the emergent form of video art in New York. His fame eclipsed that of his partner, video artist Shigeko Kubota, to whom Yoshimoto devotes a chapter. Yoshimoto also examines the work of Fluxus's most famous female artist, Yoko Ono, who was brought up in Japan and who briefly returned in 1962 before going back to the USA to take advantage of New York's relative freedom and more active art market in 1964. Yoshimoto traces as well the professional biographies of Yayoi Kusama (whose extraordinary red-polka-dot-covered, weirdly surreal, organic installations returned to international prominence during the 1990s), Takako Saito (a major designer of Fluxus objects such as the ubiquitous chess sets and games which proliferated within the movement) and Mieko Shiomi (who worked predominantly in the field of Cagean, sculptural sound/music performance).
Yoshimoto's study of these five female artists is largely descriptive and narrative, drawing upon both published and unpublished artist interviews, Fluxus archives and extant catalogue materials. She outlines the various stages in their subjects' careers along a clear, linear trajectory. Yoshimoto's historicisation is peppered with close studies of a number of works, but the emphasis is on critical biography rather than aesthetic analysis per se. In this respect, Yoshimoto's text provides an excellent introduction to the general history of these artists and the issues raised through their practice. …