Reiko Tomii named winner of 2017 Robert Motherwell Book Award
By Crystal Wu
Reiko Tomii was announced as the winner of this year’s edition of the Robert Motherwell Book Award, which includes a cash prize of USD 10,000.
Radicalism in the Wilderness: International Contemporaneity and 1960s Art in Japan, published last year by MIT Press, “examines three key figures in Japanese art of the 1960s who made radical and inventive art,” including Japanese conceptual artist Matsuzawa Yutaka, Kansai-based art collective The Play and a regional collective Group Ultra Niigata.
Tomii, a New-York-based art historian and curator who “investigates post-1945 Japanese art in global and local contexts,” has previously contributed to multiple exhibitions held at the Queens Museum of Art in New York and London’s Tate Modern. She also co-founded PoNJA-GenKon in 2003; the listserve group holds regular symposiums for contemporary Japanese art.
In an email interview with ArtAsiaPacific, Tomii said, "In a way, I wrote two books in one volume. The one on international contemporaneity and the other on the wilderness of 1960s Japan. More difficult was the former. I started thinking about the theoretical implications of 'international contemporaneity' around 2001. It took me a long time to reach the point that I could frame this Japanese concept compellingly in a larger framework. I did not set out to write this book; a book came out of long, very long gestation. But I was confident with the rightness of the idea, because it did not come from me but it was experienced and articulated by those who lived through the 1960s in Japan."
John Clark, professor emeritus at the University of Sydney wrote of the book, “We are all greatly in Tomii’s debt for showing how autonomously local, but also how intricately interrelated with the international, these tendencies were in Japan. Radicalism in the Wilderness stands as something of a model for how this kind of decentering art-historical work could be done for other non-Euramerican modernisms elsewhere.”
Annually given out to an “author of an outstanding publication in the history and criticism of modernism in the arts—including the visual arts, literature, music and the performing arts,” this year’s jury included Susan Davidson from the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; James Leggio from the Brooklyn Museum; and Katy Siegel from the Baltimore Museum of Art and Stony Brook University.
Tomii was the award’s 16th recipient. Previous recipients include various art scholars, such as Annie Bourneuf, Megan R. Luke and Susan Sidlauskas.
Tomii is already working on her next monograph: "My next project is a book on Bikyōyō (short for Artists Joint-Struggle Council), a legendary collective that came out of the political activism of the late 1960s. Like the three Wilderness artists in my recent book, they are less known outside Japan and less studied in Japan than Gutai or Mono-ha; that is because of the complexity of their theorization of the 'internal institution.' It's another big challenge."
Crystal Wu is an editorial intern at ArtAsiaPacific.
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