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  • Feb 05, 2020

Museum Watchdog Group Praises Aichi Triennale 2019 Artists and Curators

Installation view of

The International Committee for Museums and Collections of Modern Art (CIMAM) released a statement on January 31 lauding the artists and curators of the Aichi Triennale 2019 for their “commendable actions” to “restore the autonomy of the Triennale from political pressure, securing the reopening of the exhibition.” The open letter came three and a half months after the conclusion of the 2019 Aichi Triennale, titled “Taming Y/Our Passion,” which was severely disrupted by a national controversy over a small display of artworks previously censored in Japan. 

CIMAM praised the community of artists and curators for creating “an open platform for free and vigorous discussion” through a public education campaign. The museum group noted that the process through which the Aichi Triennale was able to re-open the shuttered display of controversial works for the final week of its scheduled run through October 14 provided “a positive example for the international art community of resistance to political pressure and censorship through responsible collective action by the artistic community that foregrounds open debate and a public defense of artistic freedom.”

In early August 2019 just days after its opening, the Aichi Triennale came under immense political pressure and received hundreds of threatening phone calls, emails, and even faxes, over the exhibition “After ‘Freedom of Expression’?” at the Aichi Prefectural Museum of Art. Of the artworks addressing sensitive subjects during Japan’s 20th-century history, the one that received the most ire was a sculpture of a Korean “comfort woman,” Statue of Peace (2011), by Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung. At the time, the governments of Japan and South Korea were locked in a heated diplomatic row, as prime minister Shinzo Abe’s government refused to apologize for the enslavement into brothels of an estimated 200,000 women in countries across Asia in the 1930s and early 1940s.

Immediately after the closure of “After ‘Freedom of Expression’?” to the public on August 3, two South Korean artists, Minouk Lim and Park Chan-kyong, requested that their works be removed from the Triennale; these installations were eventually closed on August 6. Concurrently, more than 70 of the Triennale’s participating artists released a signed statement decrying the Triennale’s decision, insisting that the exhibition remain on view. Later in August, several other participating artists, including Tania Bruguera and Javier Téllez, also decided to close their installations to the public, while others altered their artworks to indicate their disapproval. Beginning on August 25, participating artists, led by Tsubasa Kato, organized their own temporary exhibition space, titled “Sanatorium,” at the Endoji Honcho Shopping Arcade, where they showed works and hosted public discussions on protecting the freedom of expression.

In the same statement, CIMAM also re-iterated its criticism of the Agency for Cultural Affairs (ACA), a special body of Japan’s Ministry of Education, Culture, Sports, Science and Technology, which withdrew its grant of JPY 78 million (USD 722,000) to the Triennale allegedly on the grounds that the Aichi government did not provide necessary information in its application for the subsidy. An earlier statement released by CIMAM on October 10 questioned the Agency’s reasons for withholding the grant. 

HG Masters is the deputy editor and deputy publisher of ArtAsiaPacific.

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