Takashi Azumaya (1968–2012)
By Shinya Watanabe
Japanese curator Takashi Azumaya passed away on October 16. He was 44. Curating numerous international exhibitions in Japan and Korea, Azumaya was one of the rare independent curators in Japan who made an impact on the art scene in both his country and elsewhere. He will be missed by many.
Azumaya was born March 21, 1968 in the industrial city of Yokkaichi, in Mie Prefecture, Japan. Azumaya acquired a Master of Fine Arts in oil painting from the Tokyo University of the Arts in 1994. After graduation, he took up a curatorial position at Setagaya Art Museum in Tokyo.
Exhibiting works by seven artists—Shinro Ohtake, Yoshitomo Nara, Takashi Nemoto, Masami Tada, Yuichi Higashionna, Hiroyuki Ohki and Atsuko Tanaka—Azumaya’s curatorial debut “Art/Domestic Temperature of the Time” at Setagaya Art Museum in 1999 became one of the iconic art exhibitions of that year. Originally trained as a painter, Azumaya chose artworks for this show that were not theory driven, but created from the artists’ instinctive feelings towards the subject. Azumaya tried to capture the mood (or “temperature”) of the time in “Art/Domestic,” with a unique, free-wheeling approach that would characterize his curatorial style.
Leaving Setagaya Art Museum the same year, Azumaya worked briefly at Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, before joining the performing arts department of the 2001 Yokohama Triennale. From 2003 to 2004, he worked as an associate curator at the Mori Art Museum, where he co-curated “Kusama Yayoi: Kusamatrix” and the first iteration of “Roppongi Crossing,” with other curators including Takayo Iida and Mami Kataoka. “Roppongi Crossing,” a showcase of dozens of artists considered to be representative of the Japanese contemporary art scene, has since been held every three years, becoming a gateway for young artists.
After leaving the Mori Art Museum, Azumaya began working as an independent curator. In 2005, Azumaya curated “Gundam: Generating Futures.” Featuring the artworks of Makoto Aida, Tenmyouya Hisashi, Koki Tanaka, Hibiki Tokiwa and others, this exhibition portrayed the influence of Japan's futuristic anime series “Mobile Suit Gundam,” which was televised in 1979 and 1980, on the imagination of artists who grew up watching the show. Starting from Suntory Museum in Osaka, “Gundam: Generating Future” travelled to five venues nationwide.
For his most important curatorial work, Azumaya served as the first non-Korean national artistic director of the 2010 Busan Biennale, titled “Living in Evolution.” The Biennale was organized primarily with the general public in mind. Memorable commissions by Alastair Mackie, Zadok Ben-David and Akira Kanayama, exploring the role of the individual life on the trajectory of mankind’s development, were interpreted in layman's terms and had an immediate apeal to the local audience.
In his curatorial statement for the Biennale, written as a fictional conversation with a girl visiting him from the distant future, Azumaya expressed a belief that the evolution and the revolution from the 18th to 21st century will have the most significant impact on the life of future generations. He asked at the end, “What should I do, as a person who lives my life in the time called ‘contemporary?’”