Abstract art has been around for over a century, but it’s still divisive. The Political Compass online questionnaire, for example, asks users whether they agree with the idea that “abstract art that doesn’t represent anything should not be considered art at all.” How respondents answer can establish where they fall on the political spectrum and the degree to which they are socially authoritarian or libertarian.
Abstraction is historically left/libertarian, in the sense that being avant-garde was, by definition, socially progressive and individualistic. The current exhibition at the Artizon Museum in central Tokyo, being an overview of abstract painting from its emergence at the beginning of the 20th century up to contemporary practice, is an opportunity to consider the legacy of nonfigurative painting and what it means today.
“Abstraction: The Genesis and Evolution of Abstract Painting Cezanne, Fauvism, Cubism and on to Today” is organized chronologically, starting with Paul Cezanne’s “Mont Saint-Victoire and Chateau Noir” and ending with works made this year by Tama Art University graduate Miyuki Yokomizu. In the course of getting from the former to the latter, the selection of works shows the huge diversity that abstraction can cover. The analytical experimentation of Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque’s cubism looks cool and intellectual compared to the emotional intensity, for example, of frenzied felt-pen works by the Osaka-based Akira Kanayama. Fernand Leger’s bright colors are joyful, while works by Clyfford Still and Mark Rothko are pensive and sober.