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12th – 14th July 2017, Norwich

Japanese Cultural Studies outside of Japan – its current status and future perspectives was a three-day international event that took place in Norwich, UK between 12th and 14th July 2017. It was organised by the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures (SISJAC) and the Centre for Japanese Studies, University of East Anglia (UEA), in association with the Global Exchange Organisation for Research and Education, Gakushin University, Japan. The conference’s sessions were held at the Enterprise Centre on the UEA campus (first two days) and the Cathedral Hostry in Norwich (third day). The conference was planned to mark the 10th anniversary of the Postgraduate Workshop in Japanese Art History (PWJAH) organised by SISJAC in 2006. The geographical focus of the proceedings was on Europe in general and on Central/Eastern Europe in particular, but contributions from America were also numerous.   

The prime objective of the event was to reassess the status and challenges facing universities, museums and other institutions that research, disseminate and display Japanese culture, as well as to publish a body of recommendations as to what actions and support are required to overcome these challenges. The intention of the organisers is to present the findings of the event to relevant policymakers, governments, foundations and researchers, educators, curators and other individuals whose mission is to support and popularise Japanese culture abroad. These written recommendations are to be published digitally. Another major aim of the conference was to identify strategies for building a forum for researchers in Europe and America, which would facilitate future collaborative projects. The conference also made an attempt to ascertain the status quo of current cultural exchanges between Europe and Japan. The organisers expressed their intention to follow up with further events, most likely on annual basis, to examine issues of Japanese Cultural Studies within the domain of international relations and history. Furthermore, the organisers plan to set up a website devoted to continuous updating and sharing of the latest research in the field of Japanese Cultural Studies.

The initiative stemmed from the fact that during the recent decades, there has been a significant decline in support from Japan for Japanese Cultural Studies conducted abroad. As a result, the field has often been subsumed by the larger framework of East Asian Studies. A recurring theme of the proceedings was the question if and how the developments in the field and views held outside of Japan may impact on Japanese Cultural Studies in Japan. Among the pivotal issues raised and debated were individual projects related to Japanese Cultural Studies being carried out by the contributors and forging lasting professional relationships beyond national borders.  

The conference was structured on three separate sessions, the first of which focused on the situation at institutions of higher education. The fluctuations in the numbers of students studying Japanese culture at a degree level (BA, MA, PhD), career options for postdoctoral scholars, and the availability of relevant programmes in Japan were all discussed at length. The second session concentrated on European and American museums and their strategies of displaying Japanese culture. The third session was devoted to the role of Japan in invigorating the dynamics of the field abroad. 

The speakers included scholars, curators and other individuals from Czech Republic, France, Germany, Holland, Hungary, Italy, Japan, Poland, Russia, UK and USA. Poland was represented by Anna Król of the Manggha Museum of Japanese Art and Technology in Kraków, who presented a paper entitled Exhibition of Japanese Art as Intercultural Dialogue: The Exhibition Strategies of the Manggha Museum; Dr Agnieszka Kluczewska-Wójcik of the Polish Institute of World Art Studies in Warsaw, who related the role of the Institute in popularising Japanese culture in Poland (Japonisme and Japanese Culture Studies in Poland - An account of the role of the Polish Institute of World Art Studies); and Dr Piotr Spławski of the Polish Institute of World Art Studies, who delivered a report on the current state of Japonisme studies in Europe (Japonisme as a Branch of Japanese Cultural Studies: Its spread and the present state of the field in Europe).

During the fourth day of the conference, the participants had the great pleasure to enjoy a private view of the exhibition Hokusai: beyond the Great Wave mounted at the British Museum in London. The tour was led by Tim Clark, Head of the Japanese Section at the British Museum.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                               Dr Piotr Spławski




1st International Conference



Jagiellonian University, Kraków, 16  – 17. 10 2017







(Ben Uri Gallery & Museum, London, 28.6.2017 - 17.9.2017)

This exhibition is the second in a series which aims at presenting 20th century art produced in England by emigré artists - an earlier exhibition devoted to German artists in Britain occupied only the lower galleries, whereas the present exhibition occupies the entire space of the Ben Uri Gallery.  The third exhibition will present work by Indian artists.  Although the Ben Uri Gallery, founded a century ago in the Jewish East End of London, has been concerned in presenting work by British and European artists of Jewish descent, it has an ambition to open a Museum of Migration, which would broaden out the subject to cover the migration of all nationalities, whether enforced by political or military factors, economic or voluntary, and these exhibitions should be seen as evidence for these wider plans.

The exhibition is curated by Rachel Dickson, Head of Curatorial Services of the Ben Uri, and has been supported by the Polish Embassy, the Polish Social and Cultural Association (POSK) and the Polish Cultural Institute.

The title of the exhibition is rather misleading - I assume that the term “Bloodlands” is a reference to Timothy Snyder’s 2010 book, which specifically labelled the territories of Eastern pre-War Poland as the “Bloodlands”, and not Poland as a whole.  The Polish artists in the exhibition come from all parts of Poland, and not just from the Kresy, the borderlands.  The title also suggests that all the artists escaped to Britain from the bloodbath of the Second World War, which is the case with a proportion of them, but not with all - others came in early childhood as a result of a family decision (Wolmark), or came to Britain before the War and stayed for professional reasons (Topolski), or are young artists/students whose motives for coming to Britain have nothing to do with escape from a bloodbath.

The selection of works is limited to a couple of collections.  Works on the well-lighted and spacious ground floor are all from the Ben Uri Collection (including ‘The last days of Rabbi Ben Ezra’, a huge work by Alfred Wolmark from 1905, illustrating a poem by Robert Browning from 1864, on long-term loan to the Ben Uri from E. & R. Guggenheim), while those in the three small and rather claustrophobic downstairs galleries are mostly from the collection of POSK and the Biblioteka Polska in POSK ; a handful of remaining works (again in the downstairs galleries) are from the private collection of Matthew Bateson, and the remaining few are from unspecified private collections.  Thus the great majority of the works in the exhibition are from two collections.  This is a very limited range of sources for such an ambitious exhibition.  Furthermore, the curious division of the paintings and sculptures into Ben Uri works upstairs, and POSK (and other) works downstairs makes no sense whatever in what seems to be a generally chronologically-arranged exhibition.  This arrangement privileges the Ben Uri works above those borrowed from POSK, Matthew Bateson and other private collectors, and militates against any attempt to give the exhibition either a chronological or a thematic order.

Several artists are represented by untypical works, including works by Józef Herman, Jankiel Adler and Henryk Gotlib.  Others seem over-represented in what is a rather limited exhibition (Stanisław Frenkiel, in particular).  These are the consequences of the very limited range of sources for the exhibition.

The text-labels are useful, giving brief biographical summaries, as well as changes of name of artists where appropriate (an exception here is Feliks Topolski), with the emphasis on when and under what circumstances they came to Britain.  Longer labels for each gallery emphasize patterns of migration of the artists in the gallery.  These assume a considerable knowledge of Central European history, they do not present a chronology for visitors who may be less familiar with the historical context.

Alfred Wolmark’s huge ‘Last days of Rabbi Ben Ezra’ (1905) is a work of high quality and considerable interest to those concerned with the cultural life of East End Jewish London, but the fact that Wolmark happened to be born in Warsaw is rather a weak excuse for its presence in the exhibition.  Similarly, a painting by Teodor Axentowicz (‘The parting’, undated, lent by the Biblioteka Polska in POSK) has little place if any in the exhibition - Axentowicz certainly visited London, but had no substantial connection with Britain.  (Tadeusz) Piotr Potworowski could have been represented by a more typical work than his ‘pen and ink Self-portrait’ (undated), one which would have illuminated his connection with Corsham and with the St. Ives group of artists, but presumably such a work was not available for loan.  The front cover of a closed book by Franciszka & Stefan Themerson (a 1988 reprint of a children’s book from 1963) was a quite inadequate representation of their important and still undervalued work.

For me the work that stood out in terms of quality was ‘Vertical movement’ (c.1950s ; POSK collection) by Tadeusz Znicz-Muszyński (1922-1988), a beautiful-executed essay in Geometrical Abstraction which had a strong architectural foundation, by an artist new to me.   A fine abstract by Caziel (Kazimierz Józef Zielenkiewicz), lent by Whitford Fine Art, is dated 1967 - this predates his arrived in Britain from Paris in 1969 ; Whitford, who are Caziel’s dealers, could perhaps have been persuaded to lend a work executed in Britain.  Henryk Glicenstein’s small bronze ‘Portrait of Israel Zangwill’ (1923 ; Ben Uri) is quite superb, albeit in an anachronistic and outdated style - but perhaps this was particularly appropriate to the subject.  Leopold Pilichowski’s ‘Old man in a blue smock’ (undated ; Ben Uri) is a fine work too - Pilichowski played a major role in the development of the Ben Uri Society in London, and perhaps ought to have been represented by more works than just this one.  Marek Żuławski’s works (there are 3 or 4 paintings and prints in the exhibition) are disappointing, and give no clear idea of the range of his work.  Józef Herman’s work in the exhibition is confined to his ‘Tribute to Goya’s Black Pictures (In memory of the Fighters of the Warsaw Ghetto)’ (1974, reworked 1998 ; Ben Uri) and to a couple of sketches.  Jankiel Adler’s sole work in the exhibition is ‘Wounded (Portrait of a Man in a Cap)’ (undated ; Ben Uri), which gives little or no impression of the quality of his work as a whole.  Feliks Topolski’s painting ‘Old England’ (1943 ; Matthew Bateson collection) shows the artist at his worst, at his most meretricious, while his pencil sketch of Bertrand Russell (undated ; Bateson collection - presumably this is one of his sketches for the BBC television series “Face to Face”) shows him at his very best, as a superb draughtsman.

In a sense, the exhibition is constrained by the fact that it is essentially drawn from two collections, which are kept apart in the display, and fails to present a coherent narrative - it is neither an exhibition of Polish art of the 20th century, nor an exhibition of work by Jewish-Polish artists, nor an exhibition demonstrating the migration of Polish artist to Britain during the period in question.  There is a lack of focus about the exhibition, as if it was trying to present several overlapping narratives, on the basis of a very limited and often rather casually-selected works.  But it is not often that Polish art is shown in London, and such an exhibition can serve as a good introduction to the subject to an audience which would normally have no contact with it.

Krzysztof Z. Cieszkowski  (London, 11.8.2017)



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