The Japanese Embassy in Austria Has Withdrawn Support for a Show That Includes Controversial Japanese Artists

Some of the artists in the show also participated in the censored Aichi Triennale.

Makoto Aida The video of a man calling himself Japan's Prime Minister making a speech at an international assembly (still). Courtesy of MuseumsQuartier.
Makoto Aida, still from The video of a man calling himself Japan's Prime Minister making a speech at an international assembly). Courtesy of MuseumsQuartier.

The Japanese Embassy in Austria has objected to an exhibition in Vienna that includes works about the Fukushima nuclear accident and Japan’s wartime history. It has withdrawn its official support for the group show “Japan Unlimited” after a Japanese politician alerted embassy staff that some of the artists also participated in a controversial and ultimately censored exhibition at the Aichi Triennale.

Despite the diplomatic incident, the show in Vienna, which is curated by Marcello Farabegoli and has the support of the Austrian government, will continue at Q21 in the city’s MuseumsQuartier, reports the Kyoto Times

“MuseumsQuartier is a center of cosmopolitanism, artistic freedom, and freedom of expression. The exhibition ‘Japan Unlimited,’ like all other art and cultural projects taking place in the MuseumsQuartier, must be regarded and respected from this perspective,” read in a statement from the museum. “Artistic freedom is essential in a democratic society. To this end, it is our duty as a cultural institution to provide artists and curators with a platform for presenting their ideas.”

The Aichi Triennial show was up for just three days in August at the Aichi Prefecture Museum of Art in the city of Nagoya before the organizers pulled the plug. Opponents of one of the works in the show—Korean artists Kim Seo-kyung and Kim Eun-sung’s life-size figurative sculpture of a “comfort woman,” Statue of Peace (2011)—had made several threats against organizers. The controversial piece depicts one of the thousands of Asian women that Japan forced into sexual slavery during World War II. 

In Vienna, it’s unclear which works triggered Japan’s decision to rescind its approval, but the exhibition’s official description notes that it “will feature some of the most prominent and active artists from Japan who confront the limits and freedoms of political-sociocritical art.”

Potentially contentious works include Makoto Aida’s work The video of a man calling himself Japan’s Prime Minister making a speech at an international assembly, in which the artist plays a parodic version of Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, apologizing for wartime aggression against China and Korea in broken English. 

“Japan Unlimited” is on view at MuseumsQuartier Vienna, Museumsplatz 1, Vienna, Austria, September 26–November 24, 2019.


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