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Though I strangely cannot find the press release on Japan Society’s website, the Society officially announced a few days ago that Miwako Tezuka will be taking over as Director of Japan Society Gallery as the current Director, Joe Earle, retires at the end of the summer.


Japan Society main lobby. Photo my own.

The Gallery, and the Society as a whole, benefited greatly from the expert guidance of Joe Earle, who came to Japan Society in 2007 after a short stint as Chair of the Dept of the Art of Asia, Africa, and Oceania at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, and many years prior working at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. His particular interest and expertise in lacquerwares and Japanese crafts brought exhibits such as Zeshin, “New Bamboo”, and Serizawa. As I have commented before numerous times on this blog, most recently in my review of the Art Deco show which closes today, Japan Society Gallery under Earle (as well as under his predecessors, and I am sure his successor) has regularly made a point of showing exhibitions highlighting aspects of Japanese art normally ignored by the major museums. The Buriki exhibition of tin toy cars, beautiful in their own way, and symbolic of key aspects of certain points in Japan’s cultural history, is perhaps the best example of this. Krazy!, an exhibition of manga, anime, and video games as “art”, and Bye Bye Kitty, which introduced New York (and the United States) to a handful of amazing Japanese contemporary artists normally totally overshadowed in the media in the West by Murakami Takashi, brought Japan Society greatly expanded visibility and popularity especially among younger demographics. I do not know the extent to which Japan Society in fact in the past focused more exclusively on exhibitions of pottery and ink painting, but to whatever extent this represents a major change, it is a change for the better. There is absolutely nothing wrong with exhibitions of ceramics arts and ink painting, and I hope that the young people brought in by the anime and contemporary art exhibits have their interests piqued enough that they’ll come back to learn about ceramics & ink painting. But you have to get them in the door first; you have to get them knowing about Japan Society, and being interested in Japan Society, to begin with.

Joe Earle will be missed. But I am excited for the arrival of Miwako Tezuka, who will become the first Japanese director of the Society’s gallery. I have not had the privilege of meeting Dr. Tezuka, or hearing her speak, but am familiar with her through her work as guest curator of Asia Society’s astonishing exhibit “Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool.” If she can transform the Japan Society Gallery the way she transformed Asia Society’s space, then we are all in for a real treat. My best wishes to Dr. Tezuka, and Mr. Earle, to continued successes and to new and exciting projects.

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The full press release follows:

For Immediate Release
Japan Society Announces New Gallery Director

New York, NY — June 7, 2012 — Japan Society has announced Dr. Miwako Tezuka will take over directorship of Japan Society’s Gallery from Joe Earle, who retires effective September 30. A Columbia University alumnus and NYC-based curator specializing in contemporary Japanese art, Tezuka will be the first Japanese director of Japan Society Gallery. Her tenure begins July 2, 2012.

“I am honored to join Japan Society and to work with its dedicated staff to create exciting exhibitions and related programming that stir the imaginations of the New York audience and people the world over,” said Tezuka, upon the announcement. “The uniqueness of Japan Society as a multidisciplinary organization allows us to develop projects that fully present the dynamic energy, diversity, and complexity embodied within Japanese arts and culture.”

One of Tezuka’s most recent curatorial contributions to New York City was Asia Society’s Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool in fall 2010. The major solo exhibition of Japanese Neo Pop artist Yoshitomo Nara achieved great popular and critical success, and received numerous rave reviews including one from The New York Times, which called the exhibition “a game-changer.”

“Miwako is a well-regarded curator, who has an intimate knowledge of the New York art scene and a broad perspective of Japanese art in the global sphere,” said Motoatsu Sakurai, President, Japan Society. “We look forward to the vision she will bring to the gallery. Her track record of expanding the dialogue between traditional and contemporary art will amplify Japan Society’s status as one of America’s premier institutions for exhibitions of Japanese art.”

In recent years Japan Society Gallery has seen record attendance and international recognition. KRAZY! The Delirious World of Anime + Manga + Video Games (spring 2009) was the second-best attended show ever at Japan Society Gallery, and Graphic Heroes, Magic Monsters (spring 2010) was the best-attended pre-contemporary show of all time. In 2011 Bye Bye Kitty!!! Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art was voted 2011 “Best Show in a Non-Profit Gallery or Space” by the United States Section of the International Association of Art Critics.

Japan Society’s current exhibition is the critically acclaimed Deco Japan: Shaping Art and Culture, 1920-1945 (closing June 10), America’s first survey of Japanese art deco, organized and circulated by Art Services International, Alexandria, Virginia, and touring the U.S. 2012-13. Joe Earle’s final exhibition as director will be Silver Wind: The Arts of Sakai Hōitsu (1761–1828), opening on September 29, 2012.

Dr. Miwako Tezuka is an internationally recognized curator and expert in modern and contemporary Japanese art who has contributed greatly to the field through her scholarly and curatorial work. Prior to her appointment at Japan Society, Tezuka was Associate Curator at Asia Society in New York, where she was responsible for creating cutting-edge exhibitions of contemporary Asian and Asia American artists. In 2006, she cocurated Projected Realities: Video Art from East Asia, the first exhibition at Asia Society that thoroughly focused on video art. In the following year, Asia Society launched its video art collection, for which Tezuka played a key role in selection and management. From 2007 she oversaw “In Focus,” a series of solo exhibitions, through which she realized the first solo exhibitions at the New York museum of such significant contemporary artists as Yuken Teruya from Okinawa, Suda Yoshihiro from Tokyo, and U-Ram Choe from Seoul. In addition to Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool, her significant curatorial contributions at Asia Society included Yang Fudong: Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest (2009) and Mariko Mori: Kumano (2010).

Tezuka’s curatorial, scholarly, and advisory work, has received significant attention from luminaries in the field and major media, and she has been invited to advise and lecture at some of the most prestigious institutions in the world such as the Museum of Modern Art in New York. She received her PhD from the Department of Art History and Archaeology at Columbia University in 2005 with the dissertation titled Jikken Kōbō (Experimental Workshop): Avant-Garde Experiments in Japanese Art of the 1950s. In 2003, to connect scholars and art professionals who share the interest in contemporary Japanese art, Tezuka cofounded the global online network PoNJA-GenKon (Post-1945 Japanese Art Discussion Group/Gendai Bijutsu Kondankai).

Tezuka has published numerous articles and essays in various languages. Her recent publications include: “Experiment and Tradition: An Avant-Garde Play Pierrot Lunaire by Jikken Kōbō and Takechi Tetsuji” in Art Journal (Spring 2012); “Between Ethos and Logos: Sarah Sze’s Shifting Perspectives” in Sarah Sze: Infinite Line (New York: Asia Society, 2011); “Music on My Mind: The Art and Phenomenon of Yoshitomo Nara” in Yoshitomo Nara: Nobody’s Fool (New York: Abrams, 2010); “Kori Yumi, Antenna, Kengo Kito: essay and interviews” in Tokyo Visualist (Tokyo: Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 2009); “Imagine Again and Again: Copies of a Portrait of Minamoto no Yoritomo by Yamaguchi Akira” in Impressions (March 2009); “Yuken Teruya: What Comes Around Goes Around” in Making a Home: Japanese Contemporary Artists in New York (New York: Japan Society, 2007); and “Synergy: Shuzo Takiguchi and Experimental Workshop—A Continuing Lineage of Creation” in Drifting Objects of Dreams: The Collection of Shuzo Takiguchi (Tokyo: Setagaya Art Museum, 2005).
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Extending in scope from prehistory to the present, Japan Society Gallery exhibitions since 1971 have covered topics as diverse as classical Buddhist sculpture and calligraphy, contemporary photography and ceramics, samurai swords, export porcelain, and masterpieces of painting from the thirteenth to the twentieth century. Each exhibition, with its related catalogue and public programs, is a unique cultural event that illuminates familiar and unfamiliar fields of art.

Japan Society is an American nonprofit committed to deepening mutual understanding between the United States and Japan in a global context. Now in its second century, the Society serves audiences across the United States and abroad through innovative programs in arts and culture, public policy, business, language, and education. For more information, visit http://www.japansociety.org or call 212-832-1155.

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Joe Earle, director of Japan Society Gallery in New York, has announced his retirement. He’s not leaving until roughly a year from now – September 2012 – by which time I just might actually be back in New York to say goodbye in person. But, it’s sad to see him go. Mr. Earle has done a lot of great work for the Society, both in terms of organizing some really groundbreaking, and extremely well put together exhibitions (including KRAZY!, Bye Bye Kitty, and Hakuin), and also in terms of behind-the-scenes administration and leadership. It’s been great for me, especially, having such a contact within the NYC Japanese art world.

I had heard this news a good few days ago, but much thanks to Susan of JapanCulture・NYC for publishing the news first, making it public, so that I could feel okay about putting it out there myself.

Having met him back when he was Chair of the Art of Asia, Africa, and Oceania department at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mr. Earle has always been to my mind a major player in the Boston/NYC Japanese art scene, a mainstay in a way. But now I learn, or realize, that he’s really only been here in the States for about nine years, after a lengthy career in the UK, spent mostly, I gather, at the Victoria & Albert. So, I guess, it’s more the case of saying a great big thank you to Joe for bringing his expertise and brilliant talent to us here in the US, so far from home. I assume he’ll be going home to the UK after he retires, but I look forward to hopefully continuing to see him at art events and such, whether in NY, or elsewhere, or if & when I ever make my own way to the UK…

There are quite a few great exhibits still going on under Earle’s watch – “Fiber Futures,” an exhibition of contemporary textile art, has just opened, and meanwhile, downstairs in the so-called “A level,” there’s an exhibit of postcard-sized artworks created by Tôhoku artists in response to the earthquake/tsunami disaster. Next year, we’ll see exhibits on Japanese Art Deco, and one on the painter Sakai Hoitsu. Looking forward to it!

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