Tokyo Biennale ‘70: Between Man and Matter (Japanese: 第10回日本国際美術展:「人間と物質 」, Hepburn: Dai-10 kai Nihon Hokusai bijutsu-ten: Ningen to busshitsu) opened in May 1970 at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, and later traveled to Kyoto, Nagoya and Fukuoka. It was the tenth of eighteen international art exhibitions held between 1952 and 1990, sponsored and organised by Mainichi Shimbun, a newspaper with a long history of organising significant art exhibitions. In the history of biennials, Tokyo Biennale ’70 marked a shift from the national-representation and prize-awarding model to one that was focused on the forefront developments of contemporary art practice. Specifically, there was a conscious juxtaposition of the latest trends of Post-minimalism and Conceptualism across Euro-America and Japan.
Leading art critic Nakahara Yusuke was selected a commissioner by Minemura Toshiaki at Mainichi to reconceive this edition of the Biennale, eventually settling on the theme of “Between Man and Matter”. Tokyo Biennale ’70 can be seen as the culmination of Nakahara’s art criticism throughout the 1960s alongside the his peers Tōno Yoshiaki and Hariu Ichiro (known as the “Big Three” art critics), in which he had actively commented on artist’s self-reflexive positionality and affinities to Euro-American practices.
As Nakahara notes in his introduction to the catalogue, the concept of the exhibition was inspired by (then) recent foreign exhibitions: When Attitudes Become Form, curated by Harald Szeemann at Kunsthalle Bern (1969), and Anti-Illusion: Procedures/ Materials held at the Whitney Museum of American Art in the same year.
Nakahara’s concept for the Biennale can be understood through his formulation of the museum as a ‘matrix’. The matrix was a place or a situation for man’s encounter with art, or matter, rather than just being a nondescript space that surrounds the artwork. The matrix was not neutral, and should be regarded integral aspect of the relationship between man and matter. This is best evidenced through Nakahara’s essay in the exhibition catalogue:
As opposed to the work’s basic quality as something closed in and as a totality of form and density, ‘stressing’ the relationship between human and matter, or works as something to be ‘experienced,’ these emphasize circumstance, placement, place, distribution, process, and time. These are necessary in order to produce a situation where humans and matter come in contact. And these are not works that participants simply make in their studios and exhibit it, but directly scout the area and produce work based on what they see. Location too is no longer something abstract but an undeniable ingredient in this contact of human and matter.