In honor of the 1915 Panama-California Exposition centennial celebration, TAI Modern is thrilled to present the work of six select artists from the city of Beppu, Oita Prefecture. These talented young artists were chosen to show their work alongside an expansive group exhibition, Japanese Bamboo and the World Expo: A Century of Discovery, at the Japanese Friendship Garden of San Diego.
This is the third and final year of a project sponsored by the Commerce and Service Promotion Division of Oita Prefectural Government. TAI Modern is very happy to lend our encouragement and support to this vital project. This year, the artists were challenged to create artworks on the scale of a dining table centerpiece in small editions of three, inspired by the theme of the world’s fairs.
For nearly twenty years, TAI Modern (formerly TAI Gallery) has exhibited Japanese bamboo art in the United States and Europe with great success, finding hundreds of passionate collectors. The strong international response to bamboo art has fueled efforts within Japan to promote and nurture this unique creative capital.
In 1999, TAI Gallery published Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Art, the first of several books on the subject. It featured twenty of the most important living artists in the field. Within just a few years of publication, this number was fifteen. Today, twelve of the original twenty are still alive and only ten continue to make art. In Oita Prefecture alone, which for over one hundred years has boasted the largest concentration of bamboo craftspeople in Japan, the number of people working with bamboo has shrunk by over 90 percent since 1975. The trend is brutally clear. With the artist population sharply declining, insuring the future of this art form has become a serious concern.
The Oita Prefectural Government is actively promoting the field to ensure its long-term vitality. Artists have also banded together to help their cause. The Oita Bamboo Fine Arts Association was formed to bring together both traditional and more sculptural artists, and the Beppu Bamboo Craft Union has looked after artists’ interests for many years. Individual masters, including Shono Tokuzo, Yamaguchi Ryuun and Morigami Jin, have taken an active role in encouraging the next generation of bamboo artists.
For the last three years, TAI Modern has joined in this collaborative effort to foster emerging artists. This year, the results of the project are promising: Amitani Hirokazu’s Five-storied Pagoda, Hasegawa Kei’s Symbiosis, Ike Masaya’s Warrior, Okada Akira’s Reincarnation, Yamakawa Rika’s Connection, and Yoshida Tasuki’s Jura were all inspired by the theme of the world’s fairs. All of the artists deserve congratulations. Standing next to these youthful efforts are works made by the most accomplished bamboo artists throughout Japan since the birth of modern bamboo art in late 19th century.
When the next generation of bamboo artists steps forward to claim its place, we cannot be sure how many it will number or what its artworks will look like. But we will know we have done all we could to ensure this next generation of bamboo artists will be just as vital and creative as the previous five generations have been.