` Man smoking a cigarette

Eguchi Sogen smoking a cigarette in his atelier before beginning a calligraphy, snapshot of minute 10:56 in Pierre Alechinsky’s film Calligraphie Japonaise (1956)

Postwar Japanese Calligraphy and the Challenge of Abstract Painting

In the two postwar decades, modern Japanese calligraphy enjoyed unprecendented international visibility and popularity. As the French theoretician of abstract art Michel Seuphor wrote in 1962, “in the 1960s, every abstract painter is fascinated by the East, dreams of visiting Japan, perhaps to find the delights of Japanese calligraphy.” This talk is dedicated to the artists who launched and fueled this fascination.

Avant-garde calligraphers from Japan radically transformed their art with the aim of bringing calligraphy to the same level of recognition as abstract painting. In order to reach this goal, they launched creative collaborations with European Art Informel artists and American Abstract Expressionists, and soon started sharing exhibition spaces with them at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, Documenta in Kassel, São Paulo Biennale, and Carnegie International.

This talk will introduce the connection between Japanese avant-garde calligraphers and abstract painters from Europe and the United States as one of the most fascinating examples of the early postwar global art exchanges, drawing attention to calligraphy as a phenomenon of the global postwar avant-garde.


About the speaker

Eugenia Bogdanova-Kummer is Lecturer in Japanese Arts, Culture, and Heritage at the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures, affiliated to the University of East Anglia.

She is an art historian specialising in modern Japanese art. Before joining the Sainsbury Institute in 2018, she received her Ph.D. from Heidelberg University and held postdoctoral positions at Emory University, Atlanta, GA and Smithsonian Freer and Sackler Galleries, Washington, D.C. Her research interests include postwar art in Japan; modern calligraphy history in East Asia; transcultural studies; abstract art; and the relationship between image and language in modern Japan. She is the author of Bokujinkai: Japanese Calligraphy and the Postwar Avant-Garde (Japanese Visual Culture Series 19, Leiden and Boston: Brill, 2020), and currently working on her second book project on the history of calligraphy modernization in East Asia.

If you have any questions, please call the Japan Society office on 020 3075 1996 or email events@japansociety.org.uk.

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