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In biographies of Japanese artists of the twentieth century you often read such enlightening and exciting sentences like "He won a second prize at the Bunten in 1912". Bunten, Teiten, Nitten , ... It drove me nuts and I decided to learn more about it. It still drives me nuts. But at least it is less painful now.
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In a nutshell, Bunten and Teiten were official, state-controlled, juried art exhibitions. Nitten replaced them after the war.
The meaning of these official exhibition societies for the world of Japanese arts was pretty comparable to the French Salon in the second half of the nineteenth century. The conservative Salon was the institution most hated by the French impressionists - their works were regularly rejected by the jury. And without a representation by the Salon, an artist had hardly any chance to sell anything to private collectors.
At the beginning of the twentieth century the Japanese administration decided that something should be done to preserve the long tradition of Japanese art by promoting contemporary, traditional artists. The result was the founding of an art organization by the Ministry of Education with annual, juried art exhibitions.
The new organization was called the Bunten. It had three shows, one for Japanese style painting, one for Western style painting and one for sculpture. Woodblock prints were regarded at that time as the product of some kind of ancient Xerox Copy process - unimportant and not worth to be exhibited in an important art show. Therefore prints were not represented at Bunten.
Before Hiroshi Yoshida became a printmaker, he was an active painter. He was among the lucky ones, whose works were approved by the jury. And more than that, Hiroshi Yoshida became a juror at Bunten. And many of his paintings were purchased by the Ministry of Education.
In 1919 Bunten was renamed to Teiten and it was now controlled by another organization of the Japanese state, the Imperial Art Academy. Finally in 1927 Teiten accepted prints for their exhibitions. After a reorganization of the Imperial Art Academy in 1935 and 1937 the Teiten was again renamed to Bunten or Shin Bunten.
Another important art exhibition organization was Saiko Nihon Bijutsuin, also called Inten. It was established in 1914 as successor to an artists association founded in 1898. Inten did not accept any inclusions of art prints either.
It was no wonder that the avant-garde artists and the printmakers who were rejected by the conservative Bunten, Teiten and Inten, tried to organize their own exhibitions. Especially the poor Sosaku Hanga artists had no platform to exhibit and sell their works.
The protest resulted in a number of artist groups. Their names are:
With the exception of Nihon Sosaku-Hanga Kyokai and the successor organization Nihon Hanga Kyokai, most groups had a rather short life. Instead of building a unified counterpart to the official Bunten and Teiten, these rebel artists rather quarrelled among themselves. Discussions whether an artist should carve a woodblock himself or should be allowed to leave this job to a trained artisan, split the avant-garde artists into several small groups.
After the end of the Pacific war the attribute Imperial was no longer trendy. Everything was reorganized and renamed. In 1946 the Imperial Art Academy became The Japan Fine Arts Exhibition, abbreviated as Nitten.
The Nitten has developed into a large organization. Today the Nitten has five art faculties, Japanese Style Painting, Western Style Painting, Sculpture, Craft as Art and Calligraphy.
New artist groups and associations were founded after the war. Nihon Hanga Kyokai remained in the field and became pretty successful. It survived until today and became the Japan Print Association, JPA.
In 1957 the first Tokyo International Print Biennal was held - sponsored by a newspaper and the Tokyo Museum of Modern Art. The Tokyo Print Biennal came to life thanks to the initiative of Kitaoka Fumio ( one of my favorite hanga artists ).
Author: Dieter Wanczura
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