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Mono Ha | Art in Japan in the late 1960s and early 1970s

March 17, 2010

‘Mono-ha’ refers to a group of artists who were active from the late sixties to early seventies, using both natural and man-made materials in their work. Using mostly found or natural materials, their works sought to question not only the traditions of Western art the East had so recently inherited but by extension to challenge conventional notions of art.

As read on this article published by Tokyo Art Beat, their aim was simply to bring ‘things’ together, as far as possible in an unaltered state, allowing the juxtaposed materials to speak for themselves. Hence, the artists no longer ‘created’ but ‘rearranged’ ‘things’ into artworks, drawing attention to the interdependent relationships between these ‘things’ and the space surrounding them. The aim was to challenge pre-existing perceptions of such materials and relate to them on a new level.

Toshiaki MINEMURA wrote in the 1986 catalogue of MONO-HA exhibition at Kamakura Gallery

The name MONO-HA didn’t come into existence at the start of the movement at the free will of those artists. Rather, it was at the beginning of the seventies that the word with some connotations of contemptuous indifference came to be used among people– this author confesses to being one– who took to examining the MONO-HA phenomenon, especially that of the Lee+Tamabi Group with critical eye. It was for this reason that until quite recently the name sounded quite unpleasant to the ears of the majority of that group, not to mention those of Enokura, Takayama, Haraguchi and others blonging to the Geidai and Nichidai groups who maintain to this day that the term is rather questionable as it was coined to refer to the artworks of the Lee+Tamabi Connection rather than their own.

Let’s see some of their art-works:

nobuo sekine After completion of a master’s degree in oil painting at Tama University of Art, Sekine became an assistant to artist Yoshishige Saito. Sekine’s first public showing was in 1968 at an exhibition of contemporary sculpture in Kobe, where he exhibited his “Phase” series produced since 1967. The series, much of which consists of a hole in the ground in the shape of a column (appx. 270 cm in depth and height and 220 cm in diameter), alongside a similar column shape composed of the excavated soil, is recognized as a forerunner to the Mono-ha movement. Sekine’s work was chosen for the Venice Biennale in 1970; a number of solo exhibitions followed afterwards in Europe.

Above: Phase – Mother Earth in Kobe’s Sumarikyu Park for the First Open Air Contemporary Sculpture Exhibition. The work consisted of a hole dug into the ground, 2.7 metres deep and 2.2 metres in diameter, with the excavated earth compacted into a cylinder of exactly the same dimensions. Sekine described the moment when they removed the mould: “Faced with this solid block of raw earth, the power of this object of reality rendered everybody speechless, and we stood there, rooted to the spot… I just wondered at the power of the convex and concave earth, the sheer physicality of it. I could feel the passing of time’s quiet emptiness… That was the birth of ‘Mono-ha’.


Lee Ufan’s particular radicalism is associated with his contribution to the Mono-Ha (the school of things) movement of the late 1960s and 1970s in Japan. His continuing ‘Relatum’ series of sculptures began at this time and encapsulate the sensibilities of the art movement that characterise his work.

Above: The ‘Relatum’ sculptures are invariably confined to two materials, rock and metal. In Lee Ufan’s sculptures, specific relationships are nuanced between the stones and industrial iron plates, and between the physical space of the work and the viewer.


Susumu Koshimizu resigned from his long-term position in Kyoto City University of Arts this year. His retirement commemoration exhibition in January 21st – January 30th, 2010 will be opening with a focus on his past works, while Tokyo Gallery + BTAP’s exhibition will be showing his new art pieces from the working table series.

The working table series was first shown in Tokyo Gallery + BTAP 2nd Exhibition in 1983. The exhibition showed pieces from his Mono-ha period and sculptural arts, of which later became an important representation of Koshimizu’s body of works.


Narita Katsuhiko became renowned most for his work Sumi, first exhibited at the Biennale de Paris in 1969, which consisted of a line of large pieces of charcoal, aiming to eliminate the act of ‘making’ as much as possible. The burning of the wood left the creative process up to nature and emphasized its material presence.


Noboru Takayama made works that differed from those of other Mono-ha artists in that they more overtly addressed the conceptual associations made with certain materials, rather than simply presenting those materials ‘as they are’. Most notable is his use of railroad ties as a recurrent source of expression.

Takayama works were not ready-made materials: from the preparation of raw materials such as beechwood and creosote to the burning of their surfaces, the works required a certain amount of time to produce.


More info at Tokyo Art Beat and Toshiaki MINEMURA essay What was ‘MONO-HA’ ?

One Comment leave one →
  1. kevinjesus20 permalink
    June 16, 2011 2:38 pm


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