Radicalism in the Wilderness

Radicalism in the Wilderness

International Contemporaneity and 1960s Art in Japan

By Reiko Tomii

Innovative artists in 1960s Japan who made art in the “wilderness”—away from Tokyo, outside traditional norms, and with little institutional support—with global resonances.





Innovative artists in 1960s Japan who made art in the “wilderness”—away from Tokyo, outside traditional norms, and with little institutional support—with global resonances.

1960s Japan was one of the world's major frontiers of vanguard art. As Japanese artists developed diverse practices parallel to, and sometimes antecedent to, their Western counterparts, they found themselves in a new reality of “international contemporaneity” (kokusaiteki dōjisei). In this book Reiko Tomii examines three key figures in Japanese art of the 1960s who made radical and inventive art in the “wilderness”—away from Tokyo, outside traditional norms, and with little institutional support.

These practitioners are the conceptualist Matsuzawa Yutaka, known for the principle of “vanishing of matter” and the practice of “meditative visualization” (kannen); The Play, a collective of “Happeners”; and the local collective GUN (Group Ultra Niigata). The innovative work of these artists included a visionary exhibition in Central Japan of “formless emissions” organized by Matsuzwa; the launching of a huge fiberglass egg—“an image of liberation”—from the southernmost tip of Japan's main island by The Play; and gorgeous color field abstractions painted by GUN on accumulating snow on the riverbeds of the Shinano River. Pioneers in conceptualism, performance art, land art, mail art, and political art, these artists delved into the local and achieved global relevance.

Making “connections” and finding “resonances” between these three practitioners and artists elsewhere, Tomii links their local practices to the global narrative and illuminates the fundamentally “similar yet dissimilar” characteristics of their work. In her reading, Japan becomes a paradigmatic site of world art history, on the periphery but asserting its place through hard-won international contemporaneity.


Out of Print ISBN: 9780262034128 320 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 18 color illus., 81 b&w illus.


$25.00 X ISBN: 9780262535311 320 pp. | 7 in x 9 in 18 color illus., 81 b&w illus.


  • Radicalism in the Wilderness is impeccably researched and clearly written and organized, offering a wealth of new insight and analysis of modernist art history of Japan in the 1960s and 1970s. By foregrounding the local and presumed periphery, the book builds 'the global from the bottom up,' thereby expanding and challenging the understanding of global modernisms.

    Dedalus Foundation

  • Radicalism in the Wilderness draws a clearly organized, meticulously researched picture of a very important strain of postwar Japanese art.

    Art in America

  • At once a remarkable demonstration of art-historical erudition and an almost bardic exercise in lyrical tale-telling, this timely analysis... presents a novel take on the idea of the wild.

    Art Monthly

  • [O]ffers illuminating assessments of several Japanese artists of the 1960s, whom many readers in the US and Europe will probably encounter in its pages for the first time.



  • Reiko Tomii's captivating book is vital in the effort to pursue the promise of an international contemporaneity. It does not only expand the narrative; it explodes it. It does not only include the excluded; it initiates the reckoning elsewhere: in postwar Japan, evoked as an elusive wilderness.

    Patrick D. Flores

    Professor of Art Studies, University of the Philippines

  • In the accelerating drive to understand how art history and criticism are written around the world, Japanese art is emerging as a test case of particular importance. Radicalism in the Wilderness is an exemplary conceptualization, not just for Japanese art of the 1960s, but also for scholars struggling to articulate new centers and practices for the emerging world art history. Tomii provides a wonderful selection of new analytic tools—'micro-narratives,' 'canonical comparisons' as opposed to canons, 'similar yet dissimilar' practices, synchronized 'local times,' and 'comparative counterparts'—in an effort not to repress the master narratives of European and North American modernism, but to 'loosen,' 'decenter,' and 'regroup' them, so that we can find the voices of the radical artists of the Japanese 'wilderness' in the new inclusive sense of the 1960s.

    James Elkins

    E. C. Chadbourne Professor of Art History, Theory, and Criticism, School of the Art Institute of Chicago; editor of Is Art History Global? and coeditor of Art and Globalization

  • Not since Jane Farver's 1999 Global Conceptualism has such a bold claim been made for the importance of Japanese vanguard art. In Radicalism in the Wilderness, Reiko Tomii celebrates the astonishing sophistication of a conceptual art emerging in the doubled remoteness of non-metropolitan Japan, thereby providing a crucial new argument for 'building the global from the bottom up.' Tomii's book is brilliantly opinionated, while offering thoughtful methodologies for a new global art history in the making.

    Caroline A. Jones

    Professor, History, Theory, and Criticism Program, MIT


  • Winner, 2017 Robert Motherwell Book Award, sponsored by the Daedalus Foundation, which recognizes outstanding publications in the history and criticism of modernism in the arts.