This text was originally published in Jasper Johns: Usuyuki (exhibition catalogue), Fergus McCaffrey, Tokyo, 2019. By Roberta Bernstein and Miyuki Hinton.
Jasper Johns was born on May 15, 1930, in Augusta, Georgia, and raised in rural South Carolina. In 1947, he attended the University of South Carolina, Columbia. At the suggestion of his art teachers, Johns moved to New York in 1949, remaining there through May 1951, when he was drafted into the military. After serving in the army for two years, Johns returned to New York in 1953. During 1954–57, he made his first Flags, Targets, Numbers, and other signature works. National and international renown followed his first solo exhibition, held in 1958 at the Leo Castelli Gallery. Since then, exhibitions of his works have been shown in major museums worldwide, and Johns has received numerous awards for his artistic accomplishments. In the past three years, separate catalogues raisonnés of the artist’s painting and sculpture, drawings, and monotypes have been published. Johns’s most recent works were shown in 2019 at the Matthew Marks Gallery. The artist currently resides in Sharon, Connecticut.
The following timeline highlights Johns’s activities related to Japan along with key events in post–World War II Japanese history and avant-garde culture. Additional information about the artist’s life may be found in the Chronology in Roberta Bernstein, Jasper Johns: Catalogue Raisonné of Painting and Sculpture, vol. 5 (New York: Wildenstein Plattner Institute), pp. 2–36.
Japan unconditionally surrenders to the Allies, marking the end of World War II.
From 1945 to 1952, Japan is under military occupation by the Allies, primarily carried out by U.S. forces supervised by General Douglas A. MacArthur. Influence is exerted in the form of extensive military, political, economic, and social reform.
A new Japanese constitution goes into effect. It allows only symbolic power for the emperor and establishes a progressive democracy with universal suffrage. Japan renounces its sovereign right to wage war and pledges not to maintain land, sea, or air forces.
Magazine publishing in Japan sees its first postwar surge. Newly published magazines include the art periodical Bijutsu Techō (Art Notebook), still prominent in 2019.
The Korean War begins on June 25. The United States and other forces under United Nations authorization fight in defense of South Korea. An armistice with North Korea is signed in 1953.
Geijutsu Shinchō (New Trends in Art) (1950–present), a periodical that covers both visual and performing arts, is launched.
In an interview with Isamu Noguchi (1904–1988) conducted by artist Saburō Hasegawa (1906–1957) and influential critic and poet Shūzō Takiguchi (1903–1979) for Bijutsu Techō, Noguchi introduces avant-garde musical composer John Cage (1912–1992) to Japan for the first time.
Tokyo Gallery, one of the first contemporary galleries in Japan with an international program, opens.
In May, Johns is drafted into the U.S. Army and stationed first at Fort Jackson, South Carolina, and later in Sendai, Japan.
John D. Rockefeller III visits Japan to produce an outline for a treaty to incorporate “cultural interchange.” The agreement is designed to foster mutual understanding among scholars, leaders, and students by establishing cultural centers and facilitating exchanges of books, both in the original and in translation, as well as music and scientific laboratory equipment. The plan is eventually implemented in both countries.
Takemiya Gallery is founded in Tokyo, and Shūzō Takiguchi, in charge of its programming, plans more than two hundred exhibitions through 1957.
The anti-academic, interdisciplinary group Jikken Kōbō (Experimental Workshop) is founded in Tokyo and is given its name by critic Takiguchi, with fourteen members including the composer Tōru Takemitsu (1930–1996).
In April, the Treaty of San Francisco, or Treaty of Peace with Japan, goes into effect, officially ending the occupation of Japan by the Allied powers. The United States retains control of several islands for military use, including Okinawa.
The art periodical Bijutsu Hihyō (Art Criticism, 1952–57) is launched as an independent offshoot of Bijutsu Techō. A generation of influential Japanese art critics emerges from this periodical, including Yoshiaki Tōno (1930–2005), who later introduces several Western artists including Jackson Pollock (1912–1956), Robert Rauschenberg (1925–2008), and Johns.
The National Museum of Modern Art opens in Tokyo.
From December 1952 to April 1953, Johns is stationed in Sendai, where he is assigned to Special Services, the entertainment branch of the U.S. military. His duties include devising posters for films and educational campaigns. During his service in Japan, Johns attends a kabuki performance in Sendai, visits an exhibition in Tokyo (most likely the Yomiuri Independent) of works by Dada- and Surrealist-inspired Japanese artists, and travels to Kyoto.
After being honorably discharged from the army in May, Johns returns to New York.
A group of thirty avant-garde artists, including Takiguchi and Tarō Okamoto (1911–1996), establishes the first Japanese branch of the International Art Club in Tokyo.
In New York, Johns meets Rauschenberg, Cage, and the choreographer Merce Cunningham (1919–2009). Cage, who attends lectures by D. T. Suzuki (1870–1966) at Columbia University, furthers Johns’s interest in Zen Buddhism.
In Japan, young avant-garde artists begin forming collectives, including the Gutai Art Association, founded by Jiro Yoshihara (1905–1972). Emphasizing the relationship between body and art, the Gutai become known for their experimental artistic practices and radical theatrical performances.
In Japan, the center-right Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) is formed. Apart from brief interludes, the LDP governs into the twenty-first century and, in general, supports an alliance with the United States.
In Japan, the exhibition Art of Today’s World, organized by The Asahi Shimbun (newspapers), is held at the Nihonbashi Takashimaya store, bringing together avant-garde art from around the world, intensifying exchanges between Japanese and Western artists and introducing numerous artists belonging to the Art Informel movement, including Georges Mathieu (1921–2012), Sam Francis (1923–1994), and Jean Fautrier (1898–1964).
Kusuo Shimizu (1926–1979) opens Minami Gallery in Tokyo, which, until his death, will hold more than two hundred exhibitions, several of which were the first in Japan of such international contemporary artists as Francis and Johns. The gallery becomes a hub for critics, poets, architects, and other artists.
At the XXVIII Venice Biennale, Japan has its first national pavilion.
Art critic Yoshiaki Tōno creates the group Surrealism Kenkyū-kai with Japanese poet Makoto Ōoka (1931–2017) and persuades Takiguchi to serve as supervisor.
In December, Japan becomes the eightieth member of the United Nations.
Three of Johns’s paintings are shown at the XXIX Venice Biennale (June 14–October 19). Tōno travels to Europe and serves as assistant to Takiguchi, who is commissioner for the Japanese pavilion at the Biennale. After extending his travels to New York the following year, where he meets Johns, Tōno returns to Japan in 1959 and writes an extensive report of the emerging global art trends in a 1959 issue of Geijutsu Shinchō, describing Johns’s and others’ work as “a scandal,” a term used affectionately by the emerging critic, who will be dedicated throughout his career to interpreting Johns’s work and words for a Japanese audience.
The Sōgetsu Art Center opens in Tokyo and becomes a leading space for experimental practices in the visual and performance arts. It is part of the headquarters of the Sōgetsu school of ikebana (flower arrangement) founded by Sōfū Teshigahara (1900–1979). His son Hiroshi (1927–2001), who later becomes a well-known film director, becomes director of the center through its momentous decade-long run from 1958 to 1971.
Japanese composer and pianist Toshi Ichiyanagi (b. 1933) hears Cage’s music at a recital by pianist David Tudor (1926–1996) and in 1959 studies in Cage’s class titled “Experimental Composition” at the New School for Social Research in New York. Yoko Ono (b. 1933), married to Ichiyanagi, who had met Cage at D. T. Suzuki’s lectures, audits the class.
The Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is amended and renewed by Japanese prime minister Kishi Nobusuke and President Dwight D. Eisenhower, strengthening the alliance between the two governments. Public opposition to the revision sparks massive demonstrations and protests across Japan. At the same time, the country enters into a period of rapid economic growth.
In response to this escalating national and international growth, the Neo-Dadaism Organizers (later renamed to Neo-Dada) emerges in Tokyo, launched by Masunobu Yoshimura (1932-2011) and made up of ten young painters and performers who use radical action art and violent performances to rebel against the sociopolitical climate.
Having lived in New York since the mid-1950s, Ichiyanagi returns to Japan and holds a concert at Sōgetsu. He performs IBM, originally commissioned by the Merce Cunningham Dance Company.
In October, Cage and David Tudor visit Japan for a thirty-day tour sponsored by Sōgetsu. Concerts are held in Tokyo, Osaka, Kyoto, and Hokkaido. Peggy Guggenheim (1898–1979), Ichiyanagi, and Ono accompany the group for most of the tour, often performing or partaking in panel discussions and press interviews.
In Tokyo, three radical young artists and pivotal figures in the 1960s Japanese art world, Jiro Takamatsu (1936–1998), Genpei Akasegawa (1937–2014), and Natsuyuki Nakanishi (1935–2016), form the Hi-Red Center, a short-lived postwar collective notorious for its socially reflective, antiestablishment, and anti-commercial efforts inspired by Japan’s neo-Dada movement.
Johns accompanies Cage to Tudorfest (March 30–April 8) in San Francisco, where Ichiyanagi and Cage appear in the program. Takemitsu is also present, and, after the festival, the three depart for Hawaii, where Cage and Takemitsu participate as visiting composers in the annual Festival of Music and Art of This Century at the East-West Center of the University of Hawaii (April 19–26).
Johns and Takemitsu depart Honolulu for Japan on April 30. Johns stays in Japan until early July. Tōno and Shimizu of the Minami Gallery assist him in obtaining a studio on the seventh floor of the Japan Artists’ Center in the Ginza district. There Johns paints Watchman, Souvenir, Souvenir 2, and Gastro.
Tōno introduces Johns to various artists including Tomio Miki (1937–1978) and Ushio Shinohara (b. 1932). Shinohara shows Johns a painting from his Imitation Art series, which loosely replicates Johns’s Three Flags (1958) but replaces the original colors with their opposites on the spectrum. Shinohara’s painting reminds Johns of an earlier idea, and he is inspired to paint Flags (1965), incorporating a similar color scheme. A small canvas by Shinohara titled Drink No More depicting part of the American flag was presented to Johns as a gift.
Johns, Tōno, and art critic Yusuke Nakahara (1931–2011) visit Takiguchi, who is working in Sam Francis’s Tokyo studio while Francis is away. Shortly after the visit, Takiguchi dedicates a series of drawings to Johns titled TEN ROTO-DRAWINGS DEDICATED TO JASPER JOHNS that are shown in OFF MUSEUM, a group show at the Tsubaki Kindai Gallery.
On May 23, Johns attends a concert at Sōgetsu where “Time Perspective for J. Johns,” composed by Takemitsu, is presented to Johns for his thirty-fourth birthday.
Johns and Takemitsu travel to Kyoto, visit Shūgakuin Villa and Katsura Detached Palace (Katsura Imperial Villa), and then go to Osaka to meet the Gutai artists at the Gutai Pinacotheca.
To ridicule the hyped-up public mood surrounding the 1964 Summer Olympic Games held in Tokyo, the Hi-Red Center hosts a “closing” party marking the first day of a weeklong “non-exhibition” at clinic-turned-gallery Naiqua. Guests receive invitations, and on the first day of the show, Akasegawa and Nakanishi nail boards across the door marked “closed.” On the final day, an “opening” party with attendees including Takiguchi, Ichiyanagi, Francis, and Johns is held.
In early July, Johns returns to New York from Tokyo.
John’s first exhibition in Japan opens at the Minami Gallery in Tokyo (June 1–25). The exhibition includes 33 paintings, sculpture, and drawings. The catalogue has an essay by Tōno.
In October, Johns travels to Tokyo to attend the opening of the exhibition Two Decades of American Painting (October 15–November 27) at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, which includes four of his paintings. The exhibition travels to the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto, and later to museums in India and Australia.
During this visit, Johns creates a sculpture titled Summer Critic and a related wax relief to be used for an edition of embossed prints. Takiguchi enlists Kazuo Ozaki to make a mold from the relief that is then used by Mitsuo Kanō to produce the embossed paper images. Completed in 1968, these are sent to Johns in New York. He signs and dates the works 1966, the year of the original relief.
With Clement Greenberg (1909–1994), Miki, Louise Nevelson (1899–1988), Ad Reinhardt (1913–1997), James Rosenquist (1933–2017), and Tōno, Johns participates in the panel discussion “Where Is Contemporary Art Going?” at the Asahi Shimbun Hall in Tokyo.
In November, Johns participates in the premiere of Seven Hills Events at Sōgetsu in an event connected to the exhibition From Space to Environment organized by the group Environment Society at the Ginza Matsuya department store. Performers include Takemitsu, Tōno, Ichiyanagi, Johns, Yamaguchi, the AY-O ensemble, and an unidentified professional clown.
On the same day, Johns’s Edisto Beach home and studio are destroyed by fire, resulting in the loss of numerous works including his sketchbooks. Earlier Tōno had photographer Hiroyuki Sakai photograph one of the sketchbooks in 1964, thus preserving its contents.
In early December, Johns returns to New York from Tokyo.
Johns is appointed artistic adviser of the Merce Cunningham Dance Company, a position he holds until 1980. Ichiyanagi composes the score for Merce Cunningham’s Scramble (1967), the first piece created under Johns’s artistic direction.
The exhibition Jasper Johns 0-9 is held at Minami Gallery in Tokyo (June 26–July 22), featuring thirty lithographs made at Universal Limited Art Editions from 1960 to 1966. The accompanying catalogue features texts by Takiguchi and Takemitsu.
Johns meets Hiroshi Kawanishi, the son of Japanese art dealer Kazue Mukai and proprietor of Galerie Mukaï in Tokyo.
The Japan-U.S. Security Treaty is renewed after ten years, once again instigating a nationwide public protest.
The 1970 World Expo, the first world’s fair held in Japan, opens in Osaka in May. The master plan was designed by Kenzō Tange (1913–2005), who worked with twelve other architects including Arata Isozaki (b. 1931).
Simca Print Artists, Inc. is founded in Tokyo by Kazue Mukai and her son, Kawanishi.
On May 15, Okinawa, under occupation by the United States since the end of World War II, is returned to Japanese sovereignty. However, the island still hosts more than half of the U.S. forces in Japan.
Hiroshi invites Johns to make screenprints with him and a printer, Takeshi Shimada, in New York. Photographer and filmmaker Katy Martin records and photographs Johns at Simca, later using this footage in her documentary films Silkscreens (1978) and Hanafuda/Jasper Johns (1981). Over the next decade, Johns makes twenty-two screenprint editions with Simca.
The exhibition Jasper Johns Prints is held at Minami Gallery, Tokyo (February 21–March 11).
Shimizu and Tōno cross paths with Johns in Paris and visit Atelier Crommelynck, where Johns is working on the aquatints for his collaboration with author Samuel Beckett, Foirades/Fizzles (1976). They then visit the exhibition Jasper Johns: Drawings at the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, England, and, deeply impressed, convince Johns to send drawings to Japan.
Jasper Johns: Drawings opens at the Minami Gallery, Tokyo (October 27–November 15), and at the American Center, Kyoto (November 26–December 6). Tōno and Takamatsu are the authors of the catalogue for these exhibitions.
In October, the major retrospective of Johns’s art opens at the Whitney Museum of American Art (October 17, 1977–January 22, 1978). The exhibition travels through 1978 to Cologne, Paris, London, Tokyo, and San Francisco.
Johns finishes his first two Usuyuki paintings, which in Japanese means “thin or light snow” and is the name of a female character in a play written for traditional Japanese Jōruri, which is popularized as a Kabuki play. The Usuyuki imagery is the subject of twenty-four paintings, drawings, and prints through 2002.
In August, Johns visits Japan with his art dealer Leo Castelli (1907–1999) for the opening of his traveling retrospective organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art, held at the Seibu Museum (later renamed the Sezon Museum of Art) (August 19–September 26). Takiguchi, despite a serious illness, attends the opening to see Johns.
Galerie Mukaï in Ginza, Tokyo, presents Jasper Johns Screenprints (August 21–September 9), showcasing a series of Johns’s prints created in collaboration with Simca.
The exhibition Johns to Beckett no Hon “Fizzles” is presented at Minami Gallery, Tokyo (September 4–26).
Returning to New York in September, Johns attends the premiere of Cunningham’s Exchange, which is his final work as the company’s artistic adviser, although he maintains the title until 1980.
Johns paints Untitled (E. G. Seidensticker), in recognition of the American scholar and translator of Japanese literature, including a 1976 translation of The Tale of Genji.
The first of three Usuyuki screenprints is printed at Simca, with Johns working with Kawanishi, Kenjirō Nonaka, and Takeshi Shimada.
The exhibition and portfolio Homage to Kusuo Shimizu, organized by Sam Francis, is presented at Nantenshi Gallery in Tokyo, commemorating the late dealer. It includes works by Johns and other influential Western artists.
The largest and final Usuyuki painting is made by Johns. The next year, it enters the collection of Seibu Department Stores, Tokyo, and presently it is in the collection of the Sezon Museum of Modern Art, Karuizawa.
Jasper Johns: A Print Retrospective is exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (May 20–August 19), and travels to eight additional venues in the United States, Europe, and Japan. In Japan in 1988, it will travel to the Hara Museum ARC (Gunma) (May 28–July 17); National Museum of Art, Osaka (August 4–September 6); and Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art (September 12–October 4).
Shōwa Emperor Hirohito (1901–1989), who had been emperor of Japan for sixty-three years, dies and is succeeded by Akihito (b. 1933). The Heisei era begins, lasting until 2019, when Akihito abdicates.
The Jasper Johns Prints Exhibition, organized by the Isetan department store and the Japan Art & Culture Association, Tokyo, opens at Isetan Museum of Art, Tokyo (April 26–May 15), then travels to four additional Isetan venues in Niigata, Saitama, Chiba, and Shizuoka Prefectures.
In Tokyo, Johns receives the Japan Art Association’s Praemium Imperiale for painting, an annual global award for lifetime achievement in the arts.
Artist Keiji Usami (1940–2012) conducts an extended interview during Johns’s visit, published in a 1994 issue of the journal Herumesu, in which Johns reflects on his relationship with Japan, specifically the time he spent in Sendai and his relationship with Tōno.
Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg: The Two of Neo-Dada, is held at the National Museum of Art, Osaka (May 5–July 3).
Jasper Johns: A Retrospective opens at the Museum of Modern Art, New York (October 20, 1996–January 21, 1997), and travels to Cologne and Tokyo.
Johns travels to Tokyo to attend the opening of the retrospective organized by MoMA at the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (June 28–August 17).
Works by Johns are featured in Black Red at Akira Ikeda Gallery, Taura, Japan (September 4–October 30), and Mirrorical Returns: Marcel Duchamp and the 20th-Century Art at the National Museum of Art, Osaka (November 2–December 29), which will travel to Yokohama Museum of Art, Japan, the following year （January 5-March 21, 2005）.
Johns paints Momoyama, one of a group of three closely related works using the flagstone motif, hinged wooden slats, and strings.
Johns’s work is included in Drifting Objects of Dreams: The Collection of Shuzo Takiguchi at the Setagaya Art Museum, Tokyo (February 5–April 10), which later travels to the Museum of Modern Art, Toyama, Japan (May 28–July 3).
The exhibition Jasper Johns o chūshin ni (Centered around Jasper Johns)is held at the Sezon Museum of Modern Art (April 16–June 26).
Picturing America: Selections from the Whitney Museum of American Art, which includes Johns’s painting 0 through 9 (1961), opens at the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum, Japan (July 12–August 21), before traveling to Fuchu Art Museum, Tokyo (August 27–October 2); 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa, Japan (October 8–November 6); Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, Japan (November 20–January 9, 2006); and Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art, Kobe, Japan (April 4–May 14).
Jasper Johns: Usuyuki is held at Craig F. Starr Associates, New York (October 9–December 16).
Two paintings by Johns are included in the exhibition Living in the Material World: “Things” in Art of the 20th Century and Beyond at The National Art Center, Tokyo (January 21–March 19).
President Barack Obama presents Johns with the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Johns’s work is included in the exhibition Shuzo Takiguchi and Marcel Duchamp at Chiba City Museum of Art (November 22–January 29, 2012).
Jasper Johns: The Man Who Draws Numbers is held at Ohara Museum of Art, Kurashiki, Japan (April 10–June 17).
Work by Johns is featured in American Pop Art from the John and Kimiko Powers Collection at The National Art Center, Tokyo (August 7–October 21).
Obama is the first sitting U.S. president to visit Hiroshima for the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Ceremony.