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Provoke: Photography in Japan between Protest and Performance, 1960–1975

January 28, 2017–April 30, 2017
Galleries 1–4, 10, and 188

The short-lived Tokyo magazine Provoke is now recognized as a major achievement in world photography of the last 50 years. Although it existed only for three issues and a mere nine months—November 1968 through August 1969—Provoke crystallized the best of progressive art photography and cultural criticism in Japan during the 1960s and early 1970s. The Provoke members—Takuma Nakahira, Koji Taki, Yutaka Takanashi, Takahiko Okada, and Daido Moriyama—connected in their interests with the nationwide political protest movement, itself a terrific source for photography and photobooks in that time. Their work also dovetails with the rise of performance in Japanese fine art during the same years.

This exhibition is the first anywhere in the world to provide a thorough history of the Provoke movement and to draw out the many connections between photography, political protest, and performance in postwar Japan. The exhibition features suites of photographs and books by Nakahira, Takanashi, and Moriyama, the three main photographers of Provoke. Other important photographers with works on view include Shomei Tomatsu, a mentor to many Provoke members; Eikoh Hosoe, the most internationally recognized photographer of the time; and Nobuyoshi Araki, a popular and controversial figure until the present day. An important early happening by the Fluxus group Hi-Red Center; a street performance by actor and director Shuji Terayama; and Conceptual Art series by Koji Enokura and Jiro Takamatsu bring the exhibition across disciplines and territories. Meanwhile, selections from a set of nearly 500 protest photographs and some 80 protest books extend the reach of the exhibition into vernacular creative work of the first order.

A major international traveling show, which has Chicago as its only North American venue, this exhibition is the first survey of postwar Japanese art to be organized at the Art Institute of Chicago and draws heavily on the collection of the museum, which has been actively acquiring Japanese postwar photographs and photobooks since 2010. Approximately 40% of the more than 250 items on display belong to the Art Institute.

A major 700-page publication accompanies the exhibition. The image-driven book reproduces all three issues of Provoke in full, and carries substantial excerpts from dozens of other books. It includes new or newly translated interviews with most of the principal photographers, as well as 18 original period writings. The book also contains substantial new scholarship on Provoke, protest, and performance in Japan.

The exhibition is organized by the Art Institute of Chicago, Albertina Vienna, Fotomuseum Winterthur, and LE BAL in Paris.

Other Venues
Albertina, Vienna: January 29–May 5, 2016
Fotomuseum, Winterthur: May 28–August 28, 2016
Le Bal, Paris: September 14–December 11, 2016
The Art Institute of Chicago: January 28–April 30, 2017


Lead support at the Art Institute of Chicago is generously provided by Joyce Chelberg and The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.

Major funding is provided by Kenneth and Christine Tanaka and the Japan Foundation.

Artist unknown. Protest Surrounding the Construction of Narita Airport, about 1969. Photography Gala Fund.