The project asks the question 'What is the relationship between the development of Modern sculpture in the West and Japan, taking the premise that modernization and Westernization are not the same? The project also aims to make the history and the work of Japanese sculptors of the modern era, most of whom are unknown outside Japan, available to English speaking audiences for the first time. Due to the history of the region, the project also encompasses some aspects of Chinese aesthetics and the development of Korean modern sculpture.
The project aims to use the comparative development of sculpture in the West and in Japan to ask larger questions about the notion of sculpture as a practice, the question of realism and of cultural exchange.
The project was launched at the Slade Research Centre, Woburn Square, in 2007 under the title: Nihon Gendai Chokoku (Japanese Contemporary Sculpture) with the support of a grant from the Sasakawa Foundation with an exhibition of work by many of the Japanese students who have studied at the Slade over the past twenty years. Dr Hana Sakuma was Honorary Research Fellow during the first two years of the project. Rie Nakajima is currently Honorary Research Assistant.
UCL and the Slade School of Fine Art have a long association with Japan. The first students from Japan, five young noblemen of the Choshu clan secretly came to study at UCL in 1863. UCL was at that time the only English University open to all nationalities. All five went on to hold major positions, Prince Shunsuke Ito becoming Japan's first Prime Minister. The first Japanese artist to visit the Slade was Professor Miyashita Takayo in 1921. The first Japanese student to graduate from the Slade was much later, Kusano Kiyo in 1990. Since then Japanese students have been a continual and welcome presence in the School. Many of them have gone on to become very successful artists, researchers and academics.
Interestingly the Slade was arguably the first dedicated independent Fine Art School in England. The Royal Academy was established in 1768 under the patronage of George III, and what is now the Royal College of Art was originally The Government School of Design, becoming The National Technical School, and incorporating art for the first time in 1851, becoming The Royal College of Art in 1896.
The Slade was founded from an endowment by Felix Slade in 1868 and opened in 1871. Kobu Bijutsu Gakko was founded in Media 11; 1978. There are only seven years between the establishment of what were two of the most progressive art schools in the world at that time. This would seem to indicate that the development of contemporary practice in England and Japan are not as disparate as might be thought, and gives a very good basis for comparative study.
The project is looking at work from the beginning's of the Media restoration (1868 -1912), through Taisho (1912- 1926) and into Showa (1926-1989). It is currently focusing on the work of a number of artists who started to make modern sculpture in the early Media period and who, with the exception of Rokuzan (Ogiware Morie 1879-1910), lived and worked through all three periods: Takamura Koun (1852 - 1934), Takamura Kotaro (1883-1956), Asakura Fumio (1883-1964) and Higagushi Denc Hu (1872-1979). The project aims to cover the work of other artists, the developments of the "Taisho democracy", the war period and the extraordinary experimental postwar art movements such as Gutai, Mono-Ha, and Hi Red Center.
The project has received support from the Daiwa Anglo Japanese Foundation and is currently collaborating with the Henry Moore Institute in Leeds and has established research links with Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music, Mushashino Arts University and Aichi Prefectural University of Fine Arts and Music.