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[Image: Keiji Usami "Schoolchildren - Voices of the Past - 5001-1" (2002) Oil on canvas, framed H248.5 × W333.3cm]

Keiji Usami Exhibition

Mitsukoshi Contemporary Gallery


Keiji Usami
Keiji Usami, a painter representing Japan's post-war art history, was born in 1940 in Suita City, Osaka Prefecture, and spent his childhood in Wakayama Prefecture. Aspiring to become a painter, Usami established his studio in Kokubunji, Tokyo, and embarked on self-taught painting while closely engaging with various fields of art such as art history, music, and poetry.

A significant turning point for Usami came in 1965 when he came across a copy of the American cultural magazine "LIFE." From a single photo in the magazine depicting the riots in the Watts district of Los Angeles, he extracted four human figures: the "hesitant person," the "introspective person," the "person running towards," and the "person throwing stones." Usami deliberately detached these figures from the political context of the riots and symbolized them, unfolding them within the canvas. This marked his strong desire to create new abstract paintings and to connect effectively with the trends in the world's art by rejecting the compositional control of space in painting and developing paintings based on the structures extracted by overlaying human figures. Additionally, during this period, he consciously produced a large number of large-scale works, which were rare in Japan at the time, inspired by the trend of large-scale paintings in Western art but incorporating the unique texture of Asian art. These works were highly praised both domestically and internationally. In 1972, he participated in the 36th Venice Biennale, and in 1970, he served as the art director of the Steel Pavilion at Expo '70.

Although Usami had established a certain level of recognition, significant changes were observed after he built a new studio with a view of the sea on a hillside in a coastal area and relocated to Echizen City, Fukui Prefecture. Until then, his works had been primarily structured, architectural, and perceived in mathematical imagery. However, by drawing inspiration from the grandeur of nature, his works began to incorporate mysterious elements and were profoundly sublimated organically. This transition enabled him to define philosophical definitions of common fundamental issues faced by humanity.

This exhibition will focus on the "Academy of Athens" series, which was presented by Usami in 2004, marking a turning point in his later years. "The Academy of Athens" is one of the most famous works of the Renaissance artist Raphael, created between 1509 and 1510 as part of the frescoes representing theology, law, philosophy, and poetry in the "Room of the Signature" in the Vatican Palace. Usami selected Raphael's masterpiece, which epitomizes the classical spirit of the High Renaissance, and produced his work under the theme of "restoration of time." It is an attempt to restore the effective spirituality of a static era to the present day, represented by a large circle with a time axis cultivated by human knowledge, which is also the flow of history.

The "Academy of Athens" series is the first work in Usami's new attempt to reinterpret Renaissance art in a contemporary context and holds an important position as it transitions from this series to the "Deluge" series, which depicts Leonardo da Vinci's "A Deluge," and becomes the culmination of Usami's work.


Apr 17 (Wed) 2024-Apr 29 (Mon) 2024 

Opening Hours Information

Until 17:00 on the last day.
VenueMitsukoshi Contemporary Gallery
Location1-4-1 Nihombashi Muromachi, Chuo-ku, Tokyo 103-8001
Access1 minute walk from exit A3 or A5 at Mitsukoshimae Station on the Ginza and Hanzomon lines, 5 minute walk from exit B11 on the Ginza and Tozai lines or Toei Asakusa line, 6 minute walk from exit 3 at Shin-Nihombashi Station on the JR Sobu line.
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