This interview took place in Tokyo on January 23rd, 2017. It will be included in a forthcoming publication featuring Teruo Nishiyama’s scrapbooks, with a supplement by Jay Chung & Q Takeki Maeda.
Translated by Dan Abbe
Jay Chung & Q Takeki Maeda: To begin, could you tell us about your first encounter with avant-garde art?
Teruo Nishiyama: The very first encounter was with the “Yomiuri Independent.”1 Before that, I had seen some regular exhibitions, such as “Cézanne, Renoir, Rouault: 3-Person Exhibition.” However, the final “Yomiuri Independent,” held in 1963, was my point of entry.
JQ: Looking back on it now, many eminent artists showed their works at the “Yomiuri Independent,” but at the time you didn’t know even one of them. What was it that drew you in?
TN: At first it was the shock of thinking: “What the hell is this?”
I’ve forgotten what exactly made me go there at first, but there was an article in a newspaper about a work that consisted of an artist inside a metal drum, so I knew it was a somewhat strange exhibition. I read art books and magazines, but I didn’t understand contemporary art well because the writing about it was difficult.
JQ: Because of the “Yomiuri Independent,” you came to see a great number of exhibitions, as one can see from this list.
TN: This record shows everything that I saw, and when I saw it, from 1963 on.
JQ: Before making the scrapbook, you had made a kind of index of all the galleries you visited, is that right?
TN: I recorded the exhibitions I saw. There’s also a record of the films I saw and the radio programs I listened to.
JQ: When did you start collecting tickets and making scrapbooks to record the exhibitions that you saw?
TN: It’s possible I started saving the tickets as soon as I came to Tokyo. I liked collecting objects—stamps, other things. I was a note-taking maniac, and there are still many notes left from that time.
JQ: Did you plan to use these notes or records for some purpose?
TN: As a diary, perhaps? I wonder myself…
JQ: When did you start taking photographs of exhibitions?
TN: I bought a Canon FX in March 1965, just before graduating from college. I don’t think I bought it with any particular purpose in mind, though. In the scrapbooks I made, the photographs start with “Big Fight,”2 so the first time was in April 1965.
JQ: So “Big Fight” came just one month after you purchased the camera.
After that, what was your everyday life like aside from visiting exhibitions and movie theaters?
TN: After graduation, I joined Kawasaki Steel Corporation, and was sent to the Chiba office. That’s close to Tokyo, so I could go to galleries or events often.
JQ: How long did that period last? The scrapbooks finish after two volumes…
TN: I worked in Chiba for two years, 1965 and 1966. In 1967, I was transferred to the Mizushima Steelworks, in Kurashiki,3 so the scrapbooks also only lasted two years. I have been asked whether I would have continued photographing if I was still close to Tokyo; I have the feeling that I might have continued it for a little while, but probably not for many years.
JQ: When did you actually put the scrapbooks together?
TN: I think this was around the time that I was transferred to Kurashiki, but I’m not entirely sure—a few people have asked me this, though. The tone is basically all the same, so I think I did it all at once.
JQ: In this index, I can see that there are a number of galleries that you visited many times. I suppose there weren’t so many galleries at this time, but in total was it around 10 or 20?
TN: Ah, there may have been more. There were many regular galleries, of the kind that have been around for a long time. As you can see here, Naiqua Gallery and Sato Gallery were close by, so I usually went to both. Then Tokyo Gallery, Minami Gallery…
JQ: Where did you find information at that time?
TN: Only in the exhibition guide in the back of Bijutsu Techo.4 News-papers, also. Bijutsu Techo only comes out once a month, so there were many times that I would experience the disappointment of hearing about an exhibition that had already closed. Many of these were exhibitions by people whose name I did not know. I might read the review, and think to myself that it would have been nice to have seen it. During this time, I gradually came to remember the names of various artists. Now that I think about it, I did well to choose those events and exhibitions.
JQ: So you would read a book or a review, and then take photographs of the exhibition as you walked through.
TN: For example, I heard about Neo-Dada in some way or another, and then went to Naiqua Gallery and saw Ushio Shinohara there. I’m quite good at remembering things like people’s names.
JQ: So if you found an artist or work you liked, you would follow them.
TN: I’m not sure whether it’s about liking. Perhaps it’s more about being interested. I don’t think about buying a work because I like it. I remember that Sato Gallery was once selling a work by Tomio Miki, “Ear,” for about 150,000 yen…
JQ: Did you buy it?
TN: I couldn’t! At that time, my salary was about 20,000 a month. Perhaps the sculpture wasn’t 150,000 yen, maybe it was closer to 50,000, two month’s salary… Anyway, I couldn’t think about such things.
JQ: You’ve photographed quite a large number of works without any permission from galleries. Did you get any sense that they thought you were just some strange guy who came by to take pictures?
TN: I wonder. It was always difficult for me to enter a gallery I hadn’t been to before. But people were a little less bothersome at that time. Perhaps those days were more laid back… I shot the photograph of Ushio Shinohara sitting at Tokyo Gallery, too, without any complaint. I didn’t ask the gallery staff whether it was ok, either. I just made sure not to use a flash. I used Kodak Tri-X, or in any case some kind of fast film.
JQ: Did you have some sort of criterion, or plan, for taking your photographs?
TN: No. Basically, I photographed every work that was there.
JQ: This was a time when, unlike today, people hardly took installation photographs, even if they were the ones doing the exhibition, right?
TN: At that time, I never thought that the photographs would become what they have. I don’t think I was thinking of anything at all when I started.
JQ: I’d like to ask you about “Happening for Sightseeing Bus Trip in Tokyo,” a 1966 exhibition organized by Ay-O. The program shows that the event included a wide variety of works, but what was it like to experience this happening yourself?
TN: Ah, I felt something like, “what are they doing?” At the site, I couldn’t tell whether it was something they had planned out or were just making up freely. However, even without knowing the answer, it was interesting to see. The artists were thinking of difficult things, and the audience had no idea what they were. Even so, it was quite interesting. Everyone was excited.
JQ: So even having the program at hand, it wasn’t possible to track what was going on in front of you.
TN: There was a happening called “Eating,” which basically meant that everyone ate lunch. If this were to happen today, the audience would know that this was a happening, but I found out later. “Ah, so that was it,” I thought to myself.
JQ: In the photograph, everyone is eating together, but you were the one behind the camera. Did you eat as well?
TN: Yes, I think I might have taken it after I finished eating. It seemed that there were many women who were students of the art critic Sadajiro Kubo from Atomi University5. There were also a number of people from Bijustu Shuppan-sha6.
JQ: Is that also something you came to know afterwards?
TN: Someone told me that the people were from Bijustu Shuppan-sha afterwards. These photographs used to be one of the few known documentations of the bus tour happening, but a while ago some 8mm film of the event was discovered; it’s not known who shot it. My eyes must have been darting around in order to photograph, but I didn’t pick this person out…
JQ: This scrapbook has some pages on Fluxus events, and it seems that you put the most care into this section.
Did you feel closest to Fluxus, compared to other works that you saw?
TN: I suppose so. Well, there was also “Flux Week”…
JQ: At the time, did you talk to anyone about the exhibitions you were seeing, or show anyone your photographs of them?
TN: No. I didn’t know anyone with whom I could do that. When I went to the photo shop in Chiba to have my film developed, sometimes they would say to me: “The photographs you’re bringing are very interesting.” That was about it.
JQ: I’d like to ask about Naiqua Gallery, which comes up so often in talking to you.
TN: I have a lot of records relating to my visits to Naiqua Gallery, but unfortunately I don’t even have one photograph—I think it would be a very valuable record if I did, though. The daughter of Naiqua’s owner, Yuka Miyata, put together an exhibition of the gallery’s history when she was a college student (“Naiqua Gallery: 1960s Avant-Garde”). She contacted me to ask whether I had any materials that would be helpful for putting together a chronology of the gallery’s activity. I looked up quite a lot—I thought that if I was going to make a chronology of Naiqua Gallery, that it should be exact.
JQ: Naiqua Gallery started in 1963, the same year that you started seeing avant-garde art in Tokyo, but it only lasted three years, just about as long as your scrapbooks. It really is a shame you don’t have any photographs of it.
TN: I discovered one thing putting together the chronology: the 1964 Hi-Red Center exhibition “Large Panorama Exhibition”!
JQ: Listening to you, I can see that you have your own way of relating to art.
TN: Before I said “note-taking maniac,” but when I went to sort through some books so that I could get rid of them, I found a lot of notes that I’d totally forgotten—on the “Off Museum” exhibition, Nam June Paik’s solo exhibition, a public discussion with Rauschenberg, a performance by John Cage, and so on. There is a well-known photograph of Nam June Paik at his exhibition, but Yoko Ono and Genpei Akasegawa were also there; they were playing hanafuda, a Japanese card game. There is a photograph of Yoko Ono that was published in a catalog of the Nagoya City Art Museum’s Hi-Red Center exhibition; it shows her standing with a baby in her arm. I’d never seen this picture before. Through my notes, one can see the basic flow of the event in chronological order.
JQ: Going back for a minute, when you first went to the “Yomiuri Independent” you went with Yamaguchi Takaya.
What was your relationship to him?7
TN: He was a friend. We went to school together in Kurashiki, from kindergarten through high school.
JQ: Could I ask about the way that you arranged his memorial exhibition, which took place last year?
TN: Yamaguchi was a painter, and had three solo exhibitions in Tokyo. I thought it would be nice to do an exhibition in our hometown, and have our classmates come and see it.
JQ: How was it?
TN: Oh, it was good. I saw a lot of classmates I hadn’t seen in a long time. They chipped in a bit, too, so thankfully it didn’t end up in the red.
JQ: Finally, in 2016, we showed reprints of some of your photographs in the “Roppongi Crossing” exhibition. You said to us: “My attachment to the scrapbooks has grown weak”—and then gave us the scrapbook we used to realize this project. Did the exhibition provoke some kind of change in you?
TN: Not so much my attachment to the scrapbooks, but my attachment to things… A while before that, I gave all of my art books and materials to a museum… I still feel that I can’t fully let go of the scrapbooks. Once this project is over, you should give it back to me. (laughter)
1 The Yomiuri Newspaper organized a series of annual exhibitions from 1948 to 1963 under the title “Yomiuri Independent.” The fundamental rule of this exhibition was that anyone who paid a fee could participate. The exhibition rules became a significant issue. The Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum, which provided space for the exhibition, enacted “Standards for Showing Exhibits,” stating that it would refuse works that it deemed unpleasant.
Participating artists reacted against these rules, becoming anti-social and self-destructive. At a certain point, they hatched a plot to blow up the museum.
2 A group show consisting of 50 artists that was organized by Ushio Shinohara at Tsubaki Kindai Gallery in Shinjuku.
3 A city in Okayama prefecture, 700 kilometers from Tokyo.
4 A major art magazine, still in publication today.
5 Women’s university in Saitama Prefecture, just outside of Tokyo.
6 A publishing company whose name means, literally: “Arts Publishing Company.”
7 The publisher of the magazine Bijutsu Techo.
8 The photograph of Nishiyama and Yamaguchi looking at a happening at the 1963 “Yomiuri Independent” appears on the first page of Jay Chung and Q Takeki Maeda’s scrapbook. The photo is from Masao Shirakawa’s Dada in Japan 1920–1970, Tokyo 1987.