Prestigious Nitten arts exhibition cancels top award selections

Kyodo

The organizer of the prestigious Japan Fine Arts Exhibition has decided to cancel their selection of top prizes for this year in the wake of reports that screening of artworks was manipulated in one of the five categories in the past.

It is the first time the exhibition, widely known as Nitten and held since 1958 to celebrate works submitted by the public, has not chosen award winners, including the top prime minister’s prize.

Covering works in Japanese-style painting, Western-style painting, sculpture, crafts and calligraphy, the show is scheduled to run from Friday through Dec. 8 at the National Art Center in Tokyo. It then travels across Japan. The event typically draws more than 500,000 visitors.

Calligraphy is the most popular section, drawing 10,229 works for fiscal 2013, roughly 73 percent of all submissions. A total of 974 were selected for presentation, according to the organizer.

The unusual step came in the wake of recent media reports that works in the seal-cutting division in the calligraphy section were arbitrarily selected for presentation in advance from leading schools.

Such a practice would question the fairness of the organizer, which says the combined art exhibition is the largest of its kind in the world.

During the fiscal 2009 screening, the chief of the jury for the calligraphy section, who is now deceased, instructed a jury member in the seal-cutting division to allocate a specific number of works certified for presentation to different schools, sources familiar with the matter said.

The jury chief said the allocations were ordered by Nitten adviser Soin Furutani, and the jury member changed screened works according to the instruction, the sources said.

A source close to Nitten who was previously on the jury said that such manipulation has been practiced for many years.

Furutani has denied issuing such an instruction, but the organizer, a nonprofit group, said Thursday that Furutani intends to give up his role to take responsibility for the uproar.

Nitten executive members launched an investigation committee Thursday. At a news conference, Nitten chief director Tadao Terasaka said the committee consists of eight members including himself and that two are from outside — Fukumaru Tani, a former secretary-general of the Lower House, and Yoshiko Takagi, a lawyer.

Nitten also set up under the investigation committee a working group led by the two external experts. The group will interview people who have served on the jury, aiming to submit a report to the Cultural Affairs Agency sometime this month.

The probe will cover years other than 2009 and sections other than calligraphy.

“We will continue to reform inadequacies,” Terasaka said.

Nitten traces its history to a predecessor organization, Bunten, established 106 years ago. Its exhibition initially covered four categories and calligraphy was added in 1948.