Controversial artist Makoto Aida is refusing to bow to demands that he alter a politically sensitive submission to the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo after museum chiefs and Tokyo Metropolitan Government officials deemed it unsuitable for children.
Aida, whose previous work includes pictures of naked schoolgirls on leashes and Japanese fighter planes attacking New York, was invited with his family to submit an installation for an exhibition entitled “An Art Exhibition for Children — Whose Place is this?” which runs at MOT from July 18 through Oct. 12.
The museum’s website describes the exhibition as a “summer holiday exhibition for children” that invites visitors to “stand in the spaces and ask ‘whose place is this?’ ” and features the work of four artist groups.
Aida’s installation, created with his junior high school student son Torajiro and wife Hiroko Okada and submitted under the name “The Aida Family,” includes a 6-meter-long scroll of white fabric suspended from the roof, daubed with criticisms of the education ministry in black ink.
The piece, entitled “Manifesto” and explicitly directed at the education ministry, includes phrases slamming Japan’s school system, such as “Increase the number of teachers!”
The installation also includes one of Aida’s prior works featuring the artist satirizing Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in a video entitled “Video of a Man Calling Himself Japan’s Prime Minister Making a Speech at an International Assembly.”
According to a July 25 post made by Aida on the blogging platform Tumblr, museum curators and metropolitan government officials contacted the artist last Thursday and Friday to demand the removal of the two pieces after a complaint was made by a visitor.
Aida states that he believes his work’s “removal is inappropriate,” and ends his blog post by asking: “Do you think I can ‘agree’ with this?”
Aida’s agent told The Japan Times on Tuesday that he had nothing to add to the lengthy post.
Museum spokesman Mitsuaki Kojo, meanwhile, denied that the museum had forced any demands on Aida and hopes to persuade the artist to alter his work.
“Rather than making a demand, we felt that the content was a little difficult given that the exhibition is aimed at children, so we asked him if he would change it,” Kojo told The Japan Times.
“It’s a summer holiday exhibition aimed at junior high school students. We were looking for something a little easier to engage with overall, and that’s what we talked to him about,” Kojo said.
“We asked him if he would change it, but he wasn’t comfortable and both sides remain far apart. He hasn’t changed anything and he still hasn’t found a way that he’s comfortable with, so we’re still looking.
“We’re not going to force him to do anything,” he continued. “We’re still trying to settle things. I don’t know if we’ll be able to do that. We won’t force anything unilaterally, but if we can’t reach an agreement, then things could be difficult.”
The metropolitan government’s Bureau of Citizens and Cultural Affairs, which oversees the museum, denied Aida’s claim that a visitor’s complaint was the reason for the museum’s stance.
“The museum and the metropolitan government were thinking the same thing,” said spokesperson Makiko Tomioka. “The exhibition is aimed at children, and we think it would be better to have an atmosphere that is more accommodating for children. This situation has not come about just because of a complaint.”
The MOT also claims that Aida’s work was completed so close to the exhibition’s opening that it left little time to address initial concerns.
“There were questions raised at the time that the work was completed,” said Kojo. “We had a private viewing on July 17, and the work was completed in a matter of days before that.”
Aida claimed on his blog that the installation is “not a political work,” and rejected suggestions it is inappropriate for children.
“The mentality of questioning things is something I believe is of the highest significance in human intelligence,” he wrote. “This is not something which we are given sudden rights to as we become official adults at the age of 20.
“It was with this thought that I began “Manifesto” and the entire layout of the exhibition. This show has not for one moment ignored the fact that it is being presented within the frame of a children’s exhibition, rather it is the result of serious consideration upon that very point.”