'Innocence — Art Towards Life'

by Jeff Hammond

Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts

Closes Sept. 20

The main focus of “Innocence — Art Towards Life,’ is the work of people in Tochigi Prefecture who have mental difficulties or intellectual disabilities. Such untutored artists, often referred to as “outsider” artists, are considered to enjoy a more direct approach to self-expression than those who have been trained, even if their work may be rough and unskilled in comparison. They also possess a compelling vibrancy of vision and purity of expression. Hence the use of “innocence” in the title of this exhibition, a word that organizers say they chose even while being aware of the contentiousness of its premise.

In this sense, the exhibition seems to be in line with an increased interest in outsider art over the last decade or so, as witnessed by the popularity of recent exhibitions of works by Aloise Corbaz, who lived for most of her life in an institution, and the reclusive Henry Darger.

However, the economy being what it is, the lack of many big-name outsider artists has necessitated widening the theme of “Innocence — Art Towards Life” to draw in more viewers. Noting links between those who have worked with mentally ill artists and others whose works appear to share certain aesthetics, the exhibition includes pieces by established artists such as Yayoi Kusama and Yoshitomo Nara.

Kusama, although considered an avant-garde artist, shares certain tendencies with outsider artists, such as an almost obsessive repetition of motifs. She has also been open about the problems she has had with her own mental health.

Other aspects of the artworks on which the exhibition focuses include the vivid use of color, the emotions of sorrow and anger and the artists’ capacity for storytelling.

The Toshigi Prefectural Museum of Art is open 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m., closed Mon. Admission ¥800. For more information, visit