“On the Road”

by Mike Hamilton

Staff Writer

National Museum of Modern Art
Closes July 31

This exhibition is named after Jack Kerouac’s famed Beat Generation novel “On the Road,” the story of a young man who travels cross-country on highways and byways in search of that elusive “American dream.”

The 1957 book greatly influenced American culture in the following decades and inspired a wave of contemporary art that sought to capture “the American road.” Such imagery was encapsulated within the emerging conceptual art scene of the 1960s and ’70s, as artists and photographers strove to illustrate passing landscapes and time in innovative ways that broke away from the confines of the conventional rectangular picture frame.

The main attraction of this exhibition is the opportunity to compare two such original pieces of artwork. Both images, which are being paired for the first time, attempt to deal with the concept of time and travel in a very similar manner.

The first, by American artist Ed Ruscha, was published as the 1966 book “Buildings on the Sunset Strip.” It meticulously catalogs every building on Sunset Strip, laying out the two sides of the famous road parallel to each other in a topographical fashion to make a 7.5-meter-long image.

The second is also a book, this time one by the Japanese artist Shohachi Kimura, titled “Album: Eight blocks of Ginza.” Kimura created his piece 12 years before Ruscha’s yet he details Chuo-dori in a near-identical way. Remarkably, the two artists had no idea of each other’s existence.

The curator of “On the Road,” Mika Kuraya, has also brought together a number of other photographs, mainly by Japanese artists who went to the United States in the ’60s and ’70s to document the American way of life, something that the car and being on the road had become synonymous with. Highlights include Ikko Narahara’s perspective-defying images of New York’s Broadway taken with a 180-degree lens and Ryuji Miyamoto’s “The Crossing,” a dizzying 360-degree spin of Broadway on 16 mm film.

Most of the artists represented in this exhibition have not been assembled under such a banner before. But while “On the Road” may deviate from the some of the artists’ original visions, bringing together such works and putting them all in the perspective of America’s Beat Generation, leads to some new, interesting interpretations. (Mike Hamilton)

The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo, is open 10 a.m.- 5 p.m., closed Mon.; admission ¥420. For more information, visit www.momat.go.jp.