Nakamura Kazumi (b. 1956) started his full-fledged career as a painter in the early 1980s, and has been one of the most active among his generation of contemporary artists.
What is painting? For what purpose does it exist? Nakamura started out to answer these questions by studying the Abstract Expressionist paintings of artists such as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, and Barnett Newman, whose works were considered to represent the culmination of modernist painting in the West, while pursuing a new type of painting and theory to supersede them. References in the spatial expression and symbolism of traditional Eastern painting such as Japanese ancient and medieval painting, Chinese Song Dynasty landscape painting, and Korean folk painting, were of particular interest to Nakamura. In the 1980s, he had already put forth his “differential painting” idea, based on his perception that the meaning of a painting exists only in reference to its differences with other paintings. He produced paintings in series, developing a number of works displaying differences on a single motif. In his A Bird in its Existence series that is representative of his recent work, Nakamura creates a new type of painting, difficult to categorize as either abstract or figurative, by basing a variety of painting and brushstroke techniques on a matrix that recalls the structure of pictograph characters.
Along with introducing a comprehensive overview of Nakamura Kazumi’s paintings through around 150 paintings spanning from his student works to his most recent Hijiri (Hermit) series, the exhibition also introduces his diagonal grid Wall Painting, conceived in 2010 and shown now for the first time. The exhibition will provide an excellent opportunity to consider an aspect of the development of Japanese contemporary painting and art.

Nakamura Kazumi
Nakamura Kazumi was born in Chiba in 1956. He received the Masters of Fine Arts degree in oil painting from Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music (current Tokyo University of the Arts). When he began exhibiting at the beginning of the 1980s, he gained attention with his expressionist style “Y” shape motif paintings. Following that, he produced in succession his Diagonal Grid, C Opened, Ranging Difference – Broken Shelter, Broken Hermitage, Saisoro, Shokusocho (Phoenix) , and other series. He has been tirelessly and dynamically exploring the meaning of pictorial space, producing more than 1200 paintings to date. Nakamura has had many group and solo exhibitions as a leading Japanese contemporary painter and his works are in the collections of major Japanese museums. He has also had solo museum shows at the Sezon Museum of Modern Art (1999) and at the Iwaki City Art Museum (2002). In overseas exhibitions, he has participated in group shows such as the Europaria Japan ’89 (1989) and Japan Art Today (1990-91) exhibition that toured northern Europe. In recent years, he has been exhibiting in East Asia, particularly in Korea and China. He has also published a book of theoretical essays on painting, Toka suru hikari Nakamura Kazumi chosaku senshu(Filtered light: a Nakamura Kazumi anthology) (Reifu Shobo, 2007).
Dates March 19(Wed.) - May 19(Mon.), 2014
Closed on Tuesdays (except for April 29 and May 6, 2014) and May 7
Opening hours 10:00 - 18:00 (10:00 - 20:00 on Fridays)
*Open until 22:00 on Saturday, April 19, 2014 (Roppongi Art Night 2014)
*Admission up to 30 minutes before closing
Venue The National Art Center, Tokyo (Kokuritsu-Shin-Bijutsukan), Special Exhibition Gallery 1E
7-22-2 Roppongi Minato-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Organized by The National Art Center, Tokyo
Admission(tax included)
General 1,000yen (Adults), 500yen (College Students)
Advance/Group 800yen (Adults), 300yen (College Students)
  • Free admission on Sat., April 19, 2014 in conjunction with “Roppongi Art Night 2014” and Sun., May 18, 2014 for International Museum Day.
  • Visitors who are under 18, including high school students and disabled people with ID booklets (along with one assistant) will be admitted free.
  • Tickets (both Advance and General) are available through Ticket Pia (P-Code: 765-908), and Lawson Ticket (L-Code:36767). Service charges may apply.
  • Advance tickets can be purchased through the above services from Sat., November 9, 2013 to Tue., March 18, 2014, but will only be available at the National Art Center, Tokyo from Wed., December 11, 2013 to Mon., March 17, 2014.
  • Group tickets will only be available at the venue (discounts only applicable to groups of 20 or more).
  • Visitors who present a ticket or ticket stub from another exhibition currently underway at the National Art Center, Tokyo, the Suntory Museum or the Mori Art Museum (the three facilities that make up the Roppongi Art Triangle) will be eligible for the group discount.
  • Visitors 65 and over (I.D. with proof of age required) who present a ticket stub from artist associations’ exhibition held at the art center during NAKAMURA Kazumi exhibition will be admitted to the exhibition at the college student group rate.
  • For Students, faculty and staff, of “Campus Members”, group discountsare applies for purchasing tickets.
  • Credit card (UC, Master Card, VISA, JCB, AMEX, Diners Club, DISCOVER)and e-cash (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, etc.) and iD and J-Debit and UnionPayare available for purchasing tickets.
Inquiries Tel: +81 (0)3-5405-8686 (Hello Dial)

Exhibition Highlights

Section I

Painting as Space

Y Shape / Diagonal Grid / C Opened
Nakamura started his career as a painter in the 1980s. He first gained recognition for his Y Shape motif paintings done in bold vertical brushstrokes filling a rectangular picture surface with very simple abstract forms in shapes suggesting trees, in particular the mulberry tree. The mulberry provides nourishment to silkworms and thus evokes images of Japanese culture and the Japanese environment. It also directly relates to Nakamura’s identity, as his mother’s family had been engaged in sericulture.
The Diagonal Grid series is made up of a repeated overlapping “Y” shapes. Nakamura was highly evaluated abroad for his realization of this particular sense of space, with shifting horizontal deviations rather that a fixed center point, taking as his reference the representation of lattice shutters in the illustrated hand scroll of the Diary of Lady Murasaki (Murasaki Shikibu Nikki).
The dynamic C Opened series Nakamura did from the 1990s sought to break step with the Diagonal Grid series and achieved spatial volume through use of an arc shape.

Section II

Painting as Social Semantics
Ranging Difference - Broken Shelter / Broken Hermitage / Saisoro / Mourning for the Dead
Around the beginning of the 1990s, Nakamura started thinking deeply about the social nature of painting. With the thaw in international affairs following the end of the cold war, Nakamura contemplated the function and meaning of painting and realized works that represented and were critical of increasing alienation in the world, the complex entanglement of the capitalist economic system, and oppositions between differing nationalisms and religions.
Nakamura’s series Ranging Difference - Broken Shelter has references to the expression of disjointed architecture as depicted in the Seion-ji temple ‘origins of shrines and temples’ (Seion-ji engi) genre of paintings from the Northern and Southern Court (Muromachi Nanboku-cho) period. In contrast to works Nakamura had done to this point, these paintings are suffused with a sense of disquieting dynamism created by an intentional collapse of spatial continuity. The Broken Hermitage series that follows further advances this direction by expanding the diagonal grid spatial quality to three-dimensions, and adding a dilapidated refuge hut nestled at the mountain summit, giving them the character of, according to Nakamura’s description, “paintings about all kinds of broken construction.” Saisoro (lit.: an old man picking a mulberry leaves) is an ancient court dance music (gagaku) piece, but few will dance it because of traditionally ominous overtones signifying the imminent approach of death. The paintings in this series are suggestive of the forms of an agile dancer, and the images of an old person, a sage old man or priest in the Eastern sense, are associated with upright trees that start out as “Y” shapes. In the Mourning for the Dead series, Nakamura tries to realize expressions of mourning and repose of souls for all who have died in this world.

Section III

Paintings as Birds
Shokusocho (Phoenix) / A Bird in its Existence / Hijiri (Hermit)
The expression ‘Shokusocho’ was coined by Nakamura. It is composed of a combination of the Japanese characters for ‘bird’ ‘weaves’ and ‘mulberry,’ and can be interpreted as the Phoenix. In the Saisoro and the Mourning for the Dead series, Nakamura deepened his thinking on the theme of death in painting, and takes on in this series the implications of death and the rebirth. From the mid-2000s Nakamura moved to the theme of ‘a bird and its existence.’
Nakamura said, “The paintings in the series A Bird in its Existence are about flight in all existence. ‘To be’ means ‘to fly;’ only things that fly can exist.” In this series, in paintings of birds, Nakamura reached what he was seeking for in the meaning of painting against the backdrop of world misery from repeated disasters, wars, and terrorism. There are more than 300 paintings in the A Bird in its Existence series, Nakamura’s largest series to date. In this series, he created varies types of paintings based on several patterns taken from prototypical bird images, such as found in Korean folk painting, Archaeopteryx (extinct early genus of birds) fossils, or in pictographs. The equation of the bird with existence that Nakamura relates may be precisely the meaning for him of painting itself.
His Hijiri (Hermit) series, first exhibited in 2013, is Nakamura’s latest work. Buddhist sacred images that Nakamura occasionally used in paintings to date, traversing A Bird in its Existence , may be seen to appear as a figurative matrix.

Related Events

[Talk Event]

Dates April 26(Sat.), 2014
Venue 3F Auditorium, The National Art Center, Tokyo
*Details on related events will be released as they are finalized. For the latest information, please visit the National Art Center, Tokyo website.