Image Narratives: Literature in Japanese Contemporary Art


This group exhibition features six Japanese contemporary artists, who are active both inside and outside the country. In addition to being born over a broad span of time, from the 1950s to the 1980s, the artists make use of a diverse range of expressive methods, including installations that incorporate videos and photographs.

Common to all of the artists’ work is the notable presence of literary elements. The phrase, “Ut pictura poesis” (As is painting, so is poetry), derived from the ancient Roman poet Horace’s Ars Poetica (The Art of Poetry), is frequently cited as proof for the close relationship between the artistic genres of poetry and painting. Discussions on the affinity between literary arts, such as poetry and prose, and visual arts, such as painting and sculpture, have been undertaken in a variety of ages and places.

As the title suggests, the theme of this exhibition is literature. But in this case, the word does not refer to literature as an artistic genre - i.e., literary works that take the form of a book. Rather, it indicates narratives made up of images that exist within the context of contemporary art. We hope that you will enjoy experiencing the wide array of literary expressions in Japanese contemporary art.

Date August 28 (Wed.) - November 11 (Mon.), 2019
Closed on Tuesdays
* Open on October 22 (Tue.) and closed on October 23 (Wed.) instead
Opening Hours 10:00-18:00
* Fridays and Saturdays, August-September: 10:00-21:00
* Fridays and Saturdays, October-November: 10:00-20:00
(Last admission 30 minutes before closing)
Venue The National Art Center, Tokyo (Kokuritsu-Shin-Bijutsukan),
Special Exhibition Gallery 1E
7-22-2 Roppongi, Minato-ku, Tokyo 106-8558
Organized by The National Art Center, Tokyo


Admission(tax included)
General 1,000 yen (Adults), 500 yen (College students)
Advance / Group 800 yen (Adults), 300 yen (College students)
  • Visitors who are under 18, including high school students, will be admitted for free.
  • Disabled persons (along with one assistant) will be admitted for free upon presenting the Disabled Person’s Booklet or an equivalent form of government-issued ID.
  • Free admission on October 22 (Tue.), 2019 on the occasion of the "Ceremony of the Enthronement of His Majesty the Emperor at the Seiden (State Hall)".
  • Free admission on November 3 (Sun.), 2019 for Culture Day.
  • Advance tickets on sale from June 28 (Fri.) –August 27 (Tue.), 2019. (Sold at the National Art Center, Tokyo only until August 26 (Mon.), 2019)
  • Tickets, both Advance and General, are available through the National Art Center, Tokyo (open days only), ONLINE TICKETS(e-tix), and Ticket Pia (P code 769-757). Service charges may apply. (These services are only available in Japanese.)
  • Group tickets (for groups of a minimum of 20 people) can only be purchased at the National Art Center, Tokyo.
  • 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 the Artist Associations’ Exhibition held at the National Art Center, Tokyo concurrently with Image Narratives: Literature in Japanese Contemporary Art will be admitted to the exhibition at the college student group rate.
  • Students, faculty and staff, of “Campus Members” can apply for group discounts.
  • Credit card (UC, Master Card, VISA, JCB, AMEX, Diners Club, DISCOVER) , e-cash (Suica, PASMO, ICOCA, etc.), iD, J-Debit, Union Pay and Alipay are available for purchasing tickets.
Inquiries +81(0)3-5777-8600 (Hello Dial)

Participating Artists

Keizo Kitajima

Born 1954 in Nagano. Lives and works in Tokyo.
After joining Daido Moriyama’s class at the Workshop School of Photography, Kitajima became active as a photographer in 1975. The snapshots he took in Koza, Okinawa the same year led to a series of pictures taken in Tokyo, New York, Eastern Europe, and the Soviet Union. In 1992, he began an ongoing series called Portraits, in which he shot people dressed in white clothing from a fixed point. In 2014, Kitajima embarked on Untitled Records, a series of landscape photographs taken all over Japan. In 1983, he received the 8th Ihei Kimura Photography Award. Kitajima periodically shows his work at a jointly-run venue called Photographers’ Gallery (established in 2001) in Shinjuku. In 2009, Kitajima held a solo exhibition of his work called Kitajima Keizo 1975-1991: Koza / Tokyo / New York / Eastern Europe / U.S.S.R. at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.

Erika Kobayashi

Born 1978 in Tokyo, where she now lives and works.
Kobayashi’s work deals with motifs such as invisible entities, time, history, family, and memory. Her books include Breakfast with Madame Curie (Shuseisha, 2014; shortlisted for the 27th Yukio Mishima Prize and nominated for the 151st Akutagawa Prize), and a two-volume manga on the scientific history of radiation called Children of Light: LUMINOUS (Little More, 2013 and 2016).In recent years, Kobayashi has created numerous installations in which she combines videos, drawings, and texts. Her recent exhibitions include the solo shows 1F in the Forest of Wild Birds (Yutaka Kikutake Gallery, Tokyo, 2019) and Trinity (Karuizawa New Art Museum, Nagano, 2017), and the group shows Harsh Astral. The Radiants II (Galerie Francesca Pia, Zurich, 2018; Halle fur Kunst, Luneburg, 2018), and Roppongi Crossing 2016: My Body, Your Voice (Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2016).

Futoshi Miyagi

Born 1981 in Okinawa. Lives and works in Tokyo.
Using videos, photographs, objects, and texts, Miyagi’s work deals with socio-political phenomena, particularly sexual and minority issues. Miyagi’s ongoing project American Boyfriend, a work he began in 2012 in which he considers whether it is possible for an Okinawan man to fall in love with an American man in Okinawa, is made up of a series of photographs, videos, texts, printed ephemera and blog entries. His published works include the novel Distant (Kawade Shobo Shinsha, 2019). In 2019, he was nominated for the 44th Ihei Kimura Photography Award. His recent exhibitions include the solo show The Dreams That Have Faded (CAI02, Hokkaido, 2018) and the group show Contemporary Japanese Photography Vol. 15: Things So Faint But Real (Tokyo Photographic Art Museum, Tokyo, 2018-19).

Yuichiro Tamura

Born 1977 in Toyama. Lives and works in Kyoto.
Tamura’s work centers on installations and performances derived from existing images and objects. Using a uniquely reflective approach that transcends traditional artistic genres, Tamura not only sets out to convey a message to visitors from the privileged world of contemporary art, but also invites an unusual form of communication with the viewer. Tamura creates multilayered narratives, containing a mixture of fact and fiction, based on a wide range of sources from indigenous historical themes to well-known popular subjects. His recent exhibitions have included the solo shows Hell Scream (Kyoto City University of Arts Art Gallery @KCUA, Kyoto, 2018) and G (Yuka Tsuruno Gallery, Tokyo, 2018), and the group shows The Seven Lamps of the Art Museum (Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art, Hiroshima, 2019), Where Am I?: The Art and Design of Signage (Toyama Prefectural Museum of Art and Design, Toyama, 2019), and Roppongi Crossing 2019: Connexions (Mori Art Museum, Tokyo, 2019).

Yasuko Toyoshima

Born 1967 in Saitama, where she now lives and works.
Toyoshima creates work imbued with multiple perspectives by altering existing objects such as abacuses, dice, and safety pins, and a wide range of materials that are common associated with art such as pencils, oil paint, and wooden frames. By sampling various models of thinking from a social system, she develops a structure that corresponds to the model in her work. At the same time, Toyoshima has undertaken a series of projects in which she repeatedly buys stock and opens bank accounts to transform her identity as the holder from an individual into a collective, and reexamines the established relationship between fixed actions and shared roles in everyday life. Her recent exhibitions include the solo show Stainless Steel (M-gallery, Tochigi, 2018), and the group shows Beyond the Future of Meld Sculpture (Maki Fine Arts, Tokyo, 2018), and The Knowledge and Beliefs of the World (Komagome SOKO, Tokyo, 2018).

Chikako Yamashiro

Born 1976 in Okinawa, where she now lives and works.
Yamashiro delves into issues such as the U.S. military bases and war in Okinawa, and examines conceptual boundaries between connection and separation, succession and interruption, the center and the periphery, and life and death. In recent years, by approaching these as universal historical problems that are ubiquitous all over the world and not peculiar to Okinawa, Yamashiro has made works that reference narratives rooted in historical facts and oral legends. She has shown her work in exhibitions such as Kyoto Experiment: Kyoto International Performing Arts Festival 2018 (Kyoto Art Center, Kyoto, 2018), Asia Pacific Breweries Foundation Signature Art Prize 2018 (National Museum of Singapore, Singapore, 2018), and From Generation to Generation: Inherited Memory and Contemporary Art (The Contemporary Jewish Museum, San Francisco, 2016-17). In 2018, she received the Zonta prize at the 64th International Short Film Festival Oberhausen, and in 2017, the grand prize at The Asian Art Award 2017 supported by Warehouse TERRADA.

Related Events

Artist Talk

The National Art Center, Tokyo, 3F Auditorium (Limited to 260)

*No registration required, first-come first-served basis.
*Admission is free but an exhibition ticket for this exhibition is required (discounted ticket accepted).
*Lectures held in Japanese only.
*Time and content may change without prior notice.

Artist Talk: Futoshi Miyagi

Speaker Ichiko Uemoto(Photographer)
Yurie Nagashima(Photographer)
Futoshi Miyagi
Date and time 14 September (Sat.) 2019, 18:00~20:00 (doors open at 17:30)

Artist Talk: Keizo Kitajima

Speaker Shino Kuraishi (Poet and Critic / Professor, Meiji University)
Kazumichi Hashimoto (Culture and Representation / Professor, Waseda University)
Keizo Kitajima
Date and time 22 September (Sun.) 2019, 14:00~16:00(doors open at 13;30)

Artist Talk: Yasuko Toyoshima

Speaker Michio Hayashi (Art Historian and Art Critic / Professor, Sophia University)
Hisao Matsuura(Artist and Critic / Professor, Musashino Art University)
Yasuko Toyoshima
Date and time 20 October (Sun.) 2019, 14:00~16:00 (doors open at 13:30)

Tamura’s Sky Ears

Speaker First Act: Kai Gohara (French Literature / Associate Professor, Tokyo University), Naoki Yoneda (Curator of this exhibition / the National Art Center, Tokyo, Curator)
Second Act: Utatarou Sanyūtei (Rakugo writer)
Third Act: Toshikatsu Ienari (Architect / dot architects), Tezzo Nishizawa (Architect / Tezzo Nishizawa Architects), Yuichiro Tamura
Date and time 22 October (Tue.) 2019, 14:00~16:00 (doors open at 13:30)

Artist Talk: Erika Kobayashi

Speaker Kanako Nishi (Novelist)
Naocola Yamazaki(Novelist)
Erika Kobayashi
Date and time 26 October (Sat.) 2019, 17:00~19:00 (doors open at 16:30)

Lectures by the Artists

The National Art Center, Tokyo, Special Exhibition Gallery 1E

*Admission is free but an exhibition ticket for this exhibition is required (discounted ticket accepted).
*No registration required.
*Lectures held in Japanese only.
*Time and content may change without prior notice.

Speaker Yasuko Toyoshima
Date and time 15 September 2019 (Sun.) 14:00~15:00
Speaker Erika Kobayashi
Date and time 21 September 2019 (Sat.) 14:00~15:00
Speaker Masashi Kohara (Film Artist / Curator), Keizo Kitajima
Date and time 5 October (Sat.) 16:00~17:00

Lectures by the exhibition curators

The National Art Center, Tokyo, Special Exhibition Gallery 1E
(assemble inside the Exhibition Gallery by the entrance)

*Admission is free but an exhibition ticket for this exhibition is required (discounted ticket accepted).
*No registration required.
*Lectures held in Japanese only.
*Time and content may change without prior notice.

Date and time Oct. 11 (Fri.), 2019 18:00-18:30
Oct. 17 (Thu.), 2019 14:00-14:30
Nov. 8 (Fri.), 2019 18:00-18:30