A famous Japanese contemporary artist is embroiled in an angry fight with a major museum after it allegedly asked him to take down works critical of the conservative government.
Makoto Aida claims the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo asked him to pull an installation in which he apparently mocks the Japanese prime minister, and that they called it “unsuitable” for children.
"I was told that the works were not appropriate and that they wanted me to remove them," the artist told AFP. He reportedly revealed that the request to take down the installation came from the Tokyo city government and followed a complaint from a visitor to the gallery.
But the Tokyo gallery denies the claims, saying it only asked Aida to “modify” the work to make them more suitable for children, not remove them entirely from the exhibition.
The piece behind the controversy is a video installation in which Aida appears as “a man calling himself Japan’s prime minister”.
Although no direct mention is made of Japanese premier Shinzo Abe it is clear that he is the target of Aida’s piece as the artwork discusses controversial legislation championed by Minister Abe aimed at expanding Japan’s military reach beyond the purely defensive.
The legislation in pacifist Japan has divided parliament and the country even leading to protests among the population.
The video depicts Aida making a speech in broken English apologising to the people of China, Korea and other countries in Asia for Japan’s imperial expansion in the 20th century.
"We began imitating other powerful countries, we colonised those weaker nations surrounding us, and we began wars of aggression," the artist says in the video.
"There were a great many people whom we insulted, and we wounded…and we killed... I am sorry!”
Banned, censored and 'offensive' artworks
Banned, censored and 'offensive' artworks
1/8 'My Bed' - Tracey Emin
Emin, one of the Young British Artists, created arguably her most iconic and controversial piece of art with 'My Bed'. It was short-listed for the 1999 Tuner Prize but sparked public outrage and a media furore. Emin's own bed is displayed here, surrounded by evidence of her sexual, self-destructive exploits. Stained sheets, fag butts, empty beer bottles, condom and worn underwear can all be seen in this image of suicidal depression following a major break-up.
2/8 'Christ You Know It Ain't Easy' - Sarah Lucas
This 3D piece by English artist and Tracey Emin contemporary Sarah Lucas is made from cigarette butts and depicts Christ being crucified on the cross of the English flag. It is thought to be a comment on the difficulty of quitting smoking. Lucas took up the habit aged 9. Much of her work is designed to be shocking and provocative - someone is always offended.
3/8 'Fountain' - Marcel Duchamp
This scandalous porcelain urinal, signed R.Mutt, was rejected by the Society of Independent Artists in 1917 even though the rules stated that any submission would be accepted from artists who paid the fee. Pictured here is a replica of the 1917 piece. The original is believed lost. 'Fountain' is an example of Duchamp's revolutionary 'readymades' - ordinary manufactured objects designated by the artist as art.
4/8 'The Holy Virgin Mary' - Chris Ofili
The provocative Sensation exhibit at the Brooklyn Art Museum in 1999 caused great offence. Nigerian artist Ofili's depiction of an African Madonna surrounded by black bottoms and elephant poo was called 'anti-Catholic' and 'horrible' by New York's mayor at the time. So 'horrible' that Rudy Giuliani filed a lawsuit against the museum.
5/8 'Immersion Piss Christ' - Andres Serrano
Two Catholic activists partially destroyed US artist Serrano's artwork while it was on display in the south of France. Created in 1987, it represents a small plastic crucifix submerged in a glass of the artist's own urine.
6/8 'Western-Christian Civilization' - Leon Ferrari
Argentine conceptual artist Ferrari often dealt with power and religion in his work, using images of Jesus and the Virgin Mary with cages, frying pans and even meat blenders. Showing Christ crucified on a fighter plane, 'Western-Christian Civilization' was a protest work against the Vietnam War. Governments were constantly battling against Ferrari - he was exiled from Brazil and a 2004 exhibition of his work was temporarily forced to close when Pope Francis intervened.
7/8 'Bacchante and Infant Faun' - Frederick William MacMonnies
This bronze statue caused an uproar in 1854 when an architect tried to erect it in the courtyard of the Boston Public Library. Modern viewers will see little to get het up about but the nude Roman wine deity's 'drunken indecency' offended the Women's Christian Temperance Union. It was taken down to the more liberal New York instead and is now exhibited in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. MacMonnies earned worldwide fame as a result.
8/8 'Saint Bartholomew, Exquisite Pain' - Damien Hirst
No stranger to controversy, Hirst's original sculpture had no fig leaf to protect his modesty. The artist added the extra detail to prevent issues with Chinese collectors and left it in when the sculpture was displayed in Qatar. Nudity can offend Islamic culture, particularly in places where the general public has not been exposed to contemporary art.
Aida has also come under fire for a large work of calligraphy which apparently criticises the ministry of education.
The artist has said the work was intended to be “funny” and was “not political”. Aida, whose profile is lesser known internationally than Takashi Murakami or Yoshitomo Nara, is recognised as one of the pre-eminent figures of Japanese contemporary art.
A spokeswoman for the Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo said it had asked the artist to “modify” his works. “We asked him if he could make them more approachable to children,” she said.Reuse content