BLUM marks 30 years of Japanese contemporary art in America

BLUM will take ‘Thirty Years: Written with a Splash of Blood’ to its New York space in September 2024, continuing its celebration of Japanese contemporary art in America

Artwork of woman in chair. From the exhibition ‘Written with a splash of blood’: BLUM, New York
Tomoo Gokita. Secret Game, 2023 Acrylic on canvas
(Image credit: Photo: Evan Walsh © Tomoo Gokita. Courtesy of the artist and BLUM Los Angeles, Tokyo, New York)

When the American gallerist Tim Blum was still a student in 1984, he travelled to Japan, seeking to immerse himself within the country’s underground music, film, art and design scenes. Blum eventually moved to Tokyo and his exposure to some of the artistic practices that emerged during this time heavily influenced the course of his career. 

A decade later in 1994, he returned to Los Angeles, and together with Jeff Poe, co-founded Blum & Poe, which later became one of the original galleries of the Culver City Arts District. The business was renamed BLUM when Poe stepped back last year, but having helped popularise postwar Japanese art in America over the past three decades, the gallery’s 30th-anniversary exhibition signals a return to its roots. Having recently featured at BLUM’s Los Angeles space (seen here; the show is also at the Tokyo gallery until 10 March), the exhibition will open in New York in September 2024.

‘Thirty Years: Written with a Splash of Blood’ at BLUM

‘Thirty Years: Written with a Splash of Blood’ is co-curated by Tim Blum and art historian Mika Yoshitake and presents a survey of Japanese art from the 1960s to today. It features the work of 28 artists associated with the gallery, from the Gutai, Mono-ha, Superflat and Hi-Red Center movements: from Susumu Koshimizu, Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami to Natsuyuki Nakanishi. 

Japanese art of sticks on BLUM gallery floor

‘Thirty Years: Written with a Splash of Blood’, installation view, 2024, BLUM Los Angeles. The exhibition will open at BLUM New York in September 2024

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artists and BLUM Los Angeles, Tokyo, New York. Photo: Hannah Mjølsnes)

The show begins with a 2019 deconstruction of Jasper John’s Three Flags (1958) by Yukinori Yanagi, a reflection on the permeability of national identity, where ants have burrowed through an American flag made from coloured sand housed in plastic boxes. 

An immersive sculpture by Mono-ha artist Susumu Koshimizu fills the first main room. This consists of 30 large wooden beams hand-cut with geometric detailing and arranged in a radial pattern. Visitors are invited to explore the experience of shifting perception in space, as they are drawn towards the installation’s empty centre. 

Yoshitomo Nara’s meditative poster-sized drawings lead through to his Ennui Head (2020) – a powerful sculpture exploring singularity and resistance in which the eyes of a carved head are gouged with the artist’s fingers. Originally made from clay, now enlarged and presented in bronze with a white urethane coating, the work is at once vulnerable and stone cold.

Japanese artwork of US flag on BLUM gallery wall

Yukinori Yanagi, Study for American Art –Three Flags, 2019, Ants, colored sand and plastic box

(Image credit: Photo: Jeff McClane. © YANAGI STUDIO. Courtesy of the artist and BLUM Los Angeles, Tokyo, New York)

Given the gallery’s longstanding relationship with Takashi Murakami – BLUM presented Murakami’s first US solo exhibition in 1997 – it was surprising to see just the one work on show here; a 1999 painting named Strange Forest, featuring the artist’s alter ego and signature character Mr. DOB, standing in a forest of mushrooms with hundreds of eyes staring back at the viewer. 

The upstairs gallery sees striking textural vessels and contemporary ceramic works provide a counterpart to a selection of pieces by seven Mono-ha artists, including Katsuro Yoshida’s Cut-off (1969). Confronting visitors with a large steel pipe stuffed with cotton, the work, explains co-curator Mika Yoshitake, is reflective of Mono-ha’s central tenet: exploring the encounter between natural and industrial objects and ‘probing the structures through which things reveal their existence’. 

A highlight is an immersive installation by sound artist Ryoji Ikeda from 2018, which projects massive data sets transcribed from amino acid chains along the floor and onto viewers, producing a floating field effect, accompanied by pulsating sound frequencies. The velocity is set at a rate to challenge viewers' perceptual limits and ability to process information. 

The show’s title is an excerpt from Runaway Horses, a novel by the influential poet and author Yukio Mishima. ‘Early on in my life, Mishima’s writing inspired an interest in Japan, an interest that resulted in my move there,’ explains Blum. ‘The quote feels apropos to this transformative juncture for me and the gallery: “Perfect purity is possible if you turn your life into a line of poetry written with a splash of blood.”‘

Timothy Anscombe-Bell saw ‘Thirty Years: Written with a Splash of Blood’ at BLUM Los Angeles, where the show has now closed. It will reopen at BLUM's new New York gallery on 9 White Street in Tribeca in September 2024

artworks on BLUM gallery wall

‘Thirty Years: Written with a Splash of Blood’, installation view, 2024, BLUM Los Angeles 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artists and BLUM Los Angeles, Tokyo, New York. Photo: Hannah Mjølsnes.)

Timothy Anscombe-Bell runs Sustainable Design Collective (SDC), a Los Angeles based design resource and consultancy, bringing together some of the brightest in modern craft-based manufacturing. He works on healthy, sustainable and green building schemes – from offices, cultural institutions, schools and universities, to hotels, restaurants and specialist retail. @sdc_inc