Fujinami then approached the Santa Monica Museum of Art about presenting the exhibition. In a spirit of cooperation common to cultural exchanges, Tom Rhoads, the director of the museum, was invited to Japan to meet the artists under consideration for the show and to be involved in the selection process.
"The artists in this exhibition are doing unusual work that has had no visibility in this community," said Rhoads. "A common denominator among much of what the museum does is to expose people not only to new work, but to new ways of working and to expand the boundaries of what people think art can be."
Seven Artists completes the exchange that was begun with the exhibition at the Nagoya City Art Museum in March, 1990, of works by John Altoon, Sam Francis, Craig Kauffman, John McLaughlin and Ed Moses. Abstractions/5 Artists was the first large-scale presentation in Japan of paintings by West Coast artists.
Beyond the exchange, though, Seven Artists has burgeoned into a traveling exhibition. Because the Nagoya City Art Museum has a sizable collection of paintings by Mexican muralists--Diego Rivera, David Siqueiros, Jose Clemente Orozco and Rufino Tamayo--and has presented exhibitions of other work from Mexico, Yamawaki made several trips to Mexico over the last few years. When officials at the Rufino Tamayo Museum in Mexico City heard that he was organizing this contemporary Japanese exhibition, they immediately said they wanted to host the show in Mexico.
Interest from Mexico piqued the curiosity of The Japan Foundation, which was established in 1972 in Japan to organize international cultural exchanges. "The Japan Foundation wanted to fund the travel of the exhibition to Mexico," said Fujinami, "but they also wanted to take it to other museums in the United States that haven't had much exposure to contemporary Japanese art." After Santa Monica, the show will go to the Portland Art Museum in Oregon, the Tamayo Museum and then to the Contemporary Arts Center in New Orleans with a catalogue that is in English and Spanish.
Six of the exhibition's seven artists arrived in Southern California a week before the opening to install their works. For most of them, it is their first time in the United States and they are concerned about how Americans will react to their work.
"In Japan, these artists are appreciated only in the art world, and it's a small world so they don't have much attention from the Japanese public," said Yamawaki. "If they are appreciated abroad, it will be very beneficial for them when they return to Japan."
"Seven Artists: Aspects of Contemporary Japanese Art" on exhibit at the Santa Monica Museum of Art through May 26. Hours: 11 a.m.-8 p.m. Wednesday-Thursday, 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Friday-Sunday. Admission: $3 suggested donation. Information: ( 213 ) 399-0433.