The first section, “Strange Object/Post-Human Body,” confronts visitors with “Electric Dress,” a multicolored cluster of lights, created in 1956 by Atsuko Tanaka, that prefigures today’s evolving relationship between the physical and the digital. The piece resonates with Comme des Garçons garments on display, which present an alternative approach to Western ideas of beauty and body image.
Transfigurations unfurl throughout this section: Ms. Hasegawa notes “traumatic ideas about the atomic bomb and pollution-activated mutation” in two “very weird, very critical” late 1960s cocoon pods by Tetsumi Kudo). New technology informs the work of the ’80s collective Dumb Type, the techno-pop musical outfit Yellow Magic Orchestra and the programmers and artists behind Rhizomatiks. Rhizomatiks contributes a visualization of Bitcoin’s blockchain system rejigged according to live transactions, in a digital ballet that shows a forward-looking evolution of Japanese creativity.
Within the Pop Art sphere, Ms. Hasegawa has highlighted works with a strong conceptual background and Japanese specificity. She wishes to undercut the way in which Japanese pop culture is often understood as sunny or silly: The graphic kitsch is, in fact, inherently critical, she says. “It’s vernacular — but also very sophisticated,” she added. The artist Takashi Murakami’s work in this vein, is perhaps the most well-known, but it is also the most misunderstood. The painted smileys of his “Cosmos” are not just bright and fun — the composition owes everything to 18th-century Edo paintings. His lesser-known “Polyrhythm Red” canvas, adorned with Tamiya soldier figurines, reflects, Ms. Hasegawa said, “Japanese culture becoming childish,” and a malaise about violence and vulnerability.