Mono-ha Introduction

The “Mono-ha” (School of Things), which emerged in Japan in the late 1960s, is an art movement that aimed to challenge contemporary art standards based on Western modernism and sought to return to East Asian philosophy and aesthetics.

In a broader sense, “Mono-ha” can be seen as part of the global post-minimalist tendancy that arose amidst intensified social conflicts during the post-war reconstruction period. On one hand, the excess of industrial products resulting from technological progress led artists to reflect on the negative effects of consumerism. On the other hand, while the shadow of the Cold War awakened national consciousness in various countries, some artists started to seek their unique artistic language from their own traditions. Under such circumstances, artists of the “Mono-ha” chose to focus on the raw materials, trying to establish an intimate connection between the “thing” and its surrounding environment through their action.

Historical Context

  • 1945

    End of the World War II

  • 1947-1989

    Cold War

  • 1970.3-1970.

    Expo ’70 Osaka: Progress and Harmony for Mankind

    In 1970, Japan held the World Expo for the first time, which was also the first World Expo held in Asia. Under the theme “Progress and Harmony for Mankind”, the Expo showcased to the world Japan's rapid post-war recovery. The Expo also arose public reflection on the overabundance of industrial products.

  • 1970.

    Tokyo Biennale ’70: Between Man and Matter

    In the early 1960s, influenced by Minimalism, Japanese artists began to explore possiblities that extented beyond the traditional painting and sculpture. The materiality became a central concern for them. The 10th Tokyo Biennale was thus held under the theme “Between Man and Matter”. Presenting works created by forty contemporary artists from around the world, including those associated with Arte Povera, Land Art and Mono-ha, the Biennale aimed to highlight a renewed notion of art that had developed over the last two decades.

Mono-ha Chronology

  • 1968.10 

    Phase-Mother Earth, Sekine Nobuo

    Sekine Nobuo’s work Phase-Mother Earth is considered as the beginning of the “Mono-ha”. Unlike the “Gutai Art Association”, “Mono-ha” is not an artistic group in the strict sense. Centered around Lee Ufan and artists who graduated from Tama Art University, such as Kishio Suga, Sekine Nobuo and Koshimizu Susumu, “Mono-ha” is rather a loose-knit community of artists sharing a common interest between 1968 to 1971.

  • 1970 

    Roundtable “Voices of Emerging Artists: From the Realm of Non-Art”

    In 1970, six Mono-ha artists participated a roundtable discussion entitled “Voices of Emerging Artists: From the Realm of Non-Art”. Moderated by Lee Ufan, the discussion was published in Bijutsu Techō. Also featured were two important articles: “In Search of Encounter” by Lee Ufan and “Existence Beyond Condition” by Kishio Suga. In this special edition, Mono-ha artists emphasized their position as more radical “non-art” movement compared to the “anti-art” movement.

  • 1971

    7th Paris Biennale (Biennial and International Manifestation of Young Artists) 

    Enokura Kōji and Lee Ufan participated together in the 7th Paris Biennale. Attempted to shift its focus from Europe to the global art stage, particularly towards avant-garde movements like Land Art that emerged in the early 1970s in the United States, this exhibition marked the first major introduction of Mono-ha to the international contemporary art scene

  • 1986

    First official exihibition recognizing “Mono-ha” as a sginificant historical artistic movement of the 1960s to 1970s was organized at Kamakura Gallery in Tokyo in 1986.