Midori Yoshimoto is a professor of art history, gallery director, and curator. As a former employee of Jersey City Museum, I had the good fortune of working alongside Midori on several occasions.
Midori routinely brought her students to the museum to visit its permanent collection, temporary exhibitions, artist talks, film screenings, and performances. Midori has always struck me as a person dedicated to art, and the appreciation of art, accessible to everybody–including, artists, students, other academics, and the person on the street.
I encourage everyone to visit Emerging Patterns, a group exhibit organized by Midori Yoshimoto, at the Arts Council of the Morris Area.
BRENDAN: Midori, Tell me a little bit about your background?
MIDORI: I was born and raised in Japan. I earned my BA in art history from Osaka University in 1994. Soon after, I moved to the United States to attend the graduate program in art history at Rutgers University, New Brunswick. After receiving my Ph.D. in 2002, I started to teaching as an adjunct professor to broaden my career opportunities. In fall 2003, I landed my current position at NJCU.
BRENDAN: Midori, one question about Rutgers-New Brunswick. What is your favorite sandwich at the grease trucks along College Avenue, and why? And wow many have you eaten in one sitting?
MIDORI: Tabbouleh — It’s healthier–and only one serving at a time.
BRENDAN: Why is art important to you, and why should it be important to other people as well?
MIDORI: After I began teaching contemporary art, I’ve found myself engaged in opening students’ eyes and minds to be able to appreciate a much broader spectrum of art than the one they were accustomed to. My study of Fluxus, a 1960s performance/intermedia art movement, helped me to loosen up my own preconceived notion of art. When I organized “Do-It-Yourself Fluxus” at Art Interactive in Cambridge, MA, in 2003, I witnessed how visitors took an interest in the open-ended ideas of art manifested in Fluxus pieces. Many of the visitors seemed to become empowered by learning that they could create and perform something themselves.
After teaching for almost 7 years at NJCU, I guess I’ve been engaged in a similar dialogue with students many of whom have never been to exposed to contemporary art before. As an education lecturer at MoMA since 2004, I’ve also encountered a wide range of audience members who gave me interesting feedbacks. In many ways, contemporary art challenges people to reconsider what they already know and lead to discussions. I truly enjoy hearing these discussions and find it most rewarding if my students or audiences discover something new and inspiring.
BRENDAN: Contemporary art can get a bad rap in the press–it is regarded as obtuse, elitist, ugly, or offensive. How do you increase your audience’s knowledge of contemporary art, ignite discussion, and inspire creative thinking?
MIDORI: Before a discussion about art can take place, educators need to provide students with a certain amount of information and context. I find that students will let their guard down and approach an art object that they might think is strange or ugly when they know the history behind that particular work. I find it is important to discuss when and where the work was made, under what conditions it was made, and the artist’s background.
BRENDAN: How would you contextualize Yoko Ono’s “Cut Piece” for your students?
MIDORI: She performed it twice in Japan in 1964 and once in NY in 1965 and London in 1966. She sat quietly on stage and invited audience members to come up and take a pair of scissors from the floor and cut a piece of her dress and take it with them.
The score for the piece didn’t specify the performer to be anybody, not necessarily a woman, but her original performances and documentary photographs and films led to more recent feminist interpretations. The most important point of the performance, however, was to wear the best dress she had at the time and offer it as a gesture of giving. In fact, it was originally inspired by one of the Jataka tales of Buddha, in which he offered his body to a hungry tigress and her cubs. She thought many artists were demanding too much of the audience, and she wanted to create a piece about giving instead.
BRENDAN: Who are artists, what do they do, and why should we care?
MIDORI: Artists are creative thinkers, who open us up to new ways of thinking to which you may never be exposed otherwise. They often make us stop in our busy daily life and rethink what we usually take for granted. We need them so that we won’t become stale.
BRENDAN: Can you site an example of an artist who stopped you in your daily life and made you rethink something that you usually take for granted?
MIDORI: Another Fluxus artist, Alison Knowles made a salad as a performance. It made me aware of the way I make a salad and what senses are involved in performing such a simple daily action.
MIDORI: Perhaps the latter, but I actually didn’t have courage to go through it yet.
BRENDAN: What artists do you find particularly fascinating working today, and why?
MIDORI: William Kentridge’s animated drawings continue to fascinate me since I saw them for the first time in 1999. His roughly drawn figures and landscapes and their constant metamorphosis from one state to another found emotional resonance in me.
BRENDAN: What determines the value of art? Is it skill, beauty, or originality? Is it the artist’s concept, intention, or reputation?
MIDORI: I think the value is not limited to the commercial value. The true value of art depends on its power of engagement with a viewer. Art’s ability to engage viewers may rely on its aesthetic quality to a certain extent and the content.
BRENDAN: If you had to live in an Ivory Tower or a fourth floor walk-up in Jersey City, which place would you choose, and why?
MIDORI: Ivory Tower meaning a high rise condo in this case? I’m fine with a third floor walk-up, but fourth floor is a little bit too much for everyday.
BRENDAN: If Jersey City Museum and Museum of Modern Art fought each other in a fifteen round title fight (Think: Thrilla in Manila: Muhammad Ali verse Joe Frazier), whose side would you be on, and why?
MIDORI: A funny question! I would support JCM because it’s much a smaller institution; it needs all the support it can get–especially considering the economic downturn. Even though I partly work for MoMA, I think MoMA has enough support.
Thanks, and good night!
Yoshimoto is an associate professor of art history and gallery director New Jersey City University. She specializes in post-1945 Japanese art and its global intersections. Her publications include: “Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York” (Rutgers University Press, 2005); entries in “Yes Yoko Ono” (Abrams and Japan Society, 2000); and “From Space to Environment: The Origins of KankyM and the Emergence of Intermedia Art in Japan” in the College Art Association’ s Art Journal (fall 2008). She has recently guest-edited a special issue of “Women and Performance Journal” (Rutledge/NYU) on Women and Fluxus. Yoshimoto has also served as a lecturer at the Museum of Modern Art, New York since 2004.
The original post may be found here.