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Installation view from Out of Bounds: Japanese Women Artists in Fluxus. Mieko Shiomi Performance, Washington Square Galleries, by photographer Peter Moore. Photo by Jake Price for Japan Contemporarie

Out of Bounds: Japanese Women Artists in Fluxus
at the Japan Society

By Kyoko Sato, October 20, 2023

Art movements are like waves that gather artists and propel the energy forward. One of the most significant movements is Fluxus, an international avant-garde art movement that emerged in the 1960s and continued in the 70s. Fluxus drew in many prominent artists, leaving an enduring imprint on art history. The Out of Bounds: Japanese Women Artists in Fluxus exhibition at the Japan Society, which opened on October 13, 2023 and runs until January 21, 2024, highlights the contributions of four Japanese women artists being the center part of the early days of Fluxus: Shigeko Kubota (1937-2015), Yoko Ono (b.1933), Takako Saito (b.1929), and Mieko Shiomi (b.1938 as Chieko).

The nomenclature of the movement plays a pivotal role in ensuring its lasting presence in art history. The first formalized public display of Fluxus occurred at Galerie Parkas in West Germany on June 9, 1962. George Maciunas, the visionary behind Fluxus, who not only founded and named the movement but also organized many of its activities including running AG gallery in New York, delivered a lecture titled Neo-Dada in the United States.


Fluxus was guided by major principles, encouraging a reevaluation of art within the context of everyday life, democratizing the process of art creation, and seeking alternatives to the dominant art gallery system and market. It was more than an art movement; it was a vibrant community comprising artists, poets, composers, and designers, with experimental art performances holding significant importance.

As the bond between Japan and the United States strengthened, the Fluxus movement could not be discussed without acknowledging the vital contributions of Japanese artists.


John Cage, Music Walk, performed by Cage, David Tudor, Yoko Ono, Toshiro Mayuzumi and Toru Takemitsu, Tokyo Bunkakaikan Small Hall, Tokyo, 1962
Photo by Yasuhiro Yoshioka. © Yasuhiro Yoshioka, Courtesy LENONO PHOTOARCHIVE, New York

Curator Midori Yoshimoto, a professor at New Jersey City University, remarked, “It has been 20 years since I wrote Into Performance: Japanese Women Artists in New York, and while Yoko Ono and Shigeko Kubota have been introduced by the major institutions in the US, this is for the first time to feature Takako Saito and Mieko Shiomi.”

Indeed, in her mid-eighties, Shiomi remains vigorously active as an artist. For the Japan Society exhibition, she is remotely crafting the 2023 version of Spatial Poem, originally performed as a nine-part mail art event series from 1965 through 1975. Demonstrating her unwavering creative energy, she also produced the 2022 version of Spatial Poem for the Aichi Triennale in Japan and the 2018 version of Direction Event for an exhibition A Colossal World: Japanese Artists and New York, 1950s-Present at WhiteBox, New York.


Mieko Shiomi, Spatial Poem No.5 Open Event, 1972/2023 . The wall is divided by geographic regions and poems are distributed along the wall. Photo by Jake Price for Japan Contemporaries.

Mieko Shiomi, Spatial Poem No.1, 1965 ​Photo by Jake Price for Japan Contemporaries.

For Shiomi's 2023 Spatial Poem No 5 Open Event , her friends, including art historians Mami Kataoka in Asia, Midori Yoshimoto, and Reiko Tomii in North America, have contributed their poems. The installation wall is divided into geographic regions comprising Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America and poems will be installed on each section depending on where the authors are from.  Additionally, during the exhibition, others will have the opportunity to actively participate in the evolving work.

This was one of the poems installed in the Asia section of Spatial Poem No 5 Open Event:

I opened the catalog of the Mona Lisa exhibition held at the Tokyo National Museum in 1974 after a long time. This exhibition showed only 2 paintings, the Mona Lisa and Portrait of Francis I by Joos can Cleve who was a patron of Leonard da Vinci, and it attracted more than 1.5 million visitors in less than two months, which is a great recording the Japanese exhibition history. Opening the book brought back and reconfirmed various memories and excitement. And it made me question the meaning of beauty once again. I closed the catalog and put it back on the bookshelf. 

16 September 2023, 5pm


Mami Kataoka

The exhibition offers a delightful aspect as visitors can engage with interactive artworks and immerse themselves in playfulness—such as Yoko Ono's White Chess Set from 1966/2015 and Takako Saito's works, especially made with wood, that highlight the playful essence of the Fluxus movement. Notably, not only Shigeko Kubota and Yoko Ono, but Saito also delved into creating artworks centered around chess, such as Grinder Chess (1965) and Sound Chess (1965/77). Chess played a significant role in their creative process, influenced in part by their mentors and icons Marcel Duchamp (1887-1968) and John Cage (1912-1992), both of whom were avid chess players. Shigeko Kubota captured them in a photograph during the Reunion concert held in Toronto, Canada, in 1968.


Yoko Ono, White Chess Set, 1966/2015
Wooden table, two chairs, chess set, all painted white 30 1/4x24x24 in
Collection of the artist

​Photo by Jake Price for Japan Contemporaries.

Shigeko Kubota, Duchampiana:Video Chess, 1968-1975

Plywood, glass sheets, plastic chess pieces, monitor, wall text photographs, single video and sound 

29 x 24 5/8 x 245/8 in 

Shigeko Kubota Video Art Foundation
​Moving image by Jake Price for Japan Contemporaries.

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Takako Saito, Sound Chess, ca.1977 

​Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/ Licensed by SCALA/ Art Resource, NY

In 1965, Shigeko Kubota performed the infamous Vagina Painting at the Perpetual Fluxus Festival, held at the New Cinematique run by Jonas Mekas. Mark Bloch, an artist and writer in New York describes Kubota in Tokion, "With a brush attached to her underpants, squatted and painted blood red abstract forms on paper spread across the floor. Reminiscent of menstrual blood, geisha references and Asian calligraphy, some saw it as a critique of macho action paintings by Jackson Pollock or Yves Klein’s use of females as painting tools in his 1960 Anthropometrics. Others were reminded of Zen for Head, a straight black line performed by Paik’s hair dipped in sumi ink mixed with tomato juice at an early Fluxus event in Wiesbaden, Germany in ’62.”

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Shigeko Kubota, Vagina Painting, performed during Perpetual Fluffiest, Cinematheque, New York, July 4, 1965
Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/ Licensed by SCALA/ Art Resource, NY

Interestingly, according to Kubota’s book My Love, Nam June Paik (Heibon, 2013), the concept originated from Nam June Paik. Paik, known for his provocative performances during that period, approached Kubota with a unique request: "I want to do that performance, but I cannot do it because I am a man. So, please do it on my behalf." While Kubota is celebrated for her signature video sculptures, this particular one time performance elevated her status as a bold and daring artist, as she utilized the most private parts of the female body for her seminal performance.

Following Shigeko Kubota's passing in 2015, the Shigeko Kubota Video Art Foundation was established in 2017. Since its inception, the foundation has been unearthing and showcasing the remarkable works of Kubota. One of their recent discoveries is a video piece titled Analogue Magnetism (for Takehisa Kosugi), dating back to 1973. This video, with a duration of 13 minutes and 1 second, is prominently featured in the introduction hall of the exhibition.

Installation view, left screen: Asahi News Korega Ongaku da!, 1962

35mm film transferred to DVD

3 min 13 sec

Footage provided by TOHO STELLA CO., LTD

Right screen: Personal Documentation of Fluxus Soho Tour, May 15, 1976, 1977

4 min 17 sec

Shigeko Kubota Video Art Foundation

Moving image by Jake Price for Japan Contemporaries.

Even though the four featured artists (three are still alive) were not present at the exhibition's opening, I had the opportunity to encounter Jeffrey Perkins, affectionately known as the Fluxus Cab Driver by Nam June Paik because he was driving a taxi – and he created series of works Movies for the Blind out of real stories from people who rode with him. Perkins, who recently produced the film George: The Story of George Maciunas and Fluxus in 2018, has a unique history with the Fluxus movement. In the 1960s, he filmed Yoko Ono's Four (Fluxfilm no. 16) in 1967, a piece showcasing human buttocks. Additionally, Perkins performed in Yoko Ono's Farewell Performance titled "Strip Show," which took place at the Sogetsu Art Center in Tokyo on August 11, 1964. The exhibition features numerous photos documenting Ono's performances during the 1960s, providing a visual journey into that transformative era.

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Jeffrey Perkins, in front of Four (Fluxfilm no. 16) by Yoko Ono, Jeff Perkins, Anthony Cox, George Machines, Four (Fluxfilm no. 16) 1967, 16mm film transferred to DVD, 5 min 30 sec, © Yoko Ono, Courtesy of Studio One

Photo by Kyoko Sato for Japan Contemporaries.

"I am so happy to see I am in the show, I shot this video!" said Perkins, radiating pride at being an integral part of the exhibited works and the Fluxus movement. I also had the pleasure of meeting Alison Knowles, a founding member of Fluxus. She, too, is represented in the exhibition with the reprint (c. 1996) of The Identical Lunch with Shigeko Kubota, 1968-1969. Knowles appeared delighted, clearly touched by the memories and significance of the Fluxus movement.

Shigeko Kubota

Video Poem, 1970-1975

Nylon sleeping bag with zippers, small electric fan CRT monitor, wall text and single-channel video

Dimensions variable

Shigeko Kubota Video Art Foundation

​Moving image by Jake Price for Japan Contemporaries.

The artworks of Fluxus artists are undeniably avant-garde, provocative, groundbreaking, and infused with a sense of fun. Exploring their works and documentations reveals a powerful dynamic of interaction between artists—mutual influence, collaborative creation, and perhaps occasional competition, all within a framework of support and assistance. This interplay of connections and social dynamics undoubtedly elevates Fluxus to a crucial position in art history. The contributions of these four Japanese women artists unquestionably enrich and further amplify the significance of the movement.


Yoko Ono's book Grapefruit, published in Japan in 1964, serves as a vibrant testament to the dynamic mutual energy within the Fluxus movement. Recognized as an early conceptual art masterpiece, it presents "event scores," sets of instructions that invite readers to decide whether or not to enact them, challenging the conventional idea of art as a fixed object. When Yoko Ono gifted a copy to Shigeko Kubota in New York City, her personal inscription imparted intimacy to the gift but also reflected the supportive and interconnected spirit defining the Fluxus community capturing the shared strength and warmth among these artists: "Dear Shigeko who is humid and warm like land, Be strong with each other. New York, Spring 1965, Yoko Ono."

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Out of Bounds: Japanese Women Artists in Fluxus
October 13, 2023—January 21, 2024

​Wednesday–Sunday 12–6 pm
Free First Fridays, 4-7 pm*
Wednesday–Friday, 12–1 pm: Members Exclusive
Closed on major holidays

$12 non-members
$10 students and seniors

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