During World War II, around 100 prominent Japanese artists served in the Imperial Japanese Army and Navy, producing paintings on the subject of the war waged throughout Asia. Following Japan’s defeat, the United States occupation forces seized 153 of these paintings, which were since kept at a distance from the Japanese people in line with the demilitarization of Japan. There was hesitation in the United States in 1946 as to how to deal with these confiscated war paintings: should the paintings be mere propaganda glorifying the war, then they could be destroyed; however if they were art works, by law they should be preserved. A political settlement over this conflict was reached in December 1947, when the US intelligence agency acknowledged the artistic value of the Japanese war paintings.
This work reproduces the Japanese War Art Exhibition which was held at the Tokyo Metropolitan Art Museum in the summer of 1946, based on the actual dimensions of the works. The United States military held this exhibition for occupying forces personnel, at a time when the evaluation of the confiscated war paintings was not yet determined. However, the actual collection of war paintings is not present. The paintings were for a long time taboo in the defeated Japan, then stored at the National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo in the form of a permanent loan from the United States. Instead, close-up images and caption information regarding the paintings provide just an indication of what kind of scenes were made into art. The full-scale ‘paintings’ were created from an enormous amount of material discarded after transportation of displayed artworks and from exhibitions, and recall also the hegemony of the US government in internationally promoting paintings of abstract expressionism as a weapon of the liberal powers during the Cold War.