- Established: 1907
- Japanese: 文部省美術展覧会 (monbushou bijutsu tenrankai), 文展 (bunten)
The Bunten, or Ministry of Education Arts Exhibition, was a prestigious and influential annual national arts competition held by the Ministry of Education beginning in 1907. Through the Ministry's selection of judges, and the judges' selection of which art would be displayed, and granted awards (and which would not), the Bunten had considerable influence in the early development of Japanese modern art. For these same reasons, the competition also drew considerable criticism and pushback from many members of the art world outside of those favored by the Ministry and its judges.
The Bunten was later succeeded by the Teiten ("Imperial Exhibitions") and, after World War II, by the Nitten ("Japan Exhibitions").
The first Bunten was held in 1907 in Ueno Park (in Tokyo), on the former site of the third Domestic Industrial Exposition (held in 1890). The idea for such an event came, perhaps, as an effort by the Ministry of Education to serve as a mediator between the multiple factions dividing the art world at that time; however, it only served to strengthen the factionalism, by creating a political divide between those the Ministry favored and those they did not - whether personally, or in terms of style or approach.
Works were displayed and judged in three categories: Western painting, Japanese painting, and sculpture, with awards being given out in each category. Some artists critiqued this organization, arguing that it discouraged collaboration or fusion works across the categories.
While Nihonga painter Takeuchi Seihô served regularly on the Bunten jury from the beginning, Suzuki Shônen was among those who declined an invitation to do so, claiming he feared that bureaucrats from the Ministry would interfere with the judges' decisions. Meanwhile, on the side of the artists being judged, there were many like Ikeda Yôson, who were rejected by the Bunten time and time again, based on the particular tastes and interests of the judges (and of the Ministry), though their works are highly regarded today.
The Bunten played a key role in contributing to the popularity and success of the Nihonga movement, through official recognition of great Nihonga painters and works at the official national art competition in the country. Further, as the Bunten was extremely well-attended, with some 250,000 attendees in 1916, for example, it made these painters, and their works, highly visible, and increasingly widely known, somewhat more generally, widely, beyond just the inner circles of the art world. But it remained quite political; many judges were partial to their own students, and selected works that fell within the mainstream trends (as they saw them, or as they desired them to be), punishing those works that were too progressive or experimental, and/or works by artists they did not personally know.
The Bunten was renamed the Teiten ("Imperial Exhibition") in 1919, but otherwise continued much as before. The politics of the exhibition continued to exacerbate factional divisions between different schools and associations of painters.
While the Bunten sought to unite the art world, alternative exhibitions continued to be organized, including the Nihon Bijutsuin's Inten, and the Kyoto-based Shinko bijutsuhin ten ("Exhibition of New and Old Art", first organized in 1888).
- Paul Berry and Michiyo Morioka (eds.) Literati Modern: Bunjinga from Late Edo to Twentieth-Century Japan. Honolulu: Honolulu Academy of Arts, 2008. p299.; Ellen Conant, "Cut from Kyoto Cloth: Takeuchi Seihô and his Artistic Milieu." Impressions 33 (2012). pp71-93.
- Ellen Conant (ed.), Nihonga: Transcending the Past. St. Louis Art Museum, 1995. pp297-8.