Tuesday, July 29, 2008

parallel worlds paralyze me 1


I reserved my last Saturday in Tokyo to carry out the Visiting of some contemporary art shows. In truth, this was more out of lazyness than principled stance, as tracking shows down has always been a bit of a hassle, and Tokyo's dedicated Contemporary Art Museum is a bit off the radar. On this occasion the selection was mostly orthodox-- yes, yes, yes, the usual suspects...

What was most interesting of the excercise was the discovery (it'd been a while...) that a number of the major galleries, have moved into the three top consecutive stories of an industrial storage building by the Fukagawa river, pretty much in Chelsea fashion. This is, the ones that have international -ie NY- resonance, such as Shugo Arts and Taka Ishii . On the one hand, it was great to see a better suited space opened up, creating more possibilities for display. On the other hand, it is disturbing to confirm that the continuating hegemony of the estheticizing (ie, surplus value-creating) white-cube, which now has morphed into an Absolute Mall of Art, requiring zero foot-work on behalf of the new-new (and not-so-new-new) super-super rich and those of us that facilitate their shopping.

I saw mostly vapid, over-priced paintings by Kawakubo Tohru at the Tomio Koyama Gallery (an early supporter of that Murakami of LV fame, among other biggies of the so-called neopop fad). Koyama is one of the oldest gallerists, having survived unharmed both the economic bubble, it's demise and the arrival of the new-new super-super rich. I presume that these paintings will sell well among such crowd-- mostly well executed, heavily impastoed large-scale acrylics composed of pure-color parallel lines depicting messy interiors (a po-mo return to the atelier d'artiste theme?), Chirico-like landscapes and a series of face-less individuals in school uniforms.

I had a better impression of the two other painting shows at the Mall. At Taka Ishii, Dusseldorf-based Kyoko Murase showed her beautiful, airy acrylics of mystical forests, where a mysterious female figure dances among the delicately colored, almost translucent tree-trunks. At Shugo Arts, I saw the end of Swedish-born, NY resident Ylva Ogland's show. This artist presented three, very very grey works concerned with the notion of the "good death." The first picture was an installation of about twenty monochrome paintings of the same size, depicting a mirror, with the caption "She who shows the way." On top of each painting was placed an 18 ounce crystal. The composition was exactly the same for each painting, with a swift and almost washed-out brush-work, bringing attention to the surface of the mirror where she deftly worked with its irregularities, spots, dirt... This was a clever take on the problem of the vanitas painting tradition and its concern with time and ephemerality. The second work, "She sleeps" was a series of four paintings, of different size, first, a naturalistic portrait of a woman; second, an old woman during her wake; and third, an infelicitous symmetrical pairing of a porcelain Madonna with child figurine and a lily, and a Guanyin figurine with its lotus-flower and a budding rose. While the artist's brushwork is extraordinary, and the first piece was by all means breath-taking, I couldn't help but feel that the second piece undermined the power of the first with its maudlin overtones and mildly kitschy affectation. In any case, this was by far the brainiest piece in a day of disappointments (to be explained soon in my next post).

To sum up, not much new, other than the setting, which I'm afraid confirms that Japan's gallery "scene" is just as hegemonized and terminal as Europe and the US. And why should it be any different? They are in it for the money, right? It was good to see that... things haven't changed that much, despite all that vanity of vanities...

3 comments:

betty said...

Thank you for the links to the galleries and your thoughts, V.

I see that one of the shows is titled: "World Citizens with the White Boxes" - does this indicate some self-awareness of the problems you're describing in Japan's art scene on the part of artists and gallerists?

How else had the place changed since when you lived there 8 years ago?

venus infers said...

That's the title of Kuwakubo's show at the Tomio Koyama Gallery. The website says that he derived the title from an epiphanic moment while visiting Europe: he was riding an escalator and all of a sudden everyone around him seemed to him like sculptures lined up in a gallery... So the answer is no, there were no particular insights into the nature of citizenship and the problem of the white cube...

Luckily, it's been three, *not* eight years, so the changes haven't been that radical. At the same time, it is precisely those microscopic changes that heap up and disorient you: a store that is no longer there, the dive where you'd get a quick bite before going to see a film... Then there's the quiet satisfaction of knowing that there are changes that took place in the way that you thought they would.

But I am rambling...

Betty and Bimbo said...

Hey V., I think your ramblings are worth the considered tomes of millions.

I can't believe I thought you had been back for eight years! That would make you like 80 years old.