Mori Art Museum's 10th anniversary exhibition, Out of Doubt: Roppongi Crossing 2013, features a diverse group of Japanese artists, and portrays an interpretation of the current state of Japanese artists working today. 29 artists are included, many of whom were born in the 1970s and 1980s, but it was exciting to see artists from much earlier periods also featured, including Akasegawa Genpei (b. 1937), one of the only living artists tried (and unfortunately convicted) for free speech concerns (more on that here), Nakahira Takuma (b. 1938), and Suga Kishio (b. 1944).
Works in the exhibition appeared to reference certain historical moments, modern and post-modern global perspectives, and social awareness of historical events. While varied in mediums, the display of the works often featured the end results of process-based experiments. Each work chosen to represent the artists in the exhibition effectively helped the viewer to navigate such larger questions as 'what is art' and 'what role(s) should art play in society.' Seems rather heavy, but the exhibited works themselves often displayed levity, wit, and absurdity.
Take for example, Kazama Sachiko's Nonhuman Crossing (2013) (detail below). Working in the traditional medium of woodblock prints, Kazama creates arresting images of contemporary Japan in manga-like detail. Nonhuman Crossing features Shibuya scramble, one of Tokyo's busiest intersections (photographed at left). Kazama depicts modern-day individuals willfully participating in a world of control and surveillance--humans are policed not just by external forces such as the military, the police and structured religion, but also by their own willingness to participate in the virtual reality of the internet. Kazama seems to imply that participating in such a realm makes us feel safe while simultaneously being spied upon.
Featured in the same room as Kazama were paintings by Nakamura Hiroshi (b. 1932), active in the 1960s. Resonating with Kazama's work, Nakamura's paintings also evidence a concern with top-down control and limitations on civic freedoms. Pictured below is The Sacred Fire Relay from 1964, the year of the Tokyo Olympics. In preparation to be in the international spotlight, Tokyo had rapidly modernized, perhaps at the risk of forcing its citizens to conform.
Other works directly referenced Japan's recent history from the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami and the Fukushima nuclear disaster. Arai Takashi (b. 1978) photographs modern subjects using daguerrotypes, an antiquated photography format. Referring to different, yet equally harrowing moments in Japanese history, images of fishermen from the Fukushima area post-3/11 are exhibited together with photographs that, among others, feature a Japanese fishing boat that was exposed to fallout from U.S. nuclear tests in 1954.
Not all of the works in the exhibition directly reference sociopolitical or historical issues. One of the last works in the exhibition is an installation by Ryui Koji (b. 1976). Ryui is a sculptor that imbues three-dimensional objects with an animistic sense of life and movement. In one portion of an installation entitled HAVE A NICE DAY (Horizon, Untitled, Bachelors, Mirrors, Emoticon) (2013), lumps of clay are wrapped up in ubiquitous smiley-face plastic shopping bags, ready to liquify and wiggle around on readymade IKEA shelves. Simultaneously creepy and playful, these creatures are caught in a suspended moment within a microcosmic universe.
No survey can ever hope to capture the full spectrum of artists working in a region, but this exhibition is thought-provoking and energizing in its variety. While the selection of artists and the particular works exhibited are well curated, perhaps one of the exhibition's strongest qualities is its ability to allow the viewer to contemplate the potential power inherent in art to effect social change.
Out of Doubt: Roppongi Crossing 2013 is up until January 13, 2014.
Mention Chris Burden's name, and one of the first images that will likely pop into an art history student's mind is an archival image from Burden's 1974 performance, Trans-fixed -- a skinny, half-naked artist being crucified to a Volkswagen beetle. As a seminal performance artist in the early 1970s, Burden experimented with his own physical limits, where putting himself in imminent danger was a critical aspect of his practice.
Since then, Burden has recalibrated. As his career developed, Burden continued to experiment with space and sense of scale, but focused his process and output on sculptures and installation pieces. His retrospective at the New Museum, Chris Burden: Extreme Measures, focuses on some of these works. On the larger end of the spectrum are works such as Big Wheel (1979) (seen above) on the fourth floor of the museum, a lumbering giant steel wheel set up near a motorcycle. Twice a day, the motorcycle is revved up, setting the wheel to spin on its own for over two hours.
Also on the fourth floor is Porsche with Meteorite (2013), a gigantic scales of justice-like structure where a shiny yellow Porsche—perhaps a stand-in for the pinnacle of manmade technological innovation—is balanced against a chunk of organic matter.
Not only does Burden pit human ingenuity against natural forces, he also plays with the variability of measurement. The third floor of the museum features Burden as engineering otaku—constructing models of bridges (Triple 21 Foot Truss Bridge (2013) and Three Arch Dry Stack Bridge, ¼ Scale (2013)) and cannons (Pair of Namur Mortars (2013)) modeled from the originals at the Tower of London.
Burden’s monomaniacal focus on the microcosm is evident in two works shown on the second floor of the museum, A Tale of Two Cities (1981) and All the Submarines of the United States of America (1987). The first is a veritable diorama of two cities in a constant state of war preparation, represented by figurines, transformer toys and vehicles. The next hangs 625 submarine figures from the ceiling, lining up the small cardboard objects to create a sheet-like physical intervention.
One of the smallest but perhaps most powerful works in the exhibition is Tower of Power (1985). It’s a process and experience in and of itself to view, as only one visitor is permitted to see the work at a time, complete with externally hired security to provide surveillance of the scene. (Photos were not permitted, although an image of the work can be found here.) The work is comprised of 100 gold bars twinkling behind thick plexiglass; near the bottom of the gold pyramid are matchstick men in various poses. The New Museum’s unique architecture (designed by SANAA) is put to good use in the work’s display method, as the viewer must climb the set of stairs between the third and fourth floors to peer into an alcove, paying tribute to the work and its possible message. Perhaps more so than the actual work itself, the ritual surrounding the viewing of the work indicates the relationship of the museumgoer to the art and cultural production apparatus, of which the museum is very much a part.
Chris Burden: Extreme Measures is up until January 12, 2014.