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.
The works of Mike Kelley (1954-2012) currently fill MoMA PS1. Taking over the entire museum space, the exhibition brings together over 250 works, dating from 1974-2012, underscoring Kelley's use of various mediums. His oeuvre mines the archeological troves of American culture, questioning the role of art in relation to society. Kelley's work reminded me that the distinction between the quotidian and the sublime is a forever shifting, porous dotted line. Seeing so much of Kelley's work in one place allows the visitor to better understand the complexities and intellect lurking beneath the surface of what otherwise may appear to be silly, inane, or purely shocking artwork.
Above is one of Kelley's most visually recognized pieces, Deodorized Central Mass with Satellites (1991/1999), clusters of found plush toys sewn together. The room is occasionally spritzed with deodorizing mist, so that the immersive work affects both vision and smell.
While Deodorized Central Mass is often mentioned as one of Kelley's most iconic pieces, Kelley's work is more than just plushies. Some of his drawings highlight imagery that questions identify and a sense of self. Below are two drawings from a three-part triptych Kelley made in 1982 where he tries his hand at "tagging" his name in different fonts.
Below are images from Kelley's Kandor series. Kelley re-imagines and interprets Kandor, a scaled-down version of the former capital city of Krypton, Superman's home planet. In the comic book, the villain, Braniac, shrinks Kandor and hides the city under a glass bell jar. At various times between 1999 and 2011, Kelley returned to Kandor, and created iterations of the miniature captive city, using a variety of materials that included lenticular light boxes (which alternately show empty and Kandor-filled bell jars), mixed media installations recreating the apparatus that keeps the city within the bell jar, and videos showing the swirling innards of vessels. While the concept riffs upon a direct reference from American popular culture, the resulting work raises questions of the artifice of modern urban living.
A Vine-worthy (?) video of a laughing bell jar…did Kelley start the renaissance hipness of terrariums?
Pay for Your Pleasure (1988) has a more direct and politically charged message. The installation corridor is lined with painterly portraits of 42 historical artists and philosophers. Each portrait also features a quote from the figure exploring the ties among the creation of art, individuality, and the possibility for criminal intent and activity within this subversive act. Kelley specified that each iteration of this installation also includes artwork made by a known criminal from the area, as well as a donation box for visitors to contribute money for local victims' rights groups. The viewer of the installation questions her own opinion of the revolutionary attitudes apparent in the historical figures' quotes. While many of the quotes focus upon the potential criminality of art-making itself--which elides the distinction of a criminal who has carried out violent acts separate from her art-making--I found my senses and logical thought processes overtaken by the work's powerful messages.
Throughout the exhibition, ridden with messages and moments of sensory overload, one seemingly simple and innocuous picture ironically remained the most memorable for me. Below is the last part of the triptych drawing referenced above. The first two drawings are traces of Kelley signing his name in different fonts. This is the third and last. The title of the triptych is Personality Crisis (1982). The exhibition is an homage to a man of many, complex ideas, and the breadth of his work should be viewed in full.
Recently looking at Paola Pivi's oeuvre, I was reminded of her 2012 Public Art Fund commission, How I Roll (2012). A Piper Seneca six-seater plane installed as a kinetic sculpture in Central Park, New York, the plane slowly but continuously rotated 360 degrees upon itself, using its wing tips as the axis of rotation. Pivi inserted a familiar object in an unexpected environment, allowing visitors to experience a unique distortion of scale and place.
Airplanes (and other physical elements of modern material culture) also serve as inspiration and physical source material for Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro, a dynamic duo with a varied artistic (but consistently conceptually brainy) practice.
Take, for example, their installation, Stasis (2012), commissioned by the Museum of Contemporary Art Australia, on the occasion of their namesake exhibition. Featuring a Beechcraft travelair airplane suspended in a scaffolding cube, the airplane is frozen in time and space. Despite the physically prominent apparatus that keeps the airplane levitated, its nose looks ready to dive into the museum's facade at any moment.