A real look at ordinary lives through works of art
BY WAKATO ONISHI STAFF WRITER
The "teleco-soup" exhibit by Tabaimo at the Venezia Biennale's Japanese Pavilion (Wakato Onishi)Takahiro Iwasaki's exhibited work at Yokohama Triennale. The modest tower is crafted from hair and dust. (Wakato Onishi)Chim Pom exhibit at the Maruki Gallery (Wakato Onishi)"Kiso" exhibited at The Miyagi Museum of Art's Churyo Sato Gallery (Wakato Onishi)
Although they're ordinary and not pretty, they're still beautiful.
That's how art aficionados could describe the sculptures of men's and women's heads created by Churyo Sato in the 1950s, which were lined up at the Setagaya Art Museum in Tokyo.
Works by Sato, a prominent postwar sculptor, have been called simple and unrefined creations. He observed ordinary people--men and women we wouldn't think of as beautiful--and discovered a ubiquitous beauty underneath their dignified veil.
Five days after the exhibit closed, the Great East Japan Earthquake struck Sato's birthplace of Miyagi Prefecture. Nineteen days later, Sato died at the age of 98.
The March 11 earthquake forced a slew of temporary museum closures as well as canceled and postponed exhibitions. Artists attended workshops and other such activities in the disaster area to lend their help. Many art-related charity drives have also been organized.
Although they adopt the usual slogans like "Don't give up, Japan" and "Support disaster relief," culture, particularly art produced by individual creators, presents us with beauty and values that many are not so quick to recognize. Culture shows us the beauty and value to be found in the trivial, the non-mainstream and the voices of those who typically are not heard. We have rediscovered these elements, which are like those imbued in Sato's work.
Contemporary expressionists probably perceived early on that in an age when values are in flux, they can't make a living just by having a big story to tell. The "Ways of Worldmaking" exhibition at the National Museum of Art, Osaka may have a grandiose theme, but the collection of everyday objects by young artists such as Kengo Kito have developed a way to express the creation of new circumstances.
The "Artist File" exhibition by eight artists at The National Art Center, Tokyo also stood out for its pieces that seemed like a collection of odds and ends.
In an exhibition at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography by Naoya Hatakeyama, whose family home in Rikuzentakata, Iwate Prefecture, was destroyed, his photos of the disaster area were displayed with inhibition--in a subdued manner that conversely made the significance of the disaster and the photos more potent.
Artists outside the core of the art world have also made deep impressions. The exhibition of work by Mokuma Kikuhata presented by the Fukuoka Art Museum and the Nagasaki Prefectural Art Museum provided a complete view of his works spanning more than half a century, from his earliest pieces made with cheap materials that satirized Japan's rapid economic growth to his latest creations.
The Tochigi Prefectural Museum of Fine Arts provided a surprise with the "Sekiya Fuki: Unknown Works" exhibition, presenting a newly discovered collection of abstract paintings by an unknown female painter who died more than 40 years ago. You could say it gives us a real look at ordinary people's lives through art.
Meanwhile a quite well-known artist, Taro Okamoto, has reached his 100th birthday. He's been the subject of a good number of projects. Perhaps our praise for his work has overshadowed calm and collected consideration.
There are also still plenty of active artists who have taken the path of not flattering society. Gyoji Nomiyama, 90, held an exhibition in Fukuoka and Tokyo that was inspired by the sight of the March 11 earthquake's devastation. A retrospective of work by Yayoi Kusama has toured the major museums of Europe. And Lee U-Fan has put on a personal exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum in New York.
Tabaimo, a younger artist who has contributed artwork for the Japanese Pavilion at the Venezia Biennale art exhibition, put on a solid exhibition that delved deep into her inner self.
Modern artists continue to remake the past. There is the "Flowers of Artistic Photography" exhibit at the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography and the "Undressing Paintings" at The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo. One could also mention the book "Dozo Junan no Kindai" (The suffering of bronze statues in the modern era) by Reita Hirose. Meanwhile, Edo Period paintings, by artists such as Sakai Hoitsu, Kano Kazunobu, Sharaku and Kuniyoshi, have also greatly benefited from a re-examination.
Chim Pom has particularly stood out this year for organizing four exhibitions and for placing pictures invoking thoughts of the Fukushima nuclear accident on top of a mural by Taro Okamoto.
Although the works showing images that plunge into the area around the Fukushima No. 1 nuclear power plant may seem reckless, they displayed an intensity that went beyond mere superficial expression. The group's substantial exhibition at the Maruki Gallery, which ran until Dec. 18, allowed visitors to understand their awareness of the nuclear issue.
Modest, gentle works such as Takahiro Iwasaki's tower of hair and dust at Yokohama Triennale 2011 have also had an impact.
"We turn our ears toward those who are not the rulers of society," exhibiting artist Koki Tanaka said at a news conference. "Now, when we have lost faith in government and companies due to the earthquake and nuclear disaster, these opinions hold significant meaning."