Japanese Photography at SFMOMA

image shomei tomatsu

I was recently at SFMOMA, my first visit since it reopened last summer after a big three-year renovation project. My eye was drawn to this exhibition of Japanese photography, a thematic presentation, over many rooms, of works drawn entirely from the museum’s collections. It was a powerful and eye-opening exhibit, to which I gladly devoted most of my visit.

Postwar Japan saw the rise of many important photographers, whose work charts their response to contemporary themes such as urbanisation, industrialisation, or Japan’s relationship with America. For instance, Shomei Tomatsu (1930-2012) produced a series called Protest, Tokyo, in which he tackled protests against the American military presence in Japan, and its involvement in the Vietnam War.

Others have focused on the atomic explosion in Hiroshima. Takashi Arai (b.1978) presents a daguerreotype of a piano that survived the Hiroshima explosion in his work Misako’s Hibaku Piano, Daigo Fukuryu Main Exhibition Hall, Tokyo. The use of this technique from the 19th century heightens the ghostly quality of the image: this instrument is something that survived when so much was lost. Miyako Ishiuchi (b. 1947) makes pictures of garments from the victims of the Hiroshima bombing, and they too co-opt the viewer in an act of quiet mourning or remembrance.

Later on, the show explores how photographers have responded to disasters, including the Fukushima nuclear power plant explosion in 2011. For example, Shimpei Takeda (b.1982) travelled around the Fukushima region, collecting soil samples which he packed in unexposed photographic paper for one month. The resulting papers reveal traces of radiation and are displayed as photographic prints.

The show does of course include many images that are not concerned with these headline, soul-shaking events: the natural world, portraits of people and places, cityscapes. These too are of great interest, yet for me it was the inclusion of the more provocative, context-driven material that elevated this exhibition to something well above the ordinary. Highly recommended.

Japanese Photography from Postwar to Now
San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco, CA
15 October 2016 to 12 March 2017

Above: Shomei Tomatsu, Untitled, from the series Protest, Tokyo, 1969, printed 1974. Gelatin silver print. Height 20.64cm; width 30.96cm. SFMOMA. Image: Shomei Tomatsu – Interface, at https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/2006.192.A

Below: Takashi Arai, Misako’s Hibaku Piano, Daigo Fukuryu Main Exhibition Hall, Tokyo, from the series Exposed in a Hundred Suns, 2012. Daguerreotype. Height 25.2cm; width 19.3cm. SFMOMA. Image: Takashi Arai, at https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/PH14.046

image takashi arai

Below: Miyako Ishiuchi, hiroshima #71, 2007, printed 2016. SFMOMA. Image: Miyako Ishiuchi, at https://www.sfmoma.org/exhibition/japanese-photography-postwar-now/

image miyako ishiuchi

Below: Shimpei Takeda, Trace #10, Iwase General Hospital, 2012. Gelatin silver print. Height 40.32cm; width 50.17cm. SFMOMA. Image: Shimpei Takeda, at https://www.sfmoma.org/artwork/2015.146

image shimpei takeda

Japanese ceramics in Sacramento

_1040336

Writing my last post on The Sculptural Turn led me to reflect on another wonderful collection of contemporary Japanese ceramics, in the Crocker Art Museum of Sacramento. I visited in June 2016, and the ceramics gallery was a definite highlight, presenting a choice selection of very high quality pieces.

There are some eye-catching celadons, such as a sinuous ceramic sculpture by Kino Satoshi (b.1987). This was first formed as a cylinder on a potter’s wheel, then dissected and reassembled in a new configuration. It is from a series of porcelain sculptures called Oroshi (“strong downwind from the mountain”).

There are two celadon bowls by Kawase Shinobu (b.1950), whose work I featured in this post in 2015. The first bowl, with its 16 lobes, is a triumph of form; the second, with its delicate “kingfisher” glaze, is a triumph of colour. This multi-coloured glaze took up to eight kiln firings to achieve and the artist sees it as evoking the plumage of the kingfisher.

In contrast, a red clay bowl by Ogawa Machiko (b.1946) has a primitive, earthy quality. Her work features in The Sculptural Turn, bearing similar hallmarks – the broken, unfinished edges, the cracks and fissures.

The display includes celebrated artists from the Mingei movement (focused on traditional crafts) such as Shoji Hamada (1894-1978), whose work I featured in this post in 2012 and in this post in 2016. Another key figure in the movement was Sakuma Totaro (1900-1976), represented here by a square plate with a fruit motif, the colours subtle yet uplifting.

Overall, a small but enthralling selection of Japanese ceramics – definitely worth a stop if you are visiting Sacramento.

Crocker Art Museum
Sacramento, CA
Permanent collection

All photos: SF

Above: Kino Satoshi, Sculpture, 2014. Porcelain with pale bluish white celadon glaze. Crocker Art Museum.

Below: Kawase Shinobu, Bowl with 16 pinched edges, 2014. Porcellanous stoneware with celadon glaze. Crocker Art Museum.

_1040346

Below: Kawase Shinobu, Teabowl, “Kingfisher”, 2013. Porcellanous stoneware with reddish-green celadon glaze. Crocker Art Museum.

_1040345

Below: Ogawa Machiko, Vessel, no date. Red clay. Crocker Art Museum.

_1040340

Below: Wada Morihiro, Tea bowl, ca. 1996. Porcellanous stoneware with black glaze and red and orange slip glaze patterning. Crocker Art Museum.

_1040341

Below: Shoji Hamada, Covered box, no date. Stoneware. Crocker Art Museum.

_1040347

Below: Shoji Hamada, Flask, ca. 1968. Stoneware. Crocker Art Museum.

_1040349

Below: Sakuma Totaro, Square plate, ca. 1970. Crocker Art Museum.

_1040350

Shapes to conjure with: contemporary Japanese ceramics

_1040664

This exhibition of Japanese ceramics is small but transformative, giving the visitor space to focus not on traditional ceramic forms but on what happens when those forms are set aside. Each of the artists represented here adopts a more experimental approach, creating works that have sculptural or abstract qualities. Many of the artists are female.

The show includes work by Nagae Shigekazu (b.1953), whose extraordinary razor-thin porcelain I featured in this post in 2014 and this post in 2015.

There are angular, geometric pieces: for instance, Box by Kondo Takahiro (b.1958), a glazed porcelain work that reminded me of China’s ceramic head pillows; and Noh-inspired Form with Colored Clay Inlays by Kishi Eiko (b.1948), its surface alight with iridescent colour.

There are many organic shapes that draw inspiration from the natural world: for instance, Shell Form by Koike Shoko (b.1943), Tentacled Sea Flower by Katsumata Chieko (b.1950) and Eggshell by Sakurai Yasuko (b.1969).

Other works seem to conjure images of damage or decay: an untitled work by Futamura Yoshimi (b.1959) resembles a huge fruit covered in mould; another by Ogawa Machiko (b.1946) suggests a fragile entity that has been smashed or torn open.

A varied and interesting exhibit, well worth a visit.

The Sculptural Turn
Contemporary Japanese Ceramics from the Kempner and Stein Collection
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA
9 November 2016 to 4 June 2017

All photos: SF.

Above: Nagae Shigekazu, Moving Forms, 2015. Porcelain. Collection of Dr Phyllis A Kempner and Dr David D Stein.

Below: Kondo Takahiro, Box, 2009. Porcelain with glaze. Asian Art Museum; gift of Dr Phyllis A Kempner and Dr David D Stein.

_1040666

Below: Kishi Eiko, Noh-inspired Form with Colored Clay Inlays, 2007. Stoneware with colored clay inlays. Collection of Dr Phyllis A Kempner and Dr David D Stein.

_1040667

Below: Koike Shoko, Shell Form, 2013. Stoneware with glaze. Collection of Dr Phyllis A Kempner and Dr David D Stein.

_1040661-1

Below: Sakurai Yasuko, Eggshell, 2008. Porcelain. Asian Art Museum; gift of Dr Phyllis A Kempner and Dr David D Stein.

_1040662

Below: Futamura Yoshimi, Untitled, 2012. Stoneware and porcelain. Collection of Dr Phyllis A Kempner and Dr David D Stein.

_1040665

Below: Ogawa Machiko, Untitled, 2009. Stoneware and porcelain with pooling glass. Collection of Dr Phyllis A Kempner and Dr David D Stein.

_1040659-1

San Diego visit, part 2: Japanese art at the Mingei International

Continuing the San Diego theme from my last post on Brush and Ink, I want to highlight an exhibition I saw at the Mingei International Museum, showcasing folk art and craft objects from Japan. It was a rare opportunity to explore this field in depth, and I was blown away by the bold designs and exceptional quality of the pieces.

The selection covers different regions of Japan and different categories of object: fans, folk paintings, baskets, cabinets and so on. The textiles displayed on the walls have huge visual impact, be it an Ainu coat from Hokkaido, or a summer kimono in a wonderful gold colour, by Keisuke Serizawa (1895-1984).

Ceramics form the backbone of the exhibition, encompassing older traditional items – a sturdy plate with horse eye motif, such as you would find at a roadside inn – and later craft pieces from the ceramicists of the Mingei movement, started by Yanagi Soetsu (1889-1961) to champion the beauty of ordinary, handmade objects.

They include works by Masu Minagawa (1872-1953), who liked to paint her teapots with landscape designs, and by Shoji Hamada (1894-1978) and his apprentice Tatsuzo Shimaoka (1919-2007), who used rope impressions and a salt glaze to create unique effects. All three worked at Mashiko in Japan.

A beautiful, balanced show, designed to give the visitor a strong and lasting sense of the riches of Japanese folk art.

Mingei of Japan
Mingei International Museum, San Diego, CA
2 April to 2 October 2016 (now closed)

Below: Ainu coat, unknown maker, late 19th c. Hokkaido, Japan. Cotton, indigo; hand-spun, handwoven, sewn, appliqued, embroidered. Mingei International Museum. All photos: SF.

p1040495

Below: Keisuke Serizawa, summer kimono, mid 20th c. Japan. Banana fibre (bashofu); indigo; hand-spun, handwoven, stencil dyed (katazome).

p1040520
Below: Plate with horse eye motif, unknown maker, early 19th c. Japan. Glazed stoneware with brushwork design. Mingei International Museum.

p1040523

Below: Bowl, unknown maker, 20th c. Okinawa, Japan. Glazed stoneware. Mingei International Museum.

p1040501

Below: Tea bowl, unknown maker. Mingei International Museum.

p1040524

Below: Masu Minegawa, ceramic teapot, ca. 1900-1950. Mashiko, Japan. Mingei International Museum.

p1040503

Below left: Lidded jar, unknown maker, late 20th c. Onta, Japan. Chatter-glazed (tobikanna) stoneware. Mingei International Museum.

Below right: Tatsuzo Shimaoka, bowl, 2004. Mashiko, Japan. Salt-glazed and rope-impressed stoneware with inlaid slip. Mingei International Museum.

p1040505

Below: Tatsuzo Shimaoka, tea bowl, ca. 1971. Salt-glazed and rope-impressed stoneware with inlaid slip. Mingei International Museum.

p1040526

Below: Shoji Hamada, plate, 20th c. Glazed stoneware. Mingei International Museum.

p1040514

Below: Shoji Hamada, cup, 20th c. Glazed stoneware. Mingei International Museum.

p1040518

The brave new world of digital art: interactive exhibits at PACE

 

teamlab crystal universe v2

This digital art show at the PACE Gallery in Menlo Park has proved very popular. Slated to close on July 1, it has been extended to mid-December. I booked tickets in what would have been its last week, and it was hot, heady and heaving with visitors. The crowds reminded me just a little of when I went to see Shunga, the 2013 exhibition at the British Museum, though the draw in that case was the erotic content.

The show is the work of teamLab, a group of Japanese artists collaborating on works that explore the nexus between art and technology. It really consists of two shows, housed in different buildings. The first, “Living Digital Space”, is more for adults; the second, “Future Parks”, is theoretically for children but was packed with adults nurturing their inner child. Ocean creatures, space rockets and railway layouts feature prominently – plenty to keep a five-year-old boy happy, though frustrating when the interactive digital train tracks won’t line up where you want them, and you can’t fathom why.

In “Living Digital Space”, the works are less interactive and more contemplative: flat-screen displays of constantly changing images, sometimes arranged as a series of smaller panels, sometimes unfurling across whole walls of a gallery. Themes are often drawn from the natural world, with motifs you might recognise from traditional Japanese painting, amped up: explosions of flowers, great frothing waves, crows, butterflies.

There is a strong technical underpinning, though. In Black Waves (2016), for instance, the image you see is based on calculations about the actual behaviour of particles at the surface of the water, yielding a computer-generated image which looks photographic but isn’t.

The pieces that made me linger were those that used technology in more sculptural ways. I enjoyed Light Sculpture of Flames (2016), in which points of light in a giant cuboid produce mesmerising flame effects. Crystal Universe (2015), described as “an interactive installation of light sculpture”, was exhilarating in the same way as a Yayoi Kusama mirrored room, like the one in the 2012 exhibition at Tate Modern.

Another immersive showpiece is Flutter of Butterflies Beyond Borders (2015), which I did not manage to see. The technology was broken and the room was closed while they fixed it. However, I was told I could come back again for free to see it another day, so perhaps I will. As art experiences go, this one is strange and tantalising, and admirably suited to its Silicon Valley location.

teamLab: Living Digital Space and Future Parks
PACE Art + Technology, Menlo Park, CA
6 February to 18 December 2016

Above: teamLab, Crystal Universe, 2015. Interactive installation of light sculpture. Image at http://www.pacegallery.com/exhibitions/12781/living-digital-space-and-future-parks.

Bamboo basketwork: a contemporary Japanese art form

image modern twist sonoma

We took a trip to Sonoma back in April, to see this fabulous exhibition of contemporary bamboo artworks. The exhibit has been on tour in several locations and showcases the work of 17 Japanese bamboo artists, drawn from the Clark Center for Japanese Art and Culture at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts.

We received a very warm welcome from the museum volunteer, who introduced the exhibit and reminded us of the significance of bamboo in Japanese and other East Asian cultures.

As you can see, some pieces have strong geometric qualities, such as Sun and Squares and Circles by Tanabe Chikuunsai III (b.1940). Others exploit the visual properties of the material, with a shimmering moire-type effect on pieces such as Gentle Heart by Fujinuma Noboru (b.1945), or Pattern of Wind by Uematsu Chikuyu (b.1947) – inspired by the ridged pattern that the wind creates when it blows across sand.

Such allusions to the natural world are frequent: the wind, hot air, the sun, the moon. All in all, this show really opened my eyes to the sheer range of colour, shape and space that can be conjured up from this one material.

Modern Twist: Contemporary Japanese Bamboo Art
Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, Sonoma, CA
19 March to 12 June 2016 (now closed)

Above: Main section of the Modern Twist exhibit at Sonoma Valley Museum of Art, seen April 2016. Photo: JF.

Below: Tanabe Chikuunsai III (b.1940), Sun, “Yo”, 1980. Bamboo (yadake and madake), rattan, lacquer. Photo: JF.

image tanabe chikuunsai iii sun

Below: Tanabe Chikuunsai III, Squares and Circles, “Hoen”, 2005. Bamboo (yadake), rattan, lacquer. Photo: JF.

image tanabe chikuunsai iii squares and circles

Below: Fujinuma Noboru (b.1945), Gentle Heart, “Yushin”, 2006. Bamboo (madake), rattan. Photo: JF.

image fujinuma noboru gentle heart

Below: Tanioka Shigeo (b.1949), Asuka, 2002. Fruit basket. Bamboo (susudake), Japanese horse chestnut wood (tochinoki), lacquer. Photo: JF.

image tanioka shigeo asuka

Below: Tanioka Shigeo, Shimmering of Hot Air, “Itoyu”, 1999. Bamboo (hobichiku), rattan, lacquer. Photo: JF.

image tanioka shigeo shimmering of hot air

Below: Uematsu Chikuyu (b.1947), Pattern of Wind, “Fumon”, 2002. Bamboo (kurochiku), wood. Photo: JF.

image uematsu chikuyu pattern of wind

 

 

A trio of pebbles: Korean mother-of-pearl lacquerware, part 2

DSC_2146

These massive, lustrous pebbles dominate the final section of the current Korean mother-of-pearl lacquerware exhibit at the Asian Art Museum. They are displayed in an adjoining gallery, alongside other contemporary works inspired by the mother-of-pearl concept.

The three giant pebbles by Hwang Samyong (b.1960) are made from lacquer and mother-of-pearl applied to fibreglass. This involves slicing the mother-of-pearl into very thin strips, a technique used on some of the more traditional pieces in the main exhibit.

Each pebble is a different colour, depending on the material used. The dark pebble (2014) uses black-pearl oyster shell from the Philippines and Indonesia. The green pebble (2015) uses native Korean abalone shell. The white pebble (2016) uses white-pearl oyster shell from Tahiti. The artist works from photographs of real pebbles, magnified up to 100 times.

I love how materials lifted from one type of natural object (seashells) are manipulated to recreate another type of natural object (pebbles), and one that you might also find on the seashore, suggested here by the mirrored surface on which the pebbles have come to rest.

Mother-of-Pearl Lacquerware from Korea
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA
29 April to 23 October 2016

Above: Hwang Samyong, Pebble (P1409), 2014; Pebble (P1501), 2015; Pebble (P1602), 2016. Mother-of-pearl and lacquer on fibreglass. Length of longest pebble: 90cm. Crosspoint Cultural Foundation, Korea. Seen at Asian Art Museum, San Francisco in 2016. Photo: SF.

Hidden Gold at the Asian Art Museum

han sang-soo korean bridal robe (1)
Hidden Gold is being held to mark the 50th anniversary of the Asian Art Museum. It brings together a diverse selection of pieces from the museum’s collections, each golden in some respect, but covering a wide range, both geographically and chronologically. You will find Japanese screens, Chinese fan paintings, Buddhist artefacts from Cambodia and Mongolia, and much more besides.

I enjoyed the presentation very much and found this a refreshing show to visit – not too large, but still plenty to take in. Unlike the big 2012 exhibit Bronze at the Royal Academy in London, this dwells less on the technical aspects of working with the metal, and more on its symbolic value.

This could explain the pleasing bias towards textiles, where gold is used to glorify the wearer. There are two contrasting but highly decorative robes from China: a Daoist ceremonial robe, with a design that reflects the structure of the cosmos in Daoist thought, and a Qing dynasty Emperor’s dragon robe, emblazoned with nine dragons. There is a contemporary bridal robe from Korea, produced in 2002 by renowned artisan Han Sang-soo (b. 1934), with motifs to emphasize creativity and fruitfulness, including a stylized rainbow mountain and peaches.

Definitely recommended.

Hidden Gold: Mining its Meaning in Asian Art
Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, CA
4 March to 8 May 2016

Above: Han Sang-soo, bridal robe, 2002. Silk embroidered with silk and gold thread. Asian Art Museum. Photo: SF.

Architecture of Life at BAMPFA

bampfa hall

We made a family visit recently to BAMPFA, the newly reopened arts centre for the University of California, Berkeley. The acronym stands for Berkeley Art Museum and Pacific Film Archive, and while the focus is on both art and film, we went to see the inaugural exhibition, entitled Architecture of Life.

I found this a hugely energising show to explore, and I would love to go back. It takes the twin themes of architecture in the human world and architecture in the natural world, and interprets them in an open and unstructured way. It brings together works from different cultures and different periods, so that you abandon all thoughts of context and give yourself up to the visual ride, just focusing on the objects in front of you. Several exhibits are drawn from scientific projects, increasing the sense of an inter-disciplinary, trans-boundary adventure.

Given how the format emboldens you to look at things together and make unexpected connections, it seems counter-intuitive to zero in on objects with an Asian link, which is my usual practice here. However, those I find myself highlighting are as mixed a selection as any I might have chosen, so in that sense it is representative.

“Home-for-All” in Rikuzentakata is a series of five models by Japanese architects, seeking to create a new structure in the wake of the Tohoku earthquake and tsunami. The final version was constructed by volunteers, using cedar logs damaged by the sea.

Photographer Yuji Obata (b.1962) pays homage to an early photographer of snowflakes, Wilson Bentley (1865-1931), through his photographs of snowflakes in freefall. He uses a technique perfected over years in the snowy mountains of Hokkaido.

Noriko Ambe (b.1967) creates sculptures made from hundreds of small sheets of flat, synthetic paper, individually hand cut then stacked to create abstract forms in organic shapes.

Hyun-Sook Song (b.1952) is a painter whose work I first encountered on my visit to ART14 London. I was a little blown away to find three big canvases, more sombre though than those I saw previously. 21 Brushstrokes shows the shrouded body of the artist’s mother prior to burial, resting alone on a bier, and  has a particular bleakness.

These are just a few examples, however. The whole experience is diverse, stimulating and highly recommended.

Architecture of Life
BAMPFA, Berkeley, CA
31 January to 29 May 2016

Above: Atrium at BAMPFA. Photo: SF.

Below: Toyo Ito (b.1941) and others, “Home-for-All” in Rikuzentakata, 2012. 1:20 scale model; wood, styrene board, styrol, plastic. Photo: SF.

toyo ito home for all scale model

Below: Noriko Ambe, A piece of Flat Globe, Vol 12 and Vol 22, 2010-12. Cut YUPO. Photos: SF.

noriko ambe a piece of flat globe A

noriko ambe a piece of flat globe B

Below: Hyun-Sook Song, 21 Brushstrokes, 2007. Egg tempera on canvas. Photo: SF.

hyun sook song 21 brushstrokes

Below: Hyun-Sook Song, 4 Brushstrokes over Figure, 2012. Egg tempera on canvas. Photo: SF.

hyun sook song 4 brushstrokes over figure

Wastelands: contemporary Chinese art at OVADA

cai yuan untitled
I went exploring this weekend to a warehouse in a less-than-popular part of Oxford, to see a show of contemporary Chinese art. The space is run by OVADA – the Oxfordshire Visual Arts Development Agency – and the show was Wastelands, a group exhibition around themes of consumption and waste.

I enjoyed the colourful contributions from Cai Yuan (b. 1956), who also co-curated the show. His large untitled installation uses cut sections of cardboard boxes painted in bright acrylics, suspended in the air and cascading over the floor in wasteful abandonment.

In his ISMS series, he presents single-colour panels, the paint lightly inscribed with words ending in –ism. I was expecting mainly political vocabulary, but it ranges much wider: for instance, “narcissism, sensualism, materialism, hacktivism, globalism, romanticism …”. The panels are arranged in pairs, so you can’t help but puzzle over them, wondering why A has been paired with B and so on.

Text is also foremost in Labels of Desire by Wessieling, comprised of placards with phoney fashion-industry labeling designed to prod your social conscience, such as “Made in Italy, Sewed by Chinese”. This reminded me a little of the Xu Bing installation Backbone, seen during my visit to LACMA, which used the visual cue of tobacco stencils to focus our attention on the plight of workers in the tobacco industry.

Other works include a baffling hotel-themed installation by Hua Mao First Floor Collective, and a deeply unwholesome film with zombies by Cao Fei (b. 1978). I confess I was left underwhelmed by the Ai Weiwei contribution, a film called Ordos 100 (2012) that documents architects trying (and failing) to build a new city in inner Mongolia. I didn’t have time for a full viewing, but the pace felt slow and the action stilted.

Overall, a show that I really wanted to see but then wasn’t fully convinced by.

Wastelands
OVADA, Oxford
17 July to 9 August 2015 (now closed)

You can view the film Ordos 100 on YouTube.

Above: Cai Yuan, Untitled, 2015. Acrylic on cardboard. Photo: SF.

Below: Cai Yuan, ISMS Series, 2015. Oil on canvas. Photo: SF.
cai yuan isms series
Below: Wessieling,
Labels of Desire, 2015 (left of photo). Laser cut and etched MDF. Photo: SF.
wessieling labels of desire
Below: Wessieling,
Labels of Desire, 2015 (detail). Laser cut and etched MDF. Photo: SF.
wessieling labels of desire detail v2
Below: Sun Yi, Untitled, 2015. Wires and nails on board. Photo: SF.
sun yi untitled