July 30, 2004  #540
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Since the late 19th century, Japanese art has been schizophrenically split into yoga (Western-style) and nihonga (Japanese-style). The latter arose as a self-conscious response to the inroads of the former. Nevertheless, when nihonga took up the challenge of Western art, it was unable to avoid borrowing some of its ideas, most notably the romantically inflated concept of the “divine” artist. But instead of Michelangelo or van Gogh, nihonga found its role models in the elite artist/craftsmen of the Rinpa school. The Yamatane Museum of Art’s exhibition What Did Nihonga Learn from Rinpa? uses 50 mainly large works to look at echoes of the school in the works of 20th-century nihonga artists. Particularly worth seeing is Kaii Higashiyama’s vast seascape Rising Tide and Gyoshu Hayami’s Falling Camellias.

Through Dec 25. See exhibition listings (Ginza/ Kyobashi/ Tokyo) for details. CBL

Giveaway!
Metropolis is offering readers ten free tickets to “What Did Nihonga Learn from Rinpa?” For your chance to see this excellent exhibition, email the following information by Wednesday, December 17, to editor@metropolis.co.jp:

1. Name; 2. Address; 3. Age; 4. Home country; 5. Last exhibition you visited

Include the text “Nihonga” in the subject line. Winners will be selected at random.


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By Andrew Conti

Jiro Takamatsu: Universe of His Thought

Fukuoka City Bank reception room, 1971
Courtesy of Fuchu Art Museum

Questioning the nature of existence? Wondering about the true substance of things around you instead of settling for simple classifications and language? Do notions of absence and the painted form plague your sleepless summer nights?

It is just such questions and ideas that propelled Jiro Takamatsu into art and writing. Born in 1936, Takamatsu became an artist of some note in the anti-art and Fluxus-driven '60s and '70s, and he spent his artistic life consumed by such deeply intellectual modes of thought. Through August 16, the aptly named "Jiro Takamatsu: The Universe of His Thought" exhibition at the Fuchu Art Museum attempts to contain and explain this artist and his expanding realms of thought, process, and creation.

Works such as Point, a series of black-hole-like mixed-media blotches at the center of their grounds, and Shadow, a large series of works depicting the shadows of people and statues, are meditations on absence. Although somewhat heavy on the metaphor, these works show Takamatsu's painterly obsession with what can and cannot be put down on canvas. Shadow in particular is a reality-warping series of paintings with enough inherent visual interest and trickery to encourage double-takes and continued viewing.

Table and Chairs in Perspective, 1966, wood and lacquer, 95x122x210cm
Courtesy of Tokyo National Museum of Contemporary Art

More metaphysical issues appear in other works throughout the exhibit. Oneness is a series of blocks of granite, brick and wood whose centers have been excavated and pulverized. The detritus is then returned to the carved holes, creating an illustrated question: What is the thingness of being a thing? Smashing of Everything (1972) further questions our definitions of materials, as two wooden boxes hold the debris of numerous pieces of metal, plastic and wood.

Elsewhere, Takamatsu embraces letters and numerals as simple and direct materials to express himself. Recorded in a series of photographs, a mid-'70s performance, Stone and Numeral, has Takamatsu painting numbers between zero and one on rocks alongside the Tama River. Here the artist seems in search of a direct and personal method of relating to and being part of the physical universe. The numbers document his relationship and examine the complexity that exists between the first two ordinals.

A similar strategy is adopted in the artist's nauseatingly work-intensive confrontation with the Roman alphabet in story (1972). Here Takamatsu creates seemingly endless combinations of the alphabet in a forceful attempt to work with language as an artistic medium.

Smashing of Everything, 1972, wood boxes and various materials, 17x35x35cm
Courtesy of Fuchu Art Museum

In later pieces, Takamatsu returned to oil painting and created several works as part of his form series. Accompanying drawings show countless iterations of Takamatsu's ideal form being perfected, but in the paintings the form itself feels overwhelmed and lost amid the pastel colors of the palette.

The most captivating works in the exhibition are undoubtedly the numerous sketches and notes kept for each piece. Meticulously displayed alongside the "finished" works, they include pencil drawings, gouaches, erasures and torn-paper collages. These exhibition-stealing images reveal the commitment and obsessive level of thought that lead to such concept-driven yet richly visual works.

Takamatsu's deep questioning and philosophical interests can appear intimidating, but this detailed accounting of his work and life reveals the intensity of his dedication and the resultant beauty of his refined artistic investigations. One would only ask for a few more English translations to make this important artist's thoughts more accessible to the international community.


Fuchu Art Museum Until Aug 15. 1-3 Sengencho, Fuchu. Tel: 042-336-3371. Tue-Sun 10am-5pm. Adm: Adults ¥600, students ¥300. Keio line, Higashi-Fuchu stn. www.art.city.fuchu.tokyo.jp