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exhibitions
ARTIFACTS

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

Tapies

The Spanish artist’s retrospective world tour makes its lone stop in Japan

Personage with Cats, 169x89cm, oil on canvas, 1948
Photos Courtesy of private collection, Barcelona

The works of Antoni Tapies are AT play somewhere between sculpture and painting. They hang, covered with calligraphy, coated in dirt, dipped in cement and tied in knots along the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art’s smooth white walls. Unlike many of his great Spanish predecessors who are so celebrated in the annals of Western art lore, Tapies shies away from the grandiose, insisting on the small, visually reserved and banal. His works celebrate a playful absurdity and delight in assigning an importance to the shape of a button or the depth of a bathtub.

Cross and R (1975), one of the few pieces representing the midway point of Tapies’ career, reveals a fascination for natural elements like dirt and gravel, as well as a compulsion for Zen-inspired calligraphies, which recur throughout much of his work. Covered in sandy dirt and layers of gravel, its rough plywood ground is mindfully marked with repeating crosses and R’s that are carved by fingers, painted in tar-like black paint, and formed from paint-encrusted cloth.

Egg-basket and Newspaper, 31x28x24cm, mixed media, 1970

Tapies’ interest in and kinship with Zen philosophies becomes evident in the careful attention to simplicity in later works like Varnish and Black (1982). Here, a wide wash of black paint and a swirly stain of yellowing varnish converse in frozen contemplation at the center of a grayed canvas.

In paintings like Strainer and Cup (1998), Tapies breaks the picture plane and explores more sculptural interpretations of his paintings. At the painting’s center, and in a jocular play between two- and three-dimensional media, a white cup and small tea strainer sit encircled in a maroon mass of spongy paint. Other later paintings like Scales (1990) and Four (1992) also stretch away from the ground and poke serious fun at the divisions of painting and sculpture. Simplistically geometric and variously scratched and spilled upon, these paintings are at once a contemporary and humorous search through the process of painting for the innate complexity of the overlookable.

The rest of the exhibition highlights work from throughout Tapies’ career in a manner that demonstrates the general consistency of his palette and imagery. Personage with Cats (1948) and the sculpture Egg-basket and Newspaper (1970) are two particularly notable deviations. The former features a totemic yellow figure breathing out a fiery green bird and surrounded by violet-hued black cats while standing on the familiar browns and grays of Tapies’ palette. While such explicit narrative disappears from the artist’s later paintings, the symbolic nature of this piece alludes to the highly suggestive surrealist themes running throughout all of his work.

Two Knots, 150x150cm, paint and assemblage on canvas, 2001

Egg-basket and Newspaper is one of just a few pieces of pure sculpture in the show. Its simple construction of found and manipulated objects offers an acute distillation of Tapies’ attraction to the commonplace and forgotten.

Each detail of this and many of Tapies’ pieces—as with great Zen brushworks—return the viewer to gratifying truths of our surroundings and the elevating joys of noticing. Yet Tapies is a pusher of boundaries, and he’s on the vanguard of Spanish art veering distinctly from the Picassos, Miros, and Dalis before him. In the various iterations of his vision we find an artist as sneaky and mischievous as he is calm and reverential of the infinite possibilities of the world around us.

Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, until May 29. See exhibition listings for details.

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