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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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763: Treasures by Rinpa Masters
761: Yokohama Triennale 2008
759: Vermeer & The Delft Style
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By Andrew Conti

Julian Opie: Films and Paintings

Scai hosts 14 works by the renowned British artist

Breakfast was served by…, 2005
Images courtesy of Shiraishi Contemporary Art

Soft blue-greens stretch in and over dreamy
but clearly defined black edges of mountains, lakes and deep umber trees. A single wormy line comprises an all but emotionless mouth set just below two black marble eyes. The actual disappears, and the universe is made over in a series of signs. The universe is that of British artist Julian Opie.

Known for his pop interpretations of the portrait—glamorized in mainstream media through the cover art on British rockers Blur’s best-of album—Julian Opie’s simple and economical aesthetic recalls images from video games or comic books.

His works originate in the everyday spaces or people orbiting his life. Then, through a process of paring down that expands the pictographic and personal energy, these images are transformed into brightly colored icons of the object they represent. What emerge are signs of an individual reality, at once joyfully accessible and art-historically aware.

The portraits at this current exhibition are typical examples of Opie’s classically inspired poses reworked in stylized outlines and his anime-like facial features. Hijiri with Book and Hirofumi with File (all works 2005) both resonate with deep puppy dog eyes staring slightly upward in melodramatic intensity from the flat planes of their faces. In these works the heads tilt slightly and the hands fold together over objects of modern office mundanity in a manner that directly connects them with the conventions of historical portraiture.

The road climbed still higher…, 2005

A trio of computer animations and videos stand out as the show’s most compelling works. Displayed on mid-sized flat HDTV screens, the images are at first glance barely distinguishable from the painted portraits and landscapes on canvas. They are not the effect-heavy, full-motion videos to which the contemporary eye is accustomed, but instead subtle plays on the painted works with only the quietest bit of motion ticking within them.

Woman with Evening Dress is—as the name implies—another portrait, but in this animation the minimal lines of the subject’s face shift slightly over time. Her expression goes through several coy emotions and expressions brought on by the lifting of an eyebrow or the stretching of the mouth’s line. As I headed… is a landscape of serene, snow-covered blue mountains at the base of which a lake ripples and sparkles with reflections of the sky. The minute drama of these videos creates an undeniably alluring and comfortable space to be in. They are comic book dreams of reality, keyhole glimpses of Opie’s universe, and further stretch the boundaries of his previous repertoire of sculpture and painting.

I had been passing…, 2005

A similar presence of personal vision coalesced into visual reality exists throughout Opie’s landscape paintings. These are the works of a sophisticated eye creating a digitized paradise. I had been passing… is a seemingly spontaneous view of a blue forested landscape looking out over a mountain, but two umber tree trunks bisect the canvas and create a playful, abstract quality.

For an artist of such joyfully enlightening imagery as Julian Opie, Scai The Bath house serves as the perfect home for a Tokyo exhibition. Its quirky structure as a renovated sento makes for one of the most enjoyable galleries of contemporary art in the country. Brightened by his pulsing colors and pop universal makeover charms, the gallery seems an extension of the slightly fantastic and modestly iconic world of Julian Opie.

Scai The Bathhouse, until June 18. See exhibition listings for details.


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