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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 Jeff Michael Hammond

Yasumasa Morimura: Los Nuevos Caprichos

A Japanese artist brings Goya’s satire into the 21st century

Dedicated To La Duquesa de Alba/White Alba, 2004, color photograph on canvas, 90x60cm, ed. 10
Photos courtesy of Shugo Arts

Some of our most enduring images of artists dave been their own self-portraits, be it those of Leonardo, Dürer, Van Gogh or Frida Kahlo. Since painters in the Renaissance managed to establish a place for the genre in European art, artists have returned to it again and again as a way to explore the age-old question of identity.

And yet it’s rare to find artists who devote almost their entire careers to painting themselves—until, that is, Yasumasa Morimura came along. His colorful, and somewhat kitsch, photographic works are not simply self-portraits, though. Starting by casting himself as the tormented artist in a re-take of a Van Gogh self-portrait in 1985, Morimura has been painting his own face into updated versions of important historical artworks for two decades.

Iconic images from popular culture have also been given the Morimura touch. In a series of portraits of female stars, he took on Marilyn Monroe and Marlene Dietrich, to name just two.
Morimura’s latest exhibition, “Los Nuevos Caprichos,” currently up at Shugo Arts, follows this trend. This time, though, his new works are based on a series of prints by Francisco de Goya.

The Los Caprichos series is the most famous and perhaps the most important part of Goya’s output. Finished in 1799 during a time of political suppression in his native Spain, it offered a satirical picture of the avarice and corruption of the ruling classes and the church of the day. Unsurprisingly, when the Inquisition caught wind of the prints, Goya hastily withdrew them from sale.

Morimura may be working in a much more open climate today, but he obviously feels that Goya’s themes are still relevant now.

Look, This Is in Fashion! 2004, type C print, 160x120cm, ed. 5.

Look, This Is in Fashion! points to what can often be the vanity and ridiculousness of sartorial trends. Morimura drops us a hint, as he often does, to bring the context right up to date, this time cladding the fashion victims in pink high-heeled shoes. In “One way ticket” Is Out of Fashion, mobile phones and laptop computers are used in a similar way, replacing a hand mirror and lady’s fan in Goya’s original. Just where any deeper meaning is to be found, however, seems to be less clear.

One of the exhibition’s highlights is Morimura’s assumption of the figure of the Duchess of Alba, a close friend whose portrait Goya was apparently able to paint accurately from memory. Here she/he is depicted in both white dress and, recently widowed, in black. Morimura’s attention to the minutiae of fashion is precise, with the vivid hue of the red sash in the White Alba particularly striking.

That Morimura relentlessly, but not exclusively, appears in female roles is no doubt connected to his own sexual identity, but this male/female juxtaposition is just one of a number of oppositions in his work: traditional vs. modern, Western vs. Asian, and public vs. private.

What all this adds up to is another matter. Morimura’s work is certainly fun, but there is also the nagging sense that he’s a little too earnest in his wish to be considered a serious artist. After all, an extensive knowledge of art history doesn’t guarantee a place in it yourself. More tangible depth, as was shown in his Frida Kahlo works, might be needed for that. Even so, “Los Nuevos Caprichos” is pure, dazzling Morimura.

Shugo Arts, until July 2. See Kayabacho exhibition listings for details.


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