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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

Miwa Yanagi

The celebrated artist conjures contemporary visions of familiar fairy stories at the Hara Museum

Snow White, gelatin silver print, 100x100cm, 2004
photos courtesy of The Hara Museum of Contemporary Art

Miwa Yanagi’s surreal photography mixes elements as diverse as fairy tale illustrations and film noir with a flair more commonly associated with makeup artists and theatrical tableau. The effect, as seen in the Hara Museum’s “The Incredible Tale of the Innocent Old Lady and the Heartless Young Girl,” is an absorbing and suspenseful cinematic imagery that posits an eerie mixture of romanticism and dark humor.
Gleaning its title from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s short story of grand-parental abuse, “The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and Her Heartless Grandmother,” this exhibition—Yanagi’s first major solo solo museum show in Tokyo—offers 18 large-scale photographs as well as three video installations that are predominantly part of her latest series entitled “Fairy Tale.”

Unlike her earlier “Elevator Girl” works, for which she’s most famous, the “Fairy Tale” images abandon CGI replicants of uniformed women for a cast of adolescent girls covered by masks and copious layers of latex to create the effect of aged and often hideous witch-like figures. Their forms become an unresolved amalgam of beautiful young maidens and repugnant old crones with leathery appendages of elderly flesh reaching out from bodies that also sport more youthful limbs.

The large-format black and white photographs of “Fairy Tale” pull archetypal imagery of confrontations between young and old women from well-known tales of the Brothers Grimm and rework them into complex narratives of body, age and mythology. Their apparent familiarity is variously cut apart and coyly reconfigured, or boldly and comically stood upon its head. Snow White (2005), for example, finds the wicked stepmother’s elderly face offering her own youthful body a poison apple amid a pool of dramatic shadow, while in Gretel (2005), a young girl vacantly gnaws on the outstretched finger of an unseen witch as viewers are left to wonder which of the two is the tale’s antagonist captor.

Fortunetelling, video, 2005

Elsewhere in the museum’s galleries, the short film Suna Onna (2005) applies a similar vocabulary of fairy tale symbolism in a far more personal form. The engrossing tale follows the story of a granddaughter retelling her grandmother’s meeting with the Suna Onna (which translates as “Sand Woman”) as a child. The open-ended video, while lacking the immediate visual intensity of the photographs, unravels a compelling tale of transformation and the supernatural.

Fortunetelling (2005), another video work, lingers on an unnaturally slow scene of two young girls made up as elderly witches and two girls with no makeup sitting at a small table. One false hag and one young girl flip through a deck of tarot cards, while above them another maiden and her masked opposite push and wrestle one another. This visually delicate work hangs on the wall like a painting come to life. Its measured and repetitive gestures invite speculation about the struggle between young and old and a seemingly unending but unresolved obsession with fate.

“The Incredible Tale of the Innocent Old Lady and the Heartless Young Girl” provokes (but never preaches) consideration of ideas both fanciful and feminist. Beyond its immediate play on conventional female identities in fantasy stories, Yanagi’s sophisticated visual language offers a theater of suggestions that prods our fears of aging and loss while simultaneously blaspheming global worship of youthful innocence and Disney-fied systems of beauty and value.

Hara Museum of Contemporary Art, until Nov 6. See exhibition listings for details.


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