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チェックと日本の現代美術界についての感想

When Will Aida Be Famous?

2010年1月7日


Any foreign observer coming to terms with the contemporary art scene in Japan today will eventually pose themselves this one plaintive question: When will Makoto Aida be famous?

Makoto Aida: the original 60s bad boy, the most revered intellectual-artist of his generation in Japan, and the originator of many of the most consistently edgy and distinctive ideas identified now with Japanese superflat/otaku contemporary art of the 1990s... When will he be appreciated? I don’t mean in Tokyo, of course. In fact, it sometimes feels like Aida has some kind of franchise deal going with Bijutsu Techo. He is always all over the place: in galleries, talk shows, cram classes, openings. You cannot move for Aida in Tokyo. But I mean internationally. Is he doomed to be forever the nearly man of Japanese contemporary art?

Certainly, he has been seeking more visibility lately. Participation in recent shows in New York (“Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video From Japan”) and San Francisco (“Wallworks” at the Yerba Buena Center), with safely packaged talks “introducing” him to a sceptical public, have brought him back to the US (the 2003, post 9/11 showing of his Zeros bombing New York City didn’t go down so well at the Whitney...). His huge wall mural (image above), that debuted in San Francisco, is a big feature piece of the current “Twist and Shout” show in Bangkok. Mizuma Gallery, too, keeps up a steady supply of Aida publications – even now a DVD in English – to promote their signature house artist, this goofy, mercurial, chain-smoking, mid-40s figure, whose talent as a student was immediately recognised and taken under the ambitious patronage of Sueo Mizuma. Prices in the Asian market are rising, they say, and it doesn’t hurt either that Ryutaro Takahashi’s love affair with Japanese cotemporary, after Yayoi Kusama, was ignited by Aida. 30,000 people a month – it is said – saw his joint retrospective at Ueno Royal Museum with Akira Yamaguchi in 2007 (although I was there, and 95% of the public were there for the cult graphics)



One of my favourite (sad) stories about the plight of Aida involves those other famous bad boys of contemporary art, the Chapman Brothers. Brought together for the show “Lonely Planet” at Mito, they and Aida got on like a house on fire. No surprises there. The Chapmans wanted to bring him to London. Mizuma duly followed up, sending all the back catalogue to Jay Jopling at White Cube, only to have the package come back return to sender practically unopened. They just didn’t get it. Huge plastic dioramas of model Nazis killing each other in an orgy of violence don’t seem to face the same problem as loving sculptures of edible Mi-Mi chan. Everyone (in the West) loves a good war movie – as long as its about nasty Germans. But don’t count on M. Pinault or Mr Saatchi buying up Aida’s uncomfortable sensoga paintings any time soon. In this respect, Murakami’s Japan is so much more marketable than Aida’s. Superflat, which featured Aida’s Giant Member as one of its stars, was in many respects Aida-light all the way: a string of unknown graphic artists and friends of Murakami parading cheap, straight-off-the-streets-of-Akihabara lolikom fetichism, but repackaged in plastic, slick, airbrushed, theorised style that stayed just the right side of titillating or shocking. Japanese kitsch, not Japanese hardcore. The rest is history.



It is all about production values, of course: those carefully airbrushed translations, which modulated unhinged otaku ravings for the sensitive tastes of star struck Los Angelenos and politically correct New Yorkers. Aida is just pure unadulterated Tokyo Trash, often as ugly and in your face as the crows in Yoyogi Park as the sun goes down. For a long time he refused translations. Plus Aida gives his own self-defeating game away at the start of the DVD, when he admits his voracious appetite for ideas, tends to lead to an inevitable “falling away” in the final product. You cannot brand and mass market this kind of restless art. The technical wizardry may be marvellous, and the ideas unbelieveable. But Monument for Nothing, in a world of high resolution Taschen art books, easily looks like a half-baked collection of mad ideas thrown together by an art school professor. For every moment of sheer inspiration – for me, this would include Azemichi, Ai-chan bonsai, war paintings, Osama Bin Laden, and the homeless cardboard castle – there are just as many duff items and hungover gags that should have just been left in the closet – monster dog turds, amputated girls, onigiri men, pregnancy snaps, drunken party jokes.



That’s Aida, a Y100 slot machine of ideas, and that’s why he is so loved by the Tokyo art world. They are willing to follow him – whether dashing of a wall of lurid intestines, or sitting musing about dirty old men and school girls on a park bench in Ueno (one of the fun stories he tells in the recent Tokyo guidebook by the Showa 40 nen kai) – because Aida seems to mirror all of its joys, its frustrations, its bile, and its beauty.

Making Aida famous, is the passion of a colleague of mine at UCLA, the young former MOCA curator, Gabriel Ritter, who has been writing a much-awaited book (in Japanese and English) on Aida. Ritter is one of a number of serious, ambitious, American-trained, Japanologists/curators who might be able to help him. Ritter’s Tokyo Nonsense show in LA during the summer of 2008 put on the best of post-Aida art in a hip LA art gallery context, and he wants to bring it back to a suitably scruffy and shitamachi style location in Tokyo sometime soon. Aida needs people like Ritter. One of Aida’s most brilliant and funny moves was also one of his most self-defeating: the refusal to communicate in English, which reached a peak, appropriately during his Yokohama Triennial show, built around his self-assisting suicide machine (that didn’t ever work). Aida is right of course. Why should he speak English? To do otherwise is to play the game of global art, an American colonial game these days. Why should he provide anything more than a battered, half-way useless dictionary to explain Mutant Hanako – to defective observers like me or anyone else who happens to wander into the vaudeville street show of contemporary Tokyo as a naïve, impressionable foreigner. You’ve got to admire the coglione... Yet its Maurizio Cattelan we see on the Venice walls not Aida. Moreover, Monument to Nothing, as well as some of his most recent wall art and girly photos, look and feel like a monument to the bygone 1990s. A lot of Aida’s best ideas, flattened and amputated as they got transmitted around the world in more Western-friendly style, now are more a part of art history. Are the new ideas still coming?

With the inevitable cigarette and can of Sapporo in hand. Aida may still have the last laugh. Flicking through the catalogues or the DVD, you see all the young collaborators and co-conspirators crowding round him, including the now ubiquitous Chim Pom gang, the hilarious method acting Eri-chan who used to model for him, the effervescent Ichiro Endo. There is also the brilliant work of his wife Hiroko Okada, that – extraordinarily – manages to turn out Aida-influenced work in a feminist way. Beyond this, there are all the gallerists and writers who have come under his sway – many during the headiest years of Mizuma in the early 2000s, when the gallery was a late night drinking den and a hot house of ideas for a conceptual Japanese art. And some of the most important people who were there at the time still simply can’t forget Aida in their selections... (So we will be seeing him in David Elliott’s big new Japanese show in New York in early 2011). There is, in other words, a real “school” of art here, an Aida school, of which his contemporaries may be jealous. Like a parent slowly resigning himself to the declining years of middle age, Aida may yet still fulfill some of his wildest ambitions—in his children.



Adrian Favell
http://www.adrianfavell.com

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When Will Aida Be Famous?
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