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チェックと日本の現代美術界についての感想

Mika Ninagawa

2009年11月17日


There is no better indicator of the disconnect between the Japan art/photography scene and the rest of the world than the career of Mika Ninagawa. In Japan, she is a superstar – correction, a supernova – who dwarfs the likes of Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara in the pop cultural pantheon. In 2008-9, her ever popular shows and best selling books and magazines were given a fine art sheen by several major exhibitions. Her selection for Yuko Hasegawa’s Space For Your Future at MOT made perfect sense, with her recreation of the total enclosed space of a deep red teenage girl’s bedroom. A large retrospective show then has travelled this year from Tokyo Opera City Gallery to various prominent sites around the country.

For me, the show “Woman” which I saw at Omotesando Hills in late 2007, is the key. The basement exhibit hall of this rather dull shopping mall was transformed into a fantastic rose strewn boudoir; inside, what we saw was “just” a collection of 100 portraits of iconic women in Japan – but what portraits! With her signature saturated colours, the drama of costume play, and the knowing conspiracy of her subjects, it was a series of unique, masterpiece portrayals (portraits being one of the most under-estimated of contemporary art forms). One after the other. Her definitive captures of her muses Anna Tsuchiya and Kyoko Fukada, or older icons such as Yayoi Kusama, were only topped by Ninagawa’s own self portrait, several months pregnant with a pistol in hand, angry against a red and white flag (see my catalogue/program below). The whole show was a stunning commentary on the meaning of woman today in Japan. I think it underlined more than anything how, in this still deeply chauvinistic, sluggishly masculine society, so much that is actually moving is driven by women. And Ninagawa above all asserts control over her work as a woman. The story of her childbirth and her intimate family relations with her famous theatre director father, Yukio Ninagawa, have played out publicly in the press, yet she is always the very centre of her own world. You see it in the photos: very rarely does she shoot men. This is a woman’s world, with often as not never ever a man in a sight.

Ninagawa deserves her fame, then, yet the paradoxical fact is: she is completely unknown outside of Japan. Works that sell fast for a few thousand dollars in Japan are unsellable in the US and Europe (hip Japanese art T-shirts face a similar translation problem – they are all way too expensive). I know, for example, that a few of Ninagawa’s works were consigned to Sue Hancock’s art space Royal/T in LA, and are now a sparkling permanent feature in the gallery/shop – but Americans just don’t know how to evaluate it. A gallerist I met in Copenhagen had, like me, been seduced by her works, only to organise a show that drew little attention from Danish art aficionados.

For sure, too, her value as fine art in Japan is also precarious, despite the very strong efforts of Tomio Koyama Gallery to present her in a more serious light. She needs good curation. The Tokyo Opera City show was a mess, with rooms dwarfing the photos, scuffed floors where there should have been pristine, perfect environments, and a botched reworking of the “Woman” show on one wall. I much prefer her portraits and the older travel photography of her greatest inspiration – Mexico – than all the flowers and fishes. Still, the show broke box office records.

Her little rooms, though, are gorgeous installations: the basement last year at the new Ebisu NADiff book store, full of precious memorabilia, for example. Her fan base is enormous, she doesn’t need foreign sales. And to the outside eye that has discovered her, there is no-one in Japan who captures the glamour, style and iconography of urban Tokyo at its best – a distinctly women’s Tokyo – better than Ninagawa. This is a genuinely “cool Japan”, much more than the cheesy visions of seedy male otaku paradise Akihabara, that are so more well known in the West thanks to Superflat and the like .

I published an interview with Ninagawa with Martin Wong, co-editor of the LA based Giant Robot last year, around the time I also organised a small show of her work with related events at UCLA, accompanied by the evocative (and very different) street photography of Mikiko Hara. You can read the interview here:

http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/soc/faculty/favell/GR%20mika-article.pdf

And there is an introduction to the UCLA events (with further links) here:

http://www.csw.ucla.edu/Newsletter/May08/May08_favell.pdf

My collaborator was the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography curator, Hiromi Nakamura, who delivered a marvellous critical history of “girl photography” since its heyday in the late 1990s in Japan, to a debate with specialists at the Hammer Museum, UCLA. A selection of the images and Nakamura’s full text can be found in the catalogue/program here:

http://www.sscnet.ucla.edu/soc/faculty/favell/jwave6.pdf

Still, Mika Ninagawa remains “lost in translation”. This is a puzzling issue, that requires some kind of explanation. It gives us a clue to understand the paradoxes of the very occasional successes and much more frequent failures in the internationalisation of Japanese art. The one thing that I thought was really “uncool” at the “Woman” show in Omotesando Hills was the tacky Hollywood PR shot of Paris Hilton amongst all the Japanese stars. In that shot, Ninagawa was “just” another Japanese magazine photographer in an all-American PR machine. In all the others, she was a brilliant window to a whole society, with a coherent vision. I hope she continues to mature with the Japanese women stars that have made her work so indelible as a portrait of modern Japan.

“Mika Ninagawa: Earthly Flowers, Heavenly Colors”, currently at Otani Memorial Art Museum Nishinomiya City, Hyogo.

“Flower Addict”, at Tomio Koyama Gallery, Kyoto [until 21 Nov]



ADRIAN FAVELL
http://www.adrianfavell.com

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