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チェックと日本の現代美術界についての感想

松井えり菜の日の出

2012年4月7日


I wonder how many people actually made it down to Kurashiki -- fifty kilometres south west of Okayama -- to see Erina Matsui's Sunrise before it closed this weekend (that's Erina's unofficial title, it was called "Artist Meets Kurashiki Vol.9")? Only hard core fans? I had to fly all the way from Paris.



At her graduation show in Spring 2010 at Yamamoto Gendai, Erina seemed tired out from keeping up with the growing list of collector's pre-orders. That big Takahashi sale, for example (the Erina universe painting on four screens) seemed to cost her a lot; and the straight commercial gallery format seemed a restricting format, even with the karaoke and cosplay performances to liven it up.

Being given a museum to play around in seems to have liberated a new burst of creative energy. Besides the neo-classical facade, Ohara museum is a classic edo style construction around a garden. It has a rather sleek annexe where they put the Japanese modern classics (the originals by Kishida and local hero Torajiro Kojima, for example), as well as a downstairs, that has a nice spread of gutai, minimalism, 80s pop art, and even some contemporary works. Thumbs up for for the Kumi Machida, the Yusuke Asai, and Rompers, that sweet and sickly Bjork-type video by Motohiko Odani, which I watch again with a couple of fifty something salary men.

But they put Erina in the main museum, that is still waiting for a re-fit, and perhaps has been since the 60s: its rather shabby 30s mock classic architecture, its worn felt carpets, its saggy wallpaper, its holes and rips in the infrastructure everywhere, its pension age staff. There's ugly lighting in claustrophobic windowless rooms, and lots of heavy ponderous European classical and modernist art hung on strings from faded wooden beams. Mr Ohara must have devised all this as an art history lesson for the common people. It's dusty and smelly and no fun at all. Except for Erina, that is.



Her works at this first proper solo show soon have the busy Sunday morning tourist crowd chuckling. "Sugoi des yo!" says one young couple (about the only couple I see under 45, and the only ones who looked like they might live in a major city). I hadn't worked this out before, but an Erina show is perfect for a populist audience. It's not for me, the ex-pat European professor, with a distinguished publications list on Russian literature or something; it's a big fat box of pink, soft and squelchy mochi, wrapped in glittery paper, ideal for a big and boring Japanese town museum where the crowds are only here for the package tour hotel rooms, omiage shops and the local lacquerware (or whatever it is they make around here) -- and don't have a clue what they are looking at. Most of them today were here to see the Ferrari sports car rally that was bizarrely polluting the streets of the normally-pedestrian only historical town centre. Later, I find out the museum has 300,000 visitors a year.

Erina welcomes them all in with a big grin and girlish charm: to start with an Uparupa galaxy painting on screens and a table full of good luck charms. There is a bamboo kadomatsu, also a pink, plastic toy version version of what looks like Johnnie Walker's legendary dog Bacon, with a nodding head (actually it's a dragon, to celebrate the New Year). I'm wondering where the next works are: instead of slowly plodding around and appreciating the classics, I'm doing this all wrong; I'm really only interested in seeing Erina's works, and rush to find them. I have to follow the rigidly planned out museum route up and down stairs via the middle ages, French impressionism, minor Picassos and Giacomettis, and modernist abstractions. This too is the point: Erina's works become surprise interventions in the otherwise deadly museum space. A treasure hunt amidst the fossils. The kindly septugenarian art guide waves me in the right direction, the old ladies smile as I take fervid notes. The next three works by Erina -- Erina as an octopus (a local delicacy), Uparupa as a still life, and a Renaissance style religious icon -- sit opposite an absurd Madonna and Gabriel painting by El Greco (quite likely to be a fake given the dubious origins of a lof of 80s acqusitions in Japanese): the icon piece has Erina-donna peeking through the golden saintly key hole, an antique she acquired in Russia, she tells me later.



This is one of her pretty, idoru type self-portraits, where she is sweet and blank like a shojo manga; downstairs it's back to the scary, ribald self-portraits.

All the signature stylings are there and more vivid than ever: the flesh wrinkles, the nose warts shine, the little facial hairs bristle; everything is all close up and personal in the bathroom mirror. Don't squeeze that spot. She even seems to be growing a beard in one of the two round bauble paintings. In fact, this one is her first ever "collaboration" (i.e., a painting of someone else) -- "me and you" -- in which her face blends into that of one of her most avid collectors. It's an intriguing first break from solipsism.

Erina told me off when I used the word "grotesque" before. No, it's all very beautiful. There are tables of stuff from her bedroom/studio: more toys, trinkets, a punching doll, jewelry, lots of Uparupas calmly holding court. A shrine of sorts. Erina tells me its a kind of Hina-matsuri table, and that she is -- of course -- Uparupa. In another painting she becomes an apple with a 105 degree fever. There is a also a collaboration (a pastiche + Erina) with Manet's Water Lillies and a Russian-style surrealist matrioska (Russian doll).

In the final room there are some cosplay type photos, another new departure; with sort of 1950s A list Hollywood stylings (a commercial collaboration with a fashion designer). Erina is inheriting Yayoi Kusama: becoming a character, with obsessions, hangers on (a queue of young earnest male Japanese artists ready to carry her bags), any number of outfits and persona, and a long line of branding products. More poignantly, there are a lot of empty frames hanging everywhere; sometimes ornate, sometimes handmade in paper mâché, another theme running through the show. Erina later explains that in the old days the painting was the man, and the frame -- the decoration -- was the woman. Nowadays, the frame can stand apart.

The big show piece work in the final room, "Erina Sunrise", is heralded by a golden frame hanging independently at some remove, with lots of purple silk lavished on the walls; a grandiose installation. The museum bought this one, along with two others. The universe expands, the stars shine, the gods fly; and Erina appears as Mount Fuji, with the sunrise exploding over its crest.



For me, though, the biggest highlights, in a calorie and cholestrol packed show, are the two unannounced works smuggled in like a Banksy raid into the main gallery. Erina went back to Kurashiki, to the museum she used to visit as as a child, and had a good look around. She then faked two of Ohara's most famous works, two paintings representing high modernism in the museum, West and East: one by Gauguin, a heavy set dark haired naked native island woman; the other by Japanese 20s master, Ryusei Kishida, the little brown dancing girl in a red kimono and white socks. The copies are close appoximations, with small Erina references smuggled in -- an Uparupa here, a cute horsey face there -- executed lavishly on a cheap cardboard "canvas" with a frame made out of cheap haberdashers tape. She then cut out the faces in the cardboard so that she can put her face in the painting and become the girls. It's just right: she looks like them; a perfect selection from the collection. Brilliant knees up vaudeville, like on Brighton Pier or Coney Island. At the opening of the show, Erina made her big appearance in front of an adoring local crowd, with Kishida's Little Dancing Girl literally hung on her face: as if she was the model all along. The little sly smile is eery.

It's too much. No; there's more. The museum shop even becomes an Erina show! There's some products, postcards, a folder, a cuddly Uparupa for 5000Y. And by the door, as at Yamamoto Gendai, waving farewell, a little blonde Blythe doll wearing an Erina designed outfit.

I was meant to meet Erina that evening, but she phoned to say she was busy in Tokyo. Instead, I took the train over the Seto bridge to Shikoku to check off one more contemporary art museum on my Yokoso ! Japan list: MIMOCA, the Genichiro Inokuma Museum of Contemporary Art. The contrast is amazing. Kurashiki is a wealthy tourist town, Marugame a post-industrial slum, where they don't even have a MacDonalds. I asked at the museum if there was any wi-fi anywhere; they couldn't think of anywhere. Even the pachinko parlours are closed around here. The museum, though, is an over-the-top concrete 90s art museum as airport terminal; a sort of windswept remake of the postmodern Arc de Triomphe in la Défense, by Yoshio Taniguchi, all built to house the self findulgent collection of the mediocre modernist Inokuma. There is astonishingly low rate of art works to square feet; and absolutely nothing worth a dime in the main collection.

Despite this, MIMOCA has quite a respectable track record; much of it dating back to when young Yuka Uematsu (now at Osaka National museum, and working with Tabaimo) was curator here: I pick up catalogues by Suda, Yanagi and Koganezawa; Sugimoto did his entire origins of art history sequence here; they once had Marlene Dumas and Steve McQueen shows. When I try to pay with a foreign credit card, the check out girl doesn't know how to make the machine work. It all gets very embarrassing. Soon several of her colleagues are running around all flustered, apologising for everything.

The show today is one of my top favourites, Chiharu Shiota -- the only Japanese contemporary artist I've ever collected -- but it is a sore disappointment. A couple of old wooden boats get rained on; there are some old suitcases piled up in a corner (a copy of some of Chiota's windows installations works); some videos of cute kids. It's all a lazy re-tread of other shows that were much better; Shiota is stretching the talent a bit thinly. I begin to wonder about my investments.

No such disappointment with Erina, and we reschedule our meeting for Tokyo when I get back. I just hope the macarons I brought for her from Paris will still be fresh. I load up on sovernirs, catalogues and postcards and wander out through the gardens, contented, even though I couldn't sneak a photo of Blythe on the way out. I look around this anonymous provincial city on the way back to the station: Erina Matsui's hometown. I blink and look again. For a while all the billboards in Kurashiki have Erina's face.



ADRIAN FAVELL
http://www.adrianfavell.com

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カシオ腕時計
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