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チェックと日本の現代美術界についての感想

Documenta 13

2012年9月23日

OHTAKE SHINRO, MON CHÉRI

I'd lost count of how many people in Japan this summer asked me if I had been to Documenta this year, and since I am back in Europe and had a free weekend, it was time last week to make my first visit to the legendary festival. Documenta is no longer the province only of earnest German art students and wealthy Japanese art lovers on a classic European "art tour". All the world now goes: romantic art couples, girl groups having fun away from their boyfriends/husbands, divorcee lonely hearts looking for an art connection, Asian girls holding hands (can't do that at home!), wisecracking gay male couples from California, harried Berlin parents with young children still trying to have a day out, curious old locals wondering what all the art fuss is about... Art festivals have become the secular, atheist pilgrimage of the modern world, citizens taking a day out from ordinary life, in search of a little beauty and enlightenment in an otherwise dreary everyday world. In other words, it is the modern day version of the old mediaeval pilgrimages, celebrated in works like Chaucer's Canterbury Tales: a poignant and bawdy pageant of ordinary people, from the sublime to the ridiculous, awaiting its poet to tell its tales.


JOSEPH BEUYS, HUNDREDS OF PEOPLE QUEUING OUTSIDE A MUSEUM AT AN ART FESTIVAL (1972, Trees, people, museum)

With so many people tramping around the sites, and so many bodies literally getting in the way of any sublime art experience, the most interesting thing about Documenta now is perhaps not the art but the way it is packaged and consumed. Thousands of punters, endless queues, price gouging at every cafe, tons of souvenirs, angry German volunteers barking orders at people to not cross lines or touch the works, and lots and lots of ordinary looking people wandering blindly around looking at art that has little or no meaning without the copious conceptual texts provided as ludicrously bulkly and overpriced documentation. The mismatch between the art theory heavy curation and the by now populist, entertainment-seeking audience it now attracts is obvious. Wouldn't some of these people just prefer to be at church, a football match or a Lady Gaga concert? Or all we all just over-qualified wannabe creatives, looking for high brow stimulation these days? Already in the queue for tickets in Kassel Bahnhof, the absurdities of all this were satirised in a work by a Turkish artist: an "information video" in which a riot breaks our in an art show queue, irritated, self-entitled middle class people descending into savagery while waiting to get in to see the latest William Kentridge.

So I went treading carefully, following the footsteps of Takashi Murakami and Min Nishihara who, as young artist/curators from Japan in the early 1990s came to Documenta with a scorecard to fill for every work as they plotted to revolutionise the torpid Japanese art scene. My score card, if I had made one, would have been a mixed result. But at least now I have been to Documenta.


OHTAKE SHINRO, MON CHÉRI

My list of priors (must sees) was, in fact, short. As a quote unquote "Japanese contemporary art otaku", there was actually only one Japanese artist to see in this year's selection: Ohtake Shinro. In the context of current art theory trends -- which are all "research" based, and object averse -- his classic pop art might have looked out of place, but in a corner of the huge Kassel park as the sun went down, his mon cheri (モンチェイリ-) snack bar and caravan installation shone like an oasis in a humourless dry desert. An installation in a remote part of the park has to be kind of art wonderland for overgrown children still open to a sense of amazement. Boats and netting had been tossed into the trees; a ramshackle building was collapsing under its own detritus, filled with collections of 50s and 60s pop memorabilia, music and video machines, all kinds of colourful junk. Ohtake's little house took everybody to the back streets of some anonymous, crumbling Japanese town. His work now, of course, invites comparison with Yoshitomo Nara's sheds; both have worked with the Osaka design team, graf. But while Nara's imaginary world is his own private world, full of recursive childhood and student-days reference points, Ohtake plunges the visitor into the everyday flow of ordinary, trashy Japanese city life. Good to see that the catalogue underlines Ohtake's place, rightly, as the first -- and many might argue most important -- of the Japanese neo-pop artists; they even had copies of spectacular MOT retrospective on sale at the bookshop. It is good to know also that the copy I hold won't be the only one in Europe. Has anyone ever seen Ohtake before in Europe? -- I'm not sure.

My other beeline was to see the post-apocalyptic project, News from Nowhere, by Moon Kyungwon and Jeon Joonho. Jeon is a SCAI The Bathhouse artist, and the gallery must be proud of this showing which showcased multiple other collaborations around the core theme with designers, archiects and curators, and an elegant hard back book (totally sold out). The main room feature a double video, a kind of elegaic sci fi reflection on the end of the world, in which, in one, an artist and his dog live out the final moments of a nameless apocalypse depriving the world of water while making a final art work; and a second, in which a woman scientist (looking like Mariko Mori in one of her space age outfits) is working in the future for a corporation preserving humn life, and who discovers the final art work of the artist, which gives her a new meaning and direction for living. It is a gentle and moving piece, which features two famous actors from Korea. In the side room, behind the videos, the design team TAKRAM projected solutions to the dilemma of water conservancy, the costumes of the actors were displaced, and iconic architect Toyo Ito revealed his plans for new public buidlings for the village of Sanriku, a seaside town destroyed in the tsunami of March 2011. His sensitive designs imagined new public spaces for meeting, eating and reflection, growing organically out of the wreckage of the disaster.

I kept seeing people I knew. Or actually bumping into them. Michio Hayashi, art history professor at Jochi University, Tokyo, had been here for four days and still not seen everything. I asked if he had detected any coherence. Yes, two things: history and memory, particularly around the war; and the intersection of humanity and nature. This was a helfpul heuristic to follow. I also met Berlin curator Nina Yamamoto-Masson in the queue for the cloakroom at the station. I suppose we are a rather small tribe.


JOSEPH BEUYS, ART TOURISTS WANDERING BLINDLY AROUND KASSEL STATION WITH HEADPHONES AND IPOD AFTER QUEUING FOR TWO HOURS (2012, Ipods, people, train station)

Everybody was buzzing about Janet Cardiff's ipod work at Kassel station, which I didn't have time for. The phenomenological experience must have been powerful, but also produced a secondary, more humourous work for everyone else which might be titled, "art tourists wandering blindly around a German railway station with headphones and ipod after queuing for two hours". Probably my highlight of the weekend was not in Documenta at all: the permanent collection of Joseph Beuys at the Neue Galerie, as well as his trees planted at one of the early versions of Documenta, when it was still revolutionary. Where once the event shocked and upset its provincial hosts, now the city is desperate to milk it for every last Euro. The queues wound there way around the trees, becoming further human artworks in the still hot, late summer sun on Sunday afternoon.

In the end, I was disappointed by how few works really worked with the location, or engaged in time and space specific thought. Susan Phillipz lovely art space at the end of the lonely platform 7 -- quiet strings rising up to fill the empty quietness of a train station taking us back to 1942 -- was an exception in a festival which, overall, left me wondering about the contemporary art imagination in Europe. Why is everyone in the Japanese art world so obsessed with Documenta? My immediate comparison is Echigo-Tsumari, which I visited this summer, which I find a much richer, and far more avant-garde exploration of what can be done when art, artists, and art work intersects with declining locations and isolated populations. Documenta is just mostly art tourism that changes and touches nothing beyond the event.

Yet everyone I spoke to was loving it. Art lovers who are committed for life have that kind of faith. They came along way to find their Mecca, and they were not going to be put off. I am by nature more sceptical. As I always admit, I write about Japanese contemporary art not because I necessarily love contemporary art, but because I love Japan. Art is my window into Japan. I am, in other words, neutral about contemporary art. It can be a trasnscendental and astonishing vision, hotwiring us into philosophical, political or emotional truth more directly and completely than any other art form. But it can also be empty pretentious nonsense, peddling half-baked philosophy and indulging the self-congratulatory creativity of privileged elites. At a big art pilgrimage like this you see a lot of both.



ADRIAN FAVELL
http://www.adrianfavell.com

みんなからのコメント

"As I always admit, I write about Japanese contemporary art not because I necessarily love contemporary art, but because I love Japan. Art is my window into Japan. I am, in other words, neutral about contemporary art."

Love these crucial sentences.

Thank you Adrian, very well captured.
Cheers, Mario
コメンター
Mario A / 亜 真里男
2012/09/25 15:05

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