Mami Kataoka’s new show in London


‘Walking in My Mind’, the current group show co-curated by Mori Museum’s Mami Kataoka with Stephanie Rosenthal at the Hayward Gallery, London, sets up a smart “inner visions” psychological frame for a strong selection of contemporary installation artists. Three big Japanese names are included: Yoshitomo Nara, Yayoi Kusama, and Chiharu Shiota.

Kataoka, whose has just returned to Tokyo with a new show of Chinese artist, Ai Weiwei opening at Mori, strikes a sensible balance between modish globalisms/universalisms in her curation, and the desire/need to present some background “Japanese” context on the artists selected. It’s a debate that splits curators, but I tend to side with those like Kataoka – or, someone else I’ve also talked to recently, Reiko Tomii in New York – who insist this aspect is often crucially relevant to the work artists do. Where artists have come from – where they have been “socialized” to put it sociological terms – as well as the intellectual/aesthetic influence of specific artistic milieux (such as Japan’s particular art system) – is an unavoidable dimension of our understanding.

Of course, this all gets even more complicated, when, as all three of these Japanese artists have, their careers have also included bouts of sustained or even permanent residence abroad. You have to factor Germany into Shiota and Nara; or New York into Kusama – but the fact remains that, even after travel and international experience, there is always a need to talk about Japan in relation to their work. Post-nationalism, cosmopolitanism, a world without borders are all beautiful ideas; they are certainly ideals that motivate and move me around the world. But we all carry our nationality (culture, language, ethnicity…) around with us like battered old suitcases—and whether we like it or not. On the other hand, the trick is, as Kataoka explains to me, “to contextualise Japanese modernity into a global understanding—not just flag up stereotypes, clichés or formalities”. Otherwise – and we have seen plenty of this over the years – the “Japanese” art people in the West see will be like feeding them “salmon sushi” every time to the customers, and never anything else. J-art is diverse; like it is everywhere.

The show at the Hayward Gallery sees curators and artists fighting against the constraints of London’s notorious South Bank architecture. The spectacularly ugly brutalist buildings, opened in 1968, are an unavoidably grim backdrop to the glimpses of internal states and inner worlds that the artists wish to portray. It is very difficult to forget that we are standing inside what is basically a rotting 1960s concrete car park. How is it possible to follow the curators into these visions of the human mind, when you can’t help noticing the scuffed tile floors, broken plastic air conditioning, and dry rot on the walls? This kind of “post-industrial” setting can work – say, if you a bunch of Goldsmiths undergraduates putting on a show in an empty docklands warehouse in 1988 – but not in a top British public gallery, where punters have just paid nine pounds to get in (about ¥1500). Pristine white cube conditions would have made this show look a lot better, and the Hayward severely detracts from some of the works. When artists are basically installing works made of junk, you don’t want the room to look like, well, junk. A museum badly in need of an upgrade—if not a bulldozer, ball and chain.

The Japanese artists come off well in the selection. I assume they reflect Kataoka’s contribution, since she focuses on them in her catalogue notes. Nara’s little artist studio/bedroom, a mixed memory of student days in Japan and Germany (perhaps), is one of his and collaborators graf’s most winsome installations yet. It sits right at the entrance to the show, and everyone will love it. It also looks good up against the monumental collection of psychological poster art by Keith Tyson in the same room. Londoners can peer into Nara’s little room, at all the usual dolls, posters and artist’s memorabilia, and then practice their best “kawaiiiiiiii” cries…

Upstairs in the last room, Chiharu Shiota’s After the Dream (2009) is perhaps her first viewing in the UK: a dark room of white dresses trapped in her signature black wool cocoons. Shiota clearly is a perfect fit for the curator’s theme here. I hadn’t thought of her technique before as “drawing in the air”, an idea she is said to have had when she was a student in Kyoto. This captures what she is doing perfectly; I just wonder why she sometimes doesn’t use it in more varied ways. Still, I am delighted to see her star still rising – although it is ever more clear how much the German art context has impacted on her work, which still takes its themes from childhood fears and memories of Japan. Unfortunately, the mysterious room, one of the best in the show, is ruined somewhat by the plastic white window that was left unshaded at the back. We needed to be immersed entirely in her inner world and fears; not reminded (again) of the car park...

Yayoi Kusama, meanwhile, is everywhere: on the posters, on the catalogue cover, inside and on the roof top terrace, out on the trees on the riverside esplanade in front of the museum, and all over the souvenir shop. Selecting Kusama for this show was, of course, a no-brainer. She has been “walking in her mind” ever since she first came up with dots and infinity nets in the 1950s, and she is an artist whose one idea has – brilliantly – never really changed. Here we get a mirror room with floating balloons, then more red blobby things for the kids to climb on outside. It’s very sweet and devastatingly charming. They are the one thing that looks spectacular against the brutalist concrete and grey London skyline. Kusama keeps winning fans everywhere she is seen.

The rest of the show? The only other artist that really gives us a convincing total immersion is Thomas Hirschhorn, with his very claustrophobic brain-like cave, made up of caverns of brown sticky tape filled with academic books. He looks like he just raided the office of a social science professor, and I have to say he is putting many of these books to better use dumping them in here. Elsewhere, the Jason Rhoades and Bo Christian Larsson installations are big piles of stuff evoking the crazy logics and baroque constructions of the mind (or just piles of junk, if you look at it that way). There’s some ugly art by a Dutch artist, Mark Manders, which you’ll like if you enjoy blocks of wood shoved through torsos, glass boxes with dead cats inside, and other charming mud-coloured constructions (I heard one Dutch tourist exclaim sarcastically “Oh, trust the Dutch artist to be the biggest creep in the show!”). Charles Avery’s antiquarian collection, meanwhile, gives up many hints of an imaginary island, and all look nice and oddball, but seems to be missing the kind of explanation needed to really help us start working imaginatively on his peculiar, understated sketches. Strewn over three sites, including a staircase and a ramp, it’s impossible to engage much in his world here. And then, to round off, there’s a Pipilotti Rist video in a dark room before we are spat out into an overcrowded souvenir shop, where half of the busy public seem to be crowded.

The commercial overload is repeated outside, where Kusamarama has taken hold in several more souvenir shops around the South Bank. We are used to seeing this kind of thing regularly at Roppongi Hills; I wonder what the commercial tie-in deal with Mori Museum is this time? Anyway, you can load up on your polka dots to your heart’s content and your wallet’s capacity. I was pleased to see at least that the public had treated the polka dot wrapped trees by the river – which had the lovely title “Ascension of Polka Dots on the Trees” (2009) – as free “public art”: many of the white dots were signed or graffitied by couples and passing fans.

Interestingly, the whole show looks a lot better in the catalogue pages that up against the concrete. The ugly building is removed, and we get some sense through the photos and additional material of how the inner states of each of the artists were intended to be seen, alongside intelligent essays and reflections. It’s not unusual for curation to look better on the pages of a book that on the walls of a gallery – but this is perhaps only the case when something is wrong with the show. At the Hayward, it looked like an almighty struggle for the curators and artists to install something that looked good. I am sure Mami Kataoka has been looking forward to getting back to the elegant glass, steel and white walls of the 53rd Floor.

Until 6 September 2009



あなた、エイドリアンに感謝してください。 私はチハルの仕事をたくさん尊重します。 幸運にも、私は最初、および後以来ベルリンの彼女のすばらしい設備に続いているかもしれません 横浜Triennale 2001など 。 ベルリンで、私達が同じギャラリーを共有し、私達のアトリエが、隔たるほんのわずかのブロックであるBtw。

Mario A // 亜 真里男
2009/07/29 02:03





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