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チェックと日本の現代美術界についての感想

Gutai is Back! Giappone @ Venezia (1)

2009年10月31日


My interest in Japanese contemporary art has emerged primarily out of my interest in the sociology of Japan, rather than a specialism in contemporary art as such – I am not an art theorist or art historian – so I am still encountering for the first time some of the central institutions and personalities of the global art world today. This was my first time at the Venice Biennale, and I explicitly came here to try to get a sense of “global art” today, so that I can better relativise what I think and feel about art and the art world in Japan in a global context. It is encouraging to see that even in Venice, at the top of the game, among the brightest and the best, you still find the good, the bad, and the indifferent.

Daniel Birnbaum, the director of the Visual Arts program at Venice this year, was one of the jet set curators flown in for the Yokohama Triennale last year. Like in Yokohama, the selection in Venice was only sporadically convincing. I was surprised how exhausting it was to trawl through the two sites, how unattractive the space is at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, and also how banal the “making worlds” theme ultimately was: just a nice turn of phrase that allowed the selection to roam over practically anything and everything. The catalogue guide didn’t help, kicking off with a bunch of sociological sounding clichés about globalizing forces, nationalism, and artists emancipating us with their cultural diversity…

Perhaps the most interesting part of his direction, though, was the explicit attempt in some selections to re-visit or re-construct famous artistic installations or interventions of the past that have somehow got lost or underappreciated in the sweep of art history. And so, at the heart of the Palazzo, it was quite a treat to find a reconstruction of various old Gutai works – most of which were destroyed – that had once been shown in a 1965 exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam that was one of the first Western exhibitions of this now widely recognised pioneering movement.



The sprawling room, full of playful pieces, strange uses of materials, a riot of colour, texture and unlikely forms, felt as contemporary and arresting as anything in the building.



Nowadays, artists rely on all kinds of technological possibilities for generating the same kind of surprise effects, and rarely do they display the same degree of subtle humour or cunning interaction with the observer. The young tour guides were giving this room a special emphasis in their commentaries, and the whole thing had been put together with a real respect and care for archiving this nearly forgotten piece of world art history. Bravo, to all concerned. There was, in the end, very little Giappone @ Venezia. Apart from Miwa Yanagi, the main Yoko Ono show closed a while back, with only a small selection of Instructions Pieces to be found at the Palazzo. But the Gutai room was an important reminder that contemporary art in Japan has had its moments of brilliance.



The return of Gutai is a delight to the long time friends of Japanese avant garde art, who have tirelessly worked to make sure some of these hidden classics don’t disappear from the art history narrative. “Glad to see Gutai is back on the map”, wrote David Elliott in an email to me recently, when I mentioned to him two new Gutai shows in New York (see links below) that I hope to visit and write about next week. I will also be meeting there with Reiko Tomii and Midori Yoshimoto, who are both involved in these shows, and are key figures in the Japanese art historical effort in the US.

In this respect, my only disppointment about the Venice show, was how poorly the Gutai selection was documented in the catalogue, with no detailed guide to the individuals works or artists. In fact, the Biennale catalogue was just bad in general. Two very low quality volumes, way too expensive, not enough information, and the whole thing falling apart in your hands barely minutes after getting it out of the plastic wrapping. It looked like the local printer had simply decided to make a few more Euros on each by leaving the binding unfinished; many of the images were dull and poorly reproduced. In Venice, you always get the best and worst things about Italy. Stunning beauty everywhere, exquisite taste and aesthetics, along with the constant feeling of being ripped off and humiliated as a “stupid tourist”. I remember a tale about an Italian world traveller, wise to all the tricks and con-artists, who was impressed one day by how a street vendor in Naples once managed to sell him a fancy box of goods – only to find nothing but a brick inside. It’s just sometimes like that in Italy, even in the most rarefied of places, like the Venice Biennale. Sometimes you come looking for brilliance and the best art in all the world, and they still manage to sell you a brick.

“Making Worlds” at the 53rd Venice Biennale until 22 November

“Kazuo Shiraga: Six Decades” at McCaffrey Fine Art, New York until 23 January
http://www.mccaffreyfineart.com/upcoming.html

“Under Each Other’s Spell: Gutai and New York”, New Jersey City University, until 16 December
http://www.njcu.edu/dept/art/galleries/default.asp

ADRIAN FAVELL
http://www.adrianfavell.com

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