Tomoo Gokita in LA


I arrived in New York City on Halloween night. The whole island of Manhattan, it seemed, was populated with gorillas, ghouls, Judy Garlands, sexy witches, and people dressed up as taxi cabs. The subways and streets were packed. Totally surreal. LA, on the other hand, is simply surreal every day and every night of the year, its sprawling sunshine So-Cal noir yawning lazily at the latest music fad, consumer craze, or drive-by killing. Four days in each city is about the perfect combination in a trip to the US. I’m here for an academic conference, but I can devote the Saturday to ART which means a much awaited interview with the key muse of 1990s Japanese pop art – the writer, Min Nishihara (see forthcoming blog) – and an evening of openings in the Culver City/La Cienega art strip.

The consolidating of these few blocks near Culver City has done much to give the pulsing, but diffuse LA art life a real focus. A lot of this is down to the pioneer gallerists Tim Blum and Jeff Poe – the most important western figures in the making of Takashi Murakami – and they have now opened a new space that everyone describes as “just like a Chelsea gallery”: a huge new building with several large gallery rooms. Their opening show has some works for sales by Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara. These might best be described as “derivatives” – spin off signature works for collectors, including tacky painted cartoon versions of My Lonesome Cowboy and Hiropon (The Other One With Big Breasts) – but I like Murakami’s painted version of the original US Superflat catalogue (the white one with eyes), and Nara provides a lovely clay fired sculpture of one of his famous kids’ heads.

Paraiso, 2009

Across the road, at young British gallerist Honor Fraser’s space, there is a J-opening: Tomoo Gokita. Gokita was known first in Japan as a pop-art illustrator with a strong “street” style , but he is now mining a line of success in the US with works that are extending his own surreal brand of painting. As Honor shows me his back catalogue, I realise that I have seen his work before – at Taka Ishii in Tokyo last year – where there was a show of his black and white chromatic works drawn and painted from budget pornography, that would incongruously mix cut ups from the pictures with abstract forms. I remember a wall full of tiny framed works, a riot of invention, and odd ball visual language. Gokita is there, and it turns out we were introduced at the Taka Ishii show – he has a good head for faces.

Installation View, 2009

His new works are a departure and advance. At Honor Fraser, he showed two rooms full of large abstract painting, executed in indigo on white acrylics. The paintings swirl and rise mysteriously, with more than a little touch of Dali about them. Gokita is obviously experimenting and looking for something new, and these works have clearly taken him to a new place that suggests, as Fraser writes in her notes, “peace in previous unsettled environments”.

Eyesight to the Blind, 2009

I am very interested in the crowd. It is a tip top LA hipster crowd, the kind in which everybody in the room looks like the keyboardist or bass player in a famous indie rock band. Not old school LA collectors, then, but that doesn’t mean the work won’t be selling. Gokita clearly has tapped into some good fashion word of mouth about town this weekend, and the show will do his Japanese career no harm at all. As Honor Fraser explains, she took him on after discovering his work by chance at a show in New York. After organising a first show in LA, he was then picked up by a major Tokyo gallerist, who is now establishing his name in fine art in Japan.

I spy Sue Hancock, one of the most important collectors of Japanese contemporary art in the US, talking with the pop art star KAWS (also a collector). I have a brief conversation with Sue, whose big concept art space in Culver City Royal/T, that mixes a Japanese maid café with an art branding store, is now a roaring success.

The past few weeks there has been a huge exhibition celebrating 35 years of Hello Kitty. This weekend, they open another show selecting from her collection, called In Bed Together. (At that opening, which I miss, she is seen as compere wearing a bright kimono dress with a print of a painting by Marina Kappos, an LA artist now in New York who I first met at Tokyo Wonder Site in Shibuya....). Sue slips into the office to discuss prices.

I also chat with Kiki Kudo, a writer from Tokyo, who has recently produced a brilliantly trashy punk-style fanzine about the Japanese art scene called LET DOWN. For a copy, write to her at:

We have a lot of fun arguing about what is boring and what is not in Japanese contemporary art. I also catch up with Taka Kawachi, who is an art producer involved closely with Gokita’s work in New York. I had interviewed him earlier in the week about his past work making art and artists move between New York and Tokyo and back. He is the man behind numerous pop art and photography shows in the late 1990s and early 2000s at the legendary Parco Museum in Shibuya. He is now trying to bring some of the classics of 60s/70s Japanese pop art – such as Yokoo and Tanaami – to a show at Jeffrey Deitch that will illustrate how influential they have been on younger American designers and artists. The friend I’m with, John Tain, a curator of Japanese post-war works at the Getty, then suggests that we move on to Venice Beach, where another group of art friends are gathering for a post-opening meal. Over Oaxacan food and Spanish wine, I pick up another series of juicy gallery and publisher stories from art world insiders to the Japanese-US art networks. It’s a great LA evening.

New Human League, 2008

Tomoo Gokita, Heaven, until 19 December 2009





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Tomoo Gokita in LA
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