‘I’m Here, But Nothing’ 521.
(photo credit: courtesy Haifa Museum of Art)
‘Double Vision” is the title given to the exhibition of contemporary
Japanese art presently on view at the Haifa Museum of Art and the Tikotin Museum
of Japanese Art, also in Haifa. The exhibition presents 30 significant Japanese
artists and is themed around the concepts of Reality/Ordinary World and
Imaginary World/Phantasms. It is the world of the imagination that
Curated by Kenjiro Hosaka of the National Museum of Modern
Art, Tokyo, and Elena Yaichnikova, an independent curator based in Moscow, the
exhibition presents an overview of the Japanese art scene with more than 150
works of art in the mediums of video, installation, painting, photography and
This is a particularly large exhibition and one cannot help
but feel that a more selective curatorial process might have better served the
needs of the artist and the general public. There is also a lack of women
artists; out of 30 exhibiting artists only three are women. Artists such as
Chiharu Shiota, Tabaimo and Tomoko Yoneda would have helped the curators’ cause,
although there are usually good reasons for an artist’s absence.
are some good works despite the gaps in the exhibit, and the artists succeed in
providing a glimpse into some of the social, cultural and political issues that
preoccupy Japanese society.
From the 1950s onward Japan has been strongly
influenced by American culture; at times this has produced a tension reflected
by Japanese artists, who grapple with the problems posed by their society’s
high-impact brand of capitalism, consumer culture and seemingly endless
predisposition for all things “cute.” The art on display in Haifa is anything
but cute and at times expresses strange, bizarre and disturbing
It was in the 1990s that Japanese art asserted itself on the
global market. The fusion of traditional Japanese aesthetics, manga and anime
with Western influences resulted in works that were highly d r a m a t i c and
rendered in sensational colors. Japanese art became “hot” and for its artists,
the future had never been quite this bright.
Two of the most significant
artists from that period, both still at the height of their powers, Takashi
Murakami and Makoto Aida, are represented in this exhibition. Harakiri
Schoolgirls, one of Aida’s best known works, is a darkly comic vision of a group
of provocative schoolgirls engaged in the ancient samurai suicide ritual,
harakiri. The scene, dominated by lurid pinks, yellows and reds, of the girls
seemingly happily mutilating themselves with Japanese sabres, is both wildly
grotesque and perversely attractive.
Japan’s teenage culture has
developed its own brand of “cute” and “cool,” fueled by pop culture, manga and
The culture, however, has increasingly developed a dark side, a noticeable rise in suicide rates and the
phenomenon known as hikikimori, teenagers who refuse to leave their rooms and
live a hermit-like existence. Aida’s work, laced with biting irony, is a comment
on a culture not necessarily confined to that of its young, but one that could
be interpreted to be mutilating itself.
Some of the artists have
incorporated political themes into their work using different
Murakami’s sculpture, Polyrhythm, and Kenji Yanobe’s Yellow
Suit combine a conceptual approach with pop art influences. Yanobe’s work, made
from hard metal and plastics, is protective suits of a kind that reflect the
artist’s preoccupation with nuclear war and the bombing of Hiroshima and
Nagasaki in World War II.
A somewhat more subtle and traditional approach
is seen in Yuken Teruya’s decorative kimono, You-I, You-I. Using centuries-old
dying techniques, Teruya created a series of intricate patterns of flora and
fauna on linen and color pigment.
However, a closer look at the delicate
and interlacing patterns reveals images of jets and paratroopers, a reminder of
the American military presence on the island of Okinawa, where the artist was
Some of the strongest works in the exhibition are in the medium of
video, and there are also two wellcrafted animated works by Takashi Isida. Of
particular note are the video works of Yasumasa Morimura and Hiraki Sawa, whose
wonderful Going Places Sitting Down is now a part of the Israel Museum’s
Morimura has three works on display, and all are
part of his Requiem series. He is generally considered to be an “appropriation”
artist, a term usually interpreted as one who “borrows” from other aspects of
For the purposes of the series, he adopted personas such as
the Japanese author Yukio Mishima, Vladimir Lenin and a dual persona of Charlie
Chaplin and Adolf Hitler.
Morimura’s works are particularly cinematic.
For this series he has picked key historical moments and figures and
convincingly acted out their parts, which involved delivering a speech, either
to the camera or to a crowd of onlookers.
We see the artist as Mishima
deliver his famous speech to a self-defense forces camp just before he committed
harakiri, and Lenin delivering a speech to Russian workers. In the work Requiem:
Laughing at the Dictator/Schizophrenic, which is shown on a large-screen format,
Morimura plays with the role Chaplin made famous in the film The Great Dictator.
On one half of the screen we see Morimura, dressed in army uniform, assuming a
demonic personality; the next moment, on the opposite side, the character is its
virtual opposite, gentle and reflective.
Morimura’s work takes a look at
20th-century history, although it is also a form of
Commenting on his work, Morimura has said, “For me
‘requiem’ means to inherit something deceased as memory, and the desire to seek
connections in that memory. In my view, connecting past, present and future in
this way encourages an openness, a freedom and flexibility of thought and
Other works worth seeking out in this exhibition are Akira
Yamaguchi’s excellent graphic work Underground Railway, Yayoi Kusama’s magical
installation I’m Here, But Nothing and Tetsuya Umeda’s kinetic, sculptural
installation Was Moving At First.
The exhibition will run through October
Haifa Museum of Art, 26 Shabtai Levi Street, Haifa, (04) 911-5991,
hma.org.il Tikotin Museum of Japanese Art, 89 Hanassi Avenue, Haifa, (04)