The last weekend in April, I was fortunate enough to enjoy a long weekend work trip to New York to view a variety of museum exhibitions related to Japanese art. It was a fantastic weekend of art, food, friends, and perfect spring weather in one of the greatest cities of our time.
My highest priority was to view the Guggenheim show Gutai: Splendid Playground. This exhibition covered the Gutai Art Association, which existed from 1954-1972. The artists forming the group aimed to create works that were completely new and innovative, experimental and creative. They used invented techniques and turned the art world upside down in a period that historically was not the most positive, and did not provide an open atmosphere for artistic expression. The works in the show are exuberant, and show both the youthful energy of the artists as well as their idea of expressing the clash of body and material. In the work by Shiraga Kazuo below, he painted with his feet- the energy of his motion transferred to the canvas, and the three-dimensional quality of the paint leaving a trace of his action. The above work by Motonaga Sadamasa was the recreation of an installation the artist did outdoors in 1956- a playful, colorful piece of water suspended in plastic tubes, the artwork responds to the environment that surrounds it, showing traces of the vibrations of the building and the light that streams through the famous atrium of the museum.
My favorite piece was Tanaka Atsuko's Electric Dress of 1956. The artist wore this "dress" in performance- the painted lightbulb costume lends an element of danger to the performance (burns, electric shock, heat), and is a commentary on both the neon-saturated environment of urban post-war Japan, as well as the nature of constructed feminine beauty. The piece lit up every few minutes, and flashed with the bright colors and bulbs. It was amazing to see in person- the nest of wires at the foot of the dress, the cage-like structure that surrounded the wearer, the chaotic but beautiful appearance of it all.
The food was also a great plus for the weekend! Friday's lunch was at Donburiya, a fantastic Japanese restaurant where I had an amazing Unagi-don and this Green Tea Mille Crepe for dessert. Because what better way to energize a day of viewing Japanese art than with this beauty?
On Friday I also took in the wonderful Edo Pop exhibition at Japan Society. They were fairly strict about the no photo rule, so I only got in this single pic of an installation near the front. The majority of the show exhibited Edo period (1600-1868) prints together with contemporary artworks that take their inspiration from the historic prints. The juxtapositions were interesting and made for a fresh way to view the Edo material, but what really stood out was the quality of the Edo prints. I've worked with many prints in my career, and seen more than a few exhibitions of prints, but these were truly exceptional examples. This exhibition was something that I looked forward to, and had tried to see in the original incarnation in Minneapolis, and was exceedingly pleased to have the chance to view.
The final piece of Friday's agenda (before eating at a vegan Korean restaurant for dinner), was MoMA. I primarily wanted to view the Meiro Koizumi video installation Defect in Vision, but took the opportunity to view a variety of other works as well, such as Yayoi Kusama (below). Meiro Koizumi's video was a challenging work with two videos and one common soundtrack. The piece revealed itself in layers as one watched; questioning perception, disaster, violence, nationalism, and war. It was highly emotional, the drama pulling the viewer in just a bit more with each repeat of the dialogue hinting at additional information.
MoMA was also hosting a temporary exhibition of Edvard Munch's The Scream (one of four versions of the image). This version, in pastel on cardboard, has the distinction of being the most expensive artwork ever sold at auction (for now, that record is constantly changing), after going for $120 million last year.
The crowd of cellphone photographers mobbing the work was quite amusing.... as was watching the poor guard assigned to keep the crowd at bay.
Me goofing around with Rodin's Balzac.....
And enjoying Jeff Koons. Probably the most amusing moment of the weekend was when I overheard a 10 year old boy touring the museum with his dad, paused right between Jeff Koons and the feminist art when he stated, "this area freaks me out." Indeed, young one, you are not alone in your feelings.
Saturday began with a jog through Central Park on a magnificent spring day full of flowers and sunshine, including these tulips along Park Ave.
Saturday's first museum stop was the New Museum to view the show NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash, and No Star. This was my first visit to the New Museum, and the view from the top floor deck is as fantastic as the art housed within.
It was also a great treat to walk through SoHo on a Saturday, and enjoy a late post-museum lunch.
The 1993 exhibition was also fantastic- my favorite work being Lick and Lather,a series of self-portrait busts of the artist Janine Antoni made of soap and chocolate, which she then used to lather (soap) or lick (chocolate). I have long loved the conceptual nature of the work, but seeing the pieces in person, where the chocolate smell filled the air and the texture of the soap was apparent, was decidedly different.
Saturday afternoon was spent at the Brooklyn Museum, which was also a first time visit for me. I was interested in seeing the Asia galleries of the museum, which are about to undergo reinstallation, but which have a number of nice works. My main goal, however, was to see Judy Chicago's Dinner Party, of the mid-1970s. This work is a seminal piece of feminist art specifically, and of twentieth century art generally.
The installation consists of 39 place settings honoring famous women from history, as well as the names of a nearly 1,000 supporting women. The size and craft of the piece was astounding- each place setting consisted of an individualized ceramic plate, most with a form resembling the female anatomy, an individualized textile place mat, most with phenomenal embroidery and textile design and construction, a chalice, and cutlery. The installation also included an entry area and a section of panels at the end with information about women through history. My main critique of the artwork is that it is Euro-centric, but I was also left with an astounding sense of loss at how many women made so many significant contributions to history, yet are almost completely left out of the historical record, and are completely left out of general history education. Dinner Party is an extremely powerful and beautiful work that everyone should have the chance to view- it definitely makes an impact on the viewer and forces one to think.
Saturday evening was spent having dinner with friends at Red Bamboo in the Village (above). I was so pleased to enjoy vegan Tonkatsu, as well as share a selection of fantastic vegan appetizers and dessert. Such a great end to a long day of art-viewing.
Late in the evening, looking south from the rooftop bar of the Pod 39 in Midtown, out into the sparkling landscape of Manhattan.
Sunday morning and afternoon was spent on a grand tour of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, again with a focus on the Asia galleries and the museum's outstanding collection of works from all over the continent. After a late meal with friends who introduced me to the (surprisingly affordable) basement of the Plaza Hotel, it was off to the airport and back home.