Currently on view at the Blum & Poe flagship in Los Angeles, the gallery has taken on a particularly compelling and eye-opening investigation of the landscape of Japanese Contemporary Art during the 1980’s and 90’s. Curated by Mika Yoshitake, Parergon is a striking look at the history and culture of the nation as it experienced a turbulent period of economic boom and bust, and sought to work through the cultural, political and historical traumas of the decades before.
The show centers in particular around Tokyo’s Gallery Parergon, an influential gallery operating during the 1980’s, and instrumental to introducing a number of post-modern and critical explorations of the era to the artists of Japan’s New Wave. As the U.S. and Europe were witnessing a return to Expressionism alongside a postmodern aesthetic of simulacra and deconstruction characterized by the Pictures generation, the artists associated with this scene delved into Japan’s unique social and geo-political conditions resulting from the rise and burst of the bubble economy, exploring capitalist frameworks in their relation to a Japanese cultural sensibility, and its effects on the nation itself.
Artists began to explore subversive artistic languages and integrate underground subcultures into their practice, exploring extreme noise, electro-acoustic experimentation, conceptual photography, video, and other formats that would draw the modern landscape of Japan into taut exchange with an ascendant capitalist hegemony that had not yet been fully addressed among the broader global avant-garde.
Parergon brings together some of the most enigmatic works that were first generated during a rich two-decade period around this era, pieces that are pivotal in the development and framing of contemporary Japanese art today. In the aftermath of the conceptual reconsideration of the object and relationality spearheaded by Mono-ha in the 1970s, this era opened up new critical engagements with language and medium where artists explored expansions in installation, performance, and experimental multi-genre practices. Paintings and assemblages like Shinro Ohtake’s gauzy canvases or Kazumi Nakamura’s flourishes of geometric abstraction mixed together with a wild energetic delivery underscore the frenetic energy and approaches to deconstruction that marked the era, while artist Noboru Tsubaki’s Fresh Gasoline raises disturbing perspectives on the changing relations of the nation to the environment, suspending a number of parts and pieces from various organisms in a sculpture that seems to emphasize an emerging mode of mutated, twisted life.
Presented in relation with Tsuyoshi Ozawa’s installation of futon mattresses and photography, the show hints at broader departure from reality, one that carries ominous associations when considered alongside the abstracted relations to the body and time. Also of particular note is artist Ryoji Ikeda’s impressive video work data.tron [WUXGA version], a flickering, chiming video that blends together glitched imagery with star maps and a microtonal score, creating a delicate sense of the fine line between space, data and the fabrications of reality that emerge from their utilization. In a show exploring Japan’s experience and expressions regarding the changing face of modernity, the piece could not be a more fitting inclusion.
Parergon closes March 23rd.
— D. Creahan
Parergon: JAPANESE ART OF THE 1980s AND 1990s [Exhibition Site]