A founding member of the Japanese avant-garde collective Neo Dadaism Organizers, the artist Arakawa long described himself as an “eternal outsider” and an “abstractionist of the distant future.” Pulling together a range of elements in contemporary practice, the artist mixed rigorous geometric arrangements with abstract painting and elements of collage, always focused around explorations of the workings of human consciousness, diagrammatic representation, and epistemology. The artist’s work is currently the subject of a show at Gagosian’s Madison Avenue complex, examining the period in which Arakawa explored a varied body of work in two dimensions, using paint, ink, graphite, and assemblage on canvas and paper, always pursuing multi-layered systems of meaning and understanding that drove at the heart of the human condition.
Often utilizing formats akin to a diagram or relief, the artist’s work during the 1960’s and onward would begin to incorporate the tenants of geometric abstraction and expressionism in new arrangements of space and form. Pieces are dotted with flecks of paint, while elsewhere, bars of color are utilized to dizzying effect, yet always applied in a manner that augments or twists other image systems through its lens. In A Couple (1966–67), for instance the artist presents a bird’s-eye view of a bedroom, showing only the places where the corresponding physical elements would be, leaving a ghostly trace of the human form that also invites the viewer to construct a new image of space. The human elements of the artist’s work appear only in relation to space itself.
Other works investigate systems of perception both as an aesthetic experience and a reference to the act of testing ones abilities. Blank Lines or Topological Bathing (1980–81) comprises four canvases: a color chart; a vision test chart; and two patterned, off-white canvases, one of which is stenciled with the words “THE PERCEIVING OF ONESELF AS BLANK.” Signs and shapes such as cylinders, arrows, and concentric circles mingle with words and phrases, abstract and semiological signals coming together on the canvas. Functioning to both highlight and investigate the mechanics of human perception and knowledge, the artist’s work presents as both a stand-in for an aesthetic experience, and the prompt to understand it at the same time.
The show closes April 13th.
— D. Creahan
Arakawa at Gagosian [Exhibition Site]