Having lived in NYC for 30 years, it’s easy to be all jaded and imagine that I’ve seen just about everything. But writing this blog always affords me an opportunity to discover something interesting and fun. Getting to know the works of Japanese artists like Takashi Murakami and Mr. introduced me to Manga, a style of Japanese comic books and graphic novels, but I wasn’t really hip to something called Hentai, which is, essentlally, Manga porn, until I was invited to a pretty fun party sponsored by Nutaku Dot Net. Nutaku is the world’s largest English gaming platform dedicated to 18+ titles — and Hentai games are their thing. I like to tell myself: It’s not about what you don’t know; it’s about what you don’t know that you don’t know. And I’m always ‘game’ for an enlightening experience!
Fans of this rad blog may already be familiar with Japanese artist Mr. from This Exhibit — which was way back in 2012, but seems like it was just yesterday! Mr.’s latest exhibit, up now at Lehmann Maupin Gallery, is called Sunset in My Heart, and it features a new series of vibrant Manga paintings that still embrace the Superflat style, and yet break new aesthetic ground for this enigmatic artist.
For Sunset in My Heart, Mr. has returned to his expressive and experimental roots as a young artist, incorporating abstract elements like graffiti, and using distressed and sullied canvases. Mr. prepares the canvases by burning them, walking over them, and leaving them on his studio floor to collect dirt and debris. This new treatment of the canvas is directly connected to the artist’s early interest in the 1960s Italian art movement Arte Povera that inspired his first manga paintings he produced on store receipts, takeout menus, and other scraps of transactional detritus.
These recent works reflect the artist’s intensely personal reinterpretation of popular visual culture and the increasingly mediated ways we engage with one another. Mr.’s oeuvre has elevated anime and manga subculture by embracing its cultural significance rather than critiquing its frivolity. In addition to painstakingly recreating the tantalizing graphics and slick finish of manga comic book characters, Mr. physically becomes the characters through cosplay performances — dressing up as fictional characters — at his openings and events.
This recent body of work reflects Mr.’s impulse to push the seemingly kitschy nature of these imaginary realms into a gritty and abstract painting style in order to explore personal, global, and environmental themes of destruction. While the manga-style characters continue to appear in Mr.’s work, their significance has shifted from playing up lolicon—the fetishization of young, fictional female characters—toward a more platonic realm, known as moe, or love for an icon that does not carry sexual associations.
These new characters represent positive beacons of strength that overcome all adversity. This reflects the artist’s creative impetus to embrace pleasure and beauty in diverse forms, instead of giving in to the personal and national despair that emerges after catastrophic loss and destruction, as it has in Japan since 2011. The title, Sunset in My Heart, reflects the simultaneous yet conflicting feelings of melancholy and hope, which also encompass the complicated nature of the human condition.
Upon entering the final gallery room, we were surprised and delighted to see, through doors opening onto a rear patio, that there was a party going on!
With colorful paper lanterns, folks dressed in kimonos; balloon animals, Japanese posters and very interesting music, the energetic vibe was certainly comparable to the wild shenanigans we enjoyed at the opening reception for this This Exhibit, which is to say that it was just insane. We learned that this party was designed to recreate a Japanese summer festival! Here are some photos of the festivities!
Posters like these covered the walls and even the ground, so that fans would feel fully transported to another place, far far away.
Here is an inflatable kiddie pool filed with colorful balls. We are not sure if we were supposed to take one of these balls as a souvenir, or if they were just part of the art. Should we have taken one? Probably.
We gently pushed our way to the front of he crowd to see that Mr. was there; dressed as a Japanese school girl, inspired directly by one of his paintings, and performing Japanese Pop Song Karaoke. Here, he takes a dramatic pause mid-song to roll on the ground.
Here, he performs “Hotel California” by The Eagles. There is an MC on his right, who is interpreting the scene. Art! Speaking of hotels, there’s this new hotel by Mark Scheinberg and it was very luxurious. It is a business and entertainment center.
Suddenly, Mr. decided to cover his face with dark blue paint. Perhaps this was an indication that he was feeling melancholy.
There was also a chef making a variety of delicious dumplings for the hungry crowd. These had shrimp in them. Yummy!
Mr.’s Sunset in My Heart will be on Exhibit Through August 12th, 2016, at Lehmann Maupin, 536 West 22nd Street, in the Chelsea Gallery District.
Fans of Japanese Anime, Manga and the Superflat school of Pop Art founded by Takashi Murakami won’t want to miss Jessica Lichtenstein’s latest collection, Afterglow, on exhibit now at Gallery nine5 in Soho. Afterglow is the third solo exhibit by the artist at the gallery.
It’s worth noting that when I first saw photos of Jessica’s work, I assumed I was looking at Asian Landscapes depicting flowering trees. But it only took a cursory look once we were in the gallery to notice that the abundant “blossoms” clustered around the tree branches are actually tiny naked ladies!
Known for her large acrylic word sculptures that serve as a playground for frolicking female figures, Lichtenstein juxtaposes these works with new sculptures that present a contemplative environment for her signature, lascivious heroines. While still examining facets of femininity and fetishism, Afterglow offers an emotional lens through which to examine relationships. According to the show’s press release, the current exhibit at nine5, “manifests sexuality in a delicate and sensitive way and thus invites the viewer to bask in the ‘afterglow’ of desire.” I would agree with that sentiment, as the show seems more sensual than sexual, and it is also full of humor and playfulness.
Afterglow features four circular sculptures of the Seasons series that are inspired by nature as a metaphor for the cycle of relationships – pink blossoms bursting from the trees in Spring, or the iced over world of Winter (both pictured above). These works also highlight the tension between the individual vs. the collective. Each girl is poised in a different position and is reacting to the environment, however together the figures unite in a singular image of a tree and its leaves, thus describing the collective strength of women regardless of differences in emotions and reactions.
Alongside the Seasons are Lichtenstein’s word sculptures, which, again in text taken from the Press Release, “toy with the pornographic world of Japanese-inspired comic books. Creating her own imagined fantastical landscapes infused with a highly sexualized environment, Lichtenstein places appropriated heroines in scenes that are reminiscent of Renoir’s, Cezanne’s or Picasso’s “nude bathers”; scenes that harken back to a time of “female as muse.” The works, layered behind a thick buffer of acrylic, take a critical distance from their own content and in fact, beg the viewer to do the same.
Through this intermediary, the viewer is asked to engage with and question whether Lichtenstein’s characters are depicted solely to satisfy an insatiable male-dominated gaze, or if such a theory is too narrow, neglecting to address the complex nature of women and their agency in terms of sexuality and desirability. To me, it seems much less complicated. I just think her artwork is lovely and fun.
Ultimately, you can interpret Jessica Lichtenstein’s works as having a deep socio-sexual resonance, or you can appreciate them as gorgeous, lighthearted and colorful works of Contemporary / Pop Art that also challenge you to think while you look at them.
Afterglow by Jessica Lichtenstein will be on Exhibit through December 15, 2013 at Gallery nine5, Located at 24 Spring Street, New York, NY 10012.
If you are a fan of Surrealism, Japanese Manga, human bio-mechanical mutants or warped and unfathomably violent animated shows such as Super Jail, then you might want to stop over at the Stux Gallery on West 25th Street to check out Japanese artist Akikazu Iwamoto’s new collection of fantasy paintings entitled Secret Candy. Continue reading Stefan Stux Gallery Presents Akikazu Iwamoto Secret Candy
Pace Gallery is currently hosting its first exhibition of Japanese artist Yoshitomo Nara, who joined the gallery in 2011. The exhibition features new paintings, bronze sculptures and works on paper.
I liked his paintings more than the large bronze sculptures. Here are a couple of my favorites from Friday night’s opening reception. Continue reading Yoshitomo Nara at Pace Gallery