Daido Moriyama, Tokyo Color @Luhring Augustine Bushwick

JTF (just the facts): A total of 73 black and white and color prints, alternately framed in black/matted or unframed, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. 16 of the works are gelatin silver prints, made starting in the 1980s and dated 2017. Each is sized roughly 23×15 (or reverse) and is uneditioned. 57 of the works are lambda prints, made between 2013 and 2017 and printed recently. Each is sized roughly 52×39 (or reverse) and is uneditioned. The exhibit also includes a slide show is displayed on a screen suspended from the ceiling in the center of the gallery space. It includes 128 color 35mm/digital images (25 minutes 36 seconds in total duration) and is available in an edition of 5+3AP. Many of the recent color works have been reproduced in the monograph Pretty Woman, published in 2017 by Akio Nagasawa (here). (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Daido Moriyama’s recent images from Tokyo are infused with bold abandon, maximizing the intensity of their bustling visual overload. Printed large and hung in clusters like the cacophonous competition of urban billboards, they show us slices of life on the busy streets of Japan’s largest city, the never ending action and distraction of the sidewalks swirling around us like a riotous torrent of full color stimuli.

While Moriyama has been wandering in the streets of Tokyo and other Japanese cities since the 1960s, often making photographs of urban signage and the garishness of nocturnal life (particularly in Shinjuku), these new pictures are rooted more than ever in the eye catching resonance of isolated found details. In his walks, we see him drawn to shop window displays, to the movements and fashions of pedestrians walking in front of him, and to the general strangeness to be discovered in plain sight. There is much less darkness and simmering despair in these images than in the aesthetic moods of his earlier black and white work, and that original undercurrent of distrust and rebellion seems to have now mellowed into an interest in the surfaces and rhythms of the contemporary world around him and the color stories that enliven these notable fragments.

If there is any pattern to Moriyama’s urban attentions, it is a consistent interest in women – with just a slightly different edit, this body of work could make an intriguing foil to the street shots found in Garry Winogrand’s Women Are Beautiful portfolio. The key difference between the two sets of pictures is that Moriyama almost never makes images of women from the front, where their facial expressions, reactions, or personalities are directly visible. With one exception (a head shot image of a short-haired woman staring directly back at the photographer), Moriyama’s women are always seen politely from afar and largely from behind, unaware of his picture making.

In many ways, Moriyama’s women are the catalysts for the coalescing of these pictures – it is their presence that turns the surroundings into a stage. A woman stands in a shop doorway, her floral skirt echoed by the windowbox flowers nearby. Another in a silky white traditional kimono decorated with cranes walks down the modern street with incongruous grace. Still others use their fashions to stand out, from over-the-top girlish outfits and neon pink tutus, to schoolgirl uniforms, polka dots, silver boots, and thick platform heels. Moriyama seems to have a particular interest in the nape of a women’s neck, where a ponytail pulls her hair up and exposes her skin – he finds this same physical spot repeatedly, in train cars, with earbuds, and bathed in the softness of afternoon light.

When not watching an actual woman, Moriyama’s eye often turns to various female proxies. Mannequins dot his images in many forms, from clusters of creepy full body figures and lingerie models to heads without faces or hair, sporting sunglasses, covered with fishnet, or decorated with overbig eyes or submissive expressions. Girlish accessories and symbols are similarly repeated, with purple unicorns, sparkly butterfly phone cases, and flowers of all kinds (a surreal blue lily, a purple metallic rose) mixed into this larger flow of seductive femininity. As seen through Moriyama’s eyes, modern day Tokyo street culture is saturated with stylized representations of women, and the exaggerated details of these images set the tone for a conflicting set of female roles and stereotypes.

The rest of the works on view in this show provide further context and contrast for this central vision. A slide show hanging in the center of the room goes back to a selection of Moriyama’s color works from the 1970s and 1980s, showing us early examples of his interest in the graphic sensibilities of urban signage, the grittiness of the streets, and the interplay of bold eroticism and city life. In many ways, his newer works are less challenging and confrontational, even the most vulgar or explicit of his recent findings seemingly toned down and cleaned up a bit, as if a less provocative version of his previous sightings has now been discovered in the midst of broader everyday consumption.

Images from the photographer’s black-and-white Tights series (ongoing since the 1980s) provide a sharper contrast to the colorful street views. Here Moriyama reduces his formal variables to the curves of anonymous female bodies, with their feet, knees, legs, hips, and bottoms encased in the sinuous grip of black fishnet stockings. As the body parts bend, twist, and interlock, the tights become extended and distorted, the grid of lines (and the single black seam) hugging the contours of the skin underneath. The images are overtly intimate and sensual but also seductively formal, the bodies exposed but also entirely covered, the human curves made abstract via careful cropping and posing. The best of the images feel like finely honed sculptural exercises, the sheen of alabaster skin and the undulations of subtle musculature made tactile by the intricate web of lines.

In the end, Moriyama’s recent color works feel like the restlessly continuing output of a prolific photographer, and the time warp effect of placing together older images with ones made in the past year or two provides insight into both his aesthetic evolution as an artist and the cultural signifiers that are slowly changing in the streets around him. The encroaching evidence of Westernization he once saw as a menacing threat has now transformed itself into a virulent strain of global consumerism that has overrun everything in its path, changing both the nature of everyday life in Tokyo and ongoing relationship between the sexes. Moriyama is still investigating the nuances of these cultural currents with patience and attention, it’s just that the city keeps shifting, its surfaces even more obscured by flashy distractions, its true nature ever elusive and full of mystery.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The gelatin silver prints are priced at ¥550000 (roughly $5000), while the color lambda prints are priced at ¥1000000 each (roughly $9000). Morimaya’s photographs are generally available at auction, with recent print prices generally ranging from roughly $2000 and $70000.

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Read more about: Daido Moriyama, Luhring Augustine, Akio Nagasawa

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