Heavy Light: Recent Photography and Video From Japan @ICP

JTF (just the facts): Large group show, spanning all of the upstairs galleries and most of the downstairs as well. 13 artists represented by photography and video displays, as well as a series of photo books. ICP has prepared an excellent exhibition website to accompany the show (here), with details on each of the photographers. There is also a printed catalogue available.

Here is a quick list of the artists in the show:

Makoto Aida
Naoya Hatakeyama
Naoki Kajitani
Hiroh Kikai
Midori Komatsubara
Yukio Nakagawa
Asako Narahashi
Tsuyoshi Ozawa
Tomoko Sawada
Risaku Suzuki
Miwa Yanagi
Kenji Yanobe
Masayuki Yoshinaga
Comments/Context: This is a consistently thought-provoking and engaging show, well worth your time. I have had the good fortune to spend quite a bit of time in Japan over the years on business, and this exhibit touches on many different facets of the uniquely Japanese culture and psyche. Taken together, the show covers a broad array of working styles and engages a variety of provocative issues. I have selected a handful below to give you a feel for what’s on view:

Asako Narahishi: These series is made up of large color photographs of city and landscape scenes from the vantage point of half submerged in the ocean. Standing in front of them, they make you feel like you are drowning. I kept thinking that they were somehow representative of the Japanese fixation on being an island nation. As I thought back on seeing the exhibition several days later, these stuck out as memorable. She is also having a show at Yossi Milo of this same work (site here). (Asako Narahishi, Half Awake and Half Asleep in the Water (Makuhari), 2001 at right. Copyright held by the artist.)

Tomoko Sawada: There is a mural sized image from her series School Days on the wall as you enter the exhibit and another image downstairs. At first glance, they appear to be standard school portraits, until you realize that the artist is every single one of the people in the picture. The works are startling, and bring home the nature of conformity in Japan, and the small ways that people express individuality inside this societal norm. I also began to wonder about the relationship of her work to that of Nikki Lee. (Tomoko Sawada, from the series School Days, 2004 at right. Copyright held by artist.)
Hiroh Kikai: While we are not portrait collectors, I think Kikai’s pared down Asakusa portraits stand up well to the best of the recognized masters. They are extremely well crafted, personal, and insightful. I was amazed at how consistently good they were (there are about a dozen in the exhibition).

Masayuki Yoshinaga: There is a digital slide show of Yoshinaga’s images of Harajuku girls and their “wicked style” (as Gwen Stefani would put it). While these feel a little anthropological, they are certainly fun. (Masayuki Yoshinaga, Goth-Loli: Ageha 24 Aoko 23, 2006 at right. Copyright held by the artist).

For me, there were two missing photographers. Where was Rinko Kawauchi, the “it girl” of Japanese photography? I also wonder about the omission of Osamu Kanemura and his Spider’s Strategy city scenes (Cohen Amador had a good show of this work last year.)

Collector’s POV: For our particular collection, the ikebana flower images of Yukio Nakagawa would be the best fit, although they definitely push the edges of what would be considered beautiful in a traditional Western sense. I also think the work of Naoya Hatakeyama and Naoki Kajitani merit some further exploration, for their images of cities. In general, I came away reminded that there is a ton of great work being done in Japan and that we as collectors need to stay better informed.
Rating: ** (2 stars) VERY GOOD (rating system defined here)
Through September 7th
1133 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10036

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