Japan Today @Amador

JTF (just the facts): A group show consisting of a total of 33 black and white and color photographs from 3 photographers. The front gallery space contains the work of Taiji Matsue and Mikiko Hara. Hara’s works are square format type c prints from the series Hysteric Thirteen, each 14×14 and framed in white with white mats, printed in editions of 10. The 8 images on view were made between 1996 and 2005. Matsue’s works are type c prints, 20×24 and framed in white with white mats, printed in editions of 5. The 8 images on view from the JP-22 series were all made in 2005; a single image from the Cell series is also on display; it is an 18×18 digital type c print, available in an edition of 15. The back gallery contains 16 images by Osamu Kanemura. All of these works are gelatin silver prints, each 20×24 and framed in black with no mat, printed in editions of 5. 7 of the works come from the 1995 series Today’s Japan; the other 9 works come from the 2007 series My Name is Shockhammer. (Installation shots at right.)

Comments/Context: In the wake of the recent earthquake and tsunami in Japan, there have been countless efforts to provide support, assistance and awareness to the people suffering through the devastation. In reaction to the events on the ground, this show gathers together the work of three contemporary Japanese photographers from the gallery’s stable and provides a pre-disaster view of Japan in the last decade.

The exhibit begins with the pared down aerial photographs of Taiji Matsue. Taken from a helicopter, these images document a single Japanese province, capturing details from urban and factory zones, wide expanses of agriculture, and deep blue areas of water. At these heights, pure abstraction reigns, with grids of city streets and rectangular buildings boiled down to rigid geometries. Rice paddies are cut into angular forms, often covered in tiny stripes of green. And the immensity of the sea is dotted with minuscule kayaks and strips of fishing traps, or decorated by lines of cut logs gathered in perfect alignment like matchsticks. There is a strong sense of order and organization in these pictures, of a people efficiently managing the land. The best are those that take some time to decipher; when the subjects become too obvious (like the golf course), the images lose a bit of their power to startle.

Osamu Kanemura’s black and white images get down into the crowded infrastructure of Tokyo city streets, where tangles of overhead wires clash with architectural geometries and neon signage. His photographs have a dark compactness, a sense of overlapping, constricting tightness, where the shadowy layers of the city pile one upon another, creating narrow alleyways and overwhelming mazes. There is something wonderful about Kanemura’s messiness, where visual ideas intrude on each other like an unruly brawl.

Mikiko Hara’s color photographs go yet another level deeper, finding women in moments of uncertainty in the subways and on the streets. Isolated women stand in long lines, buy tickets, wait for trains, and linger on sidewalks, their everyday narratives open ended and ambiguous. Gazes are averted, gestures are muted, and the scenes are unknowable. What seem at first glance like simple snapshots are found to have a deeper sense of mystery, a nagging undercurrent of tension lurking just beneath the surface. The more I looked at these images, the more they seemed to have to offer, if only in my imagination.

Overall, this show provides three markedly different perspectives on contemporary Japan: the cleaned-up, orderly perfection from the air, the tumultuous ferment of the city, and the weary uncertainty of the inhabitants. It’s a diverse and thoughtful combination, creating a multi-faceted portrait of the time before the storm.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced as follows. The Kanemura images are either $2500 or $3000, based on the series the image is from. The Hara images are either $2500 or $3000. The Matsue images are either $4000 or $5000, and the single image from the Cell series is $2500. The work of these three photographers has not been widely available in the secondary markets, so gallery retail is likely the only option for interested collectors at this point.

I have long thought that a dense, chaotic Kanemura would make a good addition to our city/industrial genre, and this show was a good reminder of how just many of his images would fit neatly into our collection. With so many solid choices, we’ll need to invest some time in looking through all the images from the various series to select one with the right balance of complex skewed angles.

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:

  • Reviews: New Yorker (here), DART (here), Woman Around Town (here)

Through June 30th

Amador Gallery
41 East 57th Street
New York, NY 10022

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Read more about: Mikiko Hara, Osamu Kanemura, Taiji Matsue, Amador Gallery

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