Nobuyoshi Araki, Eros Diary @Anton Kern

JTF (Just the facts): A total of 77 black and white photographs, unframed and affixed directly to the wall, and hung edge to edge in the entry area and the main gallery space. All of the works are gelatin silver prints, made in 2015. Each is sized 20×24 and available in an edition of 10. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Nobuyoshi Araki’s newest show finds him feeling his age with more melancholy heaviness, the cackling mischievous glee of his earlier photographic provocations now muted a bit by the passing of time. Weighed down by recent health problems, the death of his cat, and the ongoing loss felt from his wife’s death in 1990, his mood is darker and more introspective than we’ve seen before. And like many later career artists, he has revisited his signature themes and motifs in his recent photographs, but done so with a wry, knowing eye, as if the things that once made him laugh now only elicit a more subdued smile of recognition.

Araki’s wife Yoko hovers over the works in Eros Diary like a ghost. Each image is time stamped (using the digital readout from the camera) with the anniversary of their marriage, and painted husband and wife faces make several appearances in the sequence. Visual metaphors for loss, uncertainty, sorrow, and grudging endurance abound. Pictures of rumbling clouds wait ominously overhead. A rotting crustacean becomes a hollowed out hulk of dried limbs. Trees have been harshly pruned down to silhouetted stumps, with new growth trying to sprout amid the amputated forms. Cities are literally turned upside down, with the energy of the skyline turned into slashing black geometries. And a gaggle of bustling school kids in the street feels lonely and sad, more evidence of Araki’s increasing distance from everyday life.

As its title implies, Eros Diary is mostly filled with Araki’s varied view of everyday eroticism, evidence of a mind still churning with desire, albeit in a quieter, more brooding mode. The nudes and portraits of women in the series have the look of many of his previous works in this genre (empty rooms, kimonos, some bondage), but with less tension and more weariness – hair is disheveled, bodies are tired or yielding, faces are frank but without electricity or charge. Plastic lizards and dinosaurs, damaged dolls, and dildos offer Araki seemingly endless combinations of still life coupling, but these too veer toward darker ruminations, with arms pulled off, eyes bugged out, and menacing toothy amphibians posed in crotches. But there is less spark than there used to be, and that going-through-the-motions feeling gives the pictures a dulled edge that resonates with gloominess.

The balancing lightness in this show comes from Araki’s found sexuality, a parade of phallic/yonic symbols discovered in the mundane. Stand-ins for male and female genitalia are seemingly catching his eye continuously, from foods and plants (a French bread and cheese sandwich, a cactus), to the drooped nose of a flamingo, the sweep of a calligraphic stroke, and the shiny erectness of a sidewalk parking barrier. Regardless of his dejected mood, his playful eye continues to roam, seeing sexiness all around him.

What’s fascinating about this show is that these pictures show us Araki looking through a new filter, his brain following the same inflamed paths it has always followed, but now seeing them with the low spirits of a broken heart and an aging body. Brashness has been traded for something more tender, the pictures less about overt shocking or agitating and more about deeper investigation of root impulses and feelings. While not every photograph on view here is a stand alone winner, seen together as a flow, Eros Diary is one of Araki’s most personal statements, and a thoughtful meditation on the evolving perspective and restless searching of aging.

Collector’s POV: The prints in this show are priced at $6000 each. Araki’s work (both photographic prints and photobooks) is routinely available in the secondary markets, running the gamut from large sets of images to single Polaroids. Recent priced have ranged between roughly $1000 and $191000.

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