Provocateurs of Japanese Photography @Kathleen Cullen

JTF (just the facts): A group show of 7 Japanese photographers, including films, books, and photographs, variously framed and matted, and hung in the single room gallery space. The show includes a total of 17 photographic pieces (some made up of multiple images), 1 group of 5 videos, and 5 books/ephemera in a glass case in the center of the gallery. (Installation shots at right.)

The following artists have been included in the exhibit; the number of works on display and their details are provided as background:

  • Nobuyoshi Araki: 2 black and white works framed in black and matted; 1 diptych, 25×36 framed together as a single piece, from 1989, and 1 single image, 20×24, from 2004-2005.
  • Tomoko Sawada: 2 works; 1 large c-print mounted on Plexi, 40×40, in an edition of 10, from 2007, and 1 group of 20 c-prints, framed together as one piece, in an edition of 30, from 2007.
  • Ryoko Suzuki: 4 c-prints, framed in black with no mat, each 20×24, in editions of 10, from 1999/2001.
  • Shuji Terayama: 2 Lamdba digital prints, framed in black and matted, each 14×17, in editions of 20, from 1976-1978, printed in 2009; also 1 video screen showing 5 films from 1964-1977; in the glass case, there is 1 book and a group of postcards (from a set of 20)
  • Katsumi Watanabe: 4 gelatin silver prints, framed in grey and matted, each 12×10, from 1966-1972. In the glass case, there are two books.
  • Miwa Yanagi: 4 c-prints hung together as one work, framed in black and matted, 32×24 overall, in an edition of 20.
  • Kohei Yoshiyuki: 2 gelatin silver prints, framed in white and matted, each 16×20, in editions of 10, from 1971/1979. In the glass case, there are 2 books.

Comments/Context: This small group show has a simple but intriguing construct: take a handful of works from a selection of well known Japanese photographers from the 1970s/1980s era (all men in this case) and juxtapose these pictures with another sample of Japanese photography from contemporary times (all women in this case) to see how “provocative” artistic approaches and subject matter have evolved over the decades.

The 1970s works on display all address the issues of conservatism and conformity as they are rigidly imposed by Japanese society, and how certain individuals challenge these tacit codes of conduct by deviating from the conventional norms, oftentimes in ways that seem perverse to the masses. Yoshiyuki voyeuristically captures illicit liaisons in the park at night, Watanabe chronicles the lives of gang members and drag queens in Kabukicho, and Araki documents his bondage fetishes for women.

The more recent work touches on many of these same themes, but with a more feminist perspective. Yanagi examines women’s roles and traditional occupations in her Elevator Girls (leaving a pool of blood behind in this instance), Suzuki harshly binds herself with ropes soaked in her own blood and covers her face with waxy silicone, and Sawada takes on a dizzying array of freakishly girly personas. In all three, the element of performance and role playing comes through clearly, where the women are trapped (mockingly or seriously) in established behaviors imposed by society. Having recently seen the big Pictures by Women show at the MoMA, any one of these three photographers would have fit into that exhibit seamlessly.

Taken together, the show does a nice back and forth between the two groups of artists, surveying the many responses both men and women have employed to fight the sometimes stifling brittleness of Japanese society, showing how different artists have reacted against these ties, exposed thier flaws, and tried to break free from the uniformity.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows:

  • Nobuyoshi Araki: the diptych is $11500, the single print is $7000
  • Tomoko Sawada: the large piece is $5200, the smaller array is $4500
  • Ryoko Suzuki: $1500 each
  • Shuji Terayama: the prints are $2500 each; the book is $750; the postcard set is $80; I didn’t get prices for the films
  • Katsume Watanabe: either $4500 or $6500 each; I didn’t get prices for the books
  • Miwa Yanagi: $20000 as one piece
  • Kohei Yoshiyuki: $9975 each; the books are $300 or $350 each

Of these artists, only Araki and Yanagi have any kind of consistent secondary market history. Araki’s works are often available at auction, usually pricing between $1000 and $5000, though there have been some individual works as high as $45000; multi image collections/arrays have reached much higher. Yanagi’s prints have been more scarce and have ranged in price between $4000 and $18000.

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

Transit Hub:

  • Ryoko Suzuki artist site (here)
  • Miwa Yanagi artist page (here)

Provocateurs of Japanese Photography

Films, Books, and Photographs
Through June 30th
Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts
526 West 26th Street
New York, NY 10001

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Read more about: Katsumi Watanabe, Kohei Yoshiyuki, Miwa Yanagi, Nobuyoshi Araki, Ryoko Suzuki, Shuji Terayama, Tomoko Sawada, Kathleen Cullen Fine Arts

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