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PARCO AND NIKE

Photographers lost in Hokkaido with models

by Monty Dipietro

It really shouldn’t come as any surprise that corporations are getting involved in art exhibitions. Now that we’ve all but got used to bountiful product placement in movies, why shouldn’t brands make their way into art shows? Where will it stop, I wonder — will Harry Potter sip latte at Starbucks in his next book? Will the New York City Ballet soon sport Gap logos on their tutus?

Anyway, Nike is a young person’s brand and Parco is a young person’s store and the two dovetail very cozily for the new exhibition, “Shutter and Love — 10 Women Photographers.”

You know, there used to be a set of criteria for the use of the word “museum,” but I’d best not get started on that or I will drift over to the matter of the Mori’s lack of a permanent collection. Suffice to say that the “Parco Museum of Art and Beyond,” as it calls itself, is a brave and avant-garde space only in the great lengths it goes to in testing the distinction between art exhibition and product promotion, between art book and fashion catalog.

One of many ironies in this exhibition can be found in the press release, which tells us that the 10 photographers “were free to produce their own photo stories with models they chose to work with in Higashikawa, Hokkaido.” Sure, they went to Hokkaido — but are we supposed to believe that the look of the show was not determined by the principal sponsor, Nike? The show poster is of a girl in a Nike sweatshirt. Of the eight-photograph series presented, all feature comely young models who at some point wear Nike products. If you go keen to play a sort of “Where’s Waldo?” with the trademark Nike Swoosh, then you may have fun. Otherwise you may feel a little ripped off — you may feel as if you just gave a corporation your money in order to look at their advertising.

Or maybe you would not feel like that at all? Maybe we’re now all used to the total pervasiveness of advertising — I thumbed through a thick European fashion magazine this summer and it was almost all ads (sexy, provocative and really well-done ads, actually). And I’m told by my TV-critic friend that the highest-priced production items you’ll see on the box are commercials, and that it’s been that way for decades.

Now, this might be the part where I switch gears and say how the photographers in “Shutter and Love” are so talented and innovative, their stories so terribly engaging that the Nike Swoosh is rendered moot.

But I can’t, because this is a show constructed on the staggeringly naive premise that fashion models are character actors.

The idea that girls whose gig is to pout while walking a runway would be equipped to effectively communicate stirring human narratives is far-fetched. Moreover, most of the participating photographers here are working primarily in fashion magazine photography. Whatever could have given the organizers the idea that they would be equipped to construct stirring human narratives?

What we have is 10 series of photographs of fashion models. Wearing lots of Nike stuff. In Hokkaido. The pictures are color and were taken by Mari Amita, Orie Ichihashi, Masami Sano, Fumiko Shibata, Saori Tao, Sayo Nagase, Tomomi Hagane, Suiren Higashino, Erina Fujiwara and Mie Morimoto. Many of the models are pretty. Much of the scenery is pretty.

Quoting from the photographers’ catalog concept statements, I can tell you that one story is about models “roughhousing and having fun against a beautiful nature backdrop.” Another story concerns a model who “wanted to cut her hair really short for the first time in 10 years, but when she did so, she wanted to somehow leave a memory of it.” A third story finds a couple of models who have “escaped from a traveling circus in the forest and are not just cute, they are very strong emotionally too, and really tried hard to get the best pose possible.”

There are also a couple of videos (videos! that’s artsy!), which basically show the photographers and the models and the hair and makeup people and the stylist doing their thing out in some field. Are these interesting? Why would they be?