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TOMOKO KONOIKE

An unexplained howl

by Monty Dipietro

I don’t much care for those explanatory texts we call “artists’ statements,” because if an artist has to explain a work of art, then it simply isn’t standing on its own. Artists who spell out what their art means (and, in doing so, establish parameters regarding how one should see it), only succeed in compromising the joy experienced in discovering art.

And so I’ve always appreciated the fact that, even though they are filled with symbolism and allegory, Tomoko Konoike does not explain her paintings. An artist who broke onto the scene at the relatively advanced age of 40, Konoike has over the past five years or so established herself as one of the leading creative forces in Japan. Drawing from an unparalleled imagination, and working with tremendous technique and on a grand scale, Konoike’s room-filling installations have already appeared in Japan’s best museums, and slowly but surely the rest of the world has been catching on.

The artist’s new show is “The Planets Are Temporarily Hidden by Clouds,” now at the Mizuma gallery in Naka-Meguro. The centerpiece of the exhibition is a 3-meter-long, mirror-covered wolf that Konoike constructed for a solo exhibition at the Ohara Museum of Art in Okayama Prefecture last April and May. Wolves are nothing new for Konoike; her work has frequently included references to feral canines, usually in concert with a small and surreal set of complementary subject matter that includes daggers, bees and schoolgirls’ legs.

The larger-than-life forms the centerpiece of the installation “The Planet Is Covered by Silvery Sleep.” The wolf is illuminated by three spotlights which reflect a jagged pattern of light and shadow across the walls. Behind the wolf trail a variety of objects — apples, tortoises, chains and masks — on a blanket of wolf skins which the artist assures me were acquired in all political correctness through a proper conservation authority.

Characteristically, Konoike avoids explaining the significance, if any, of the apples and so on she has trailed behind the wolf. She says she worked more with the idea of texture and color for this piece. In its appearance in Ohara this spring, the wolf was lit by sunlight streaming through the windows of a Western-style wooden sitting room, and the skins behind it were unadorned. What she’s done with the apples and the spotlights is an attempt to adjust the piece for the white, cube format of the Mizuma Gallery. While it is without question engaging, judging by photographs from Ohara, the quiet elegance of that configuration was superior in effect.

Accompanying the wolf in the main exhibition area is an 11-minute video of Konoike’s pencil-and-paper animations, titled “Mimio — Odyssey — Open Book Version.” This is a revisiting of the sort of monochrome animation the artist has done in the past, featuring the amorphous character “Mimio” playfully making her way through a variety of landscapes and adventures. The innovation here is that the animation is being projected from overhead onto the open pages of a large book mounted on a plinth.

Books also appear in totally new works showing in the Mizuma’s second room. These, titled “Cross-Section View of Earth,” employ side-by-side schematics to draw parallels between our internal world — that is, personal feelings and moods — and the dynamics of energy that rage within our planet.

The works here represent something of a departure for Konoike, whose last few shows were built around huge paintings. There is still some of that power of scale in the form of the giant, glittering wolf, but also a new interest in the creation of standalone smaller pieces, especially the new book-themed work, which may well help introduce the artist to new collectors in both Japan and the West.