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‘Look at Me’

by Luke Wainwright

Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography

Closes Oct. 3

“Look at Me,” the second exhibition in an ongoing series about photographic portraits, takes a big risk by not only limiting itself to a dangerously cliched subject — the nude — but also by drawing exclusively from the collection of the Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography.

Nevertheless, the show’s inclusion of revered works from master photographers, such as Brassai, E.J. Bellocq, Edward Steichen, Robert Mapplethorpe and Nobuyoshi Araki, does guarantee a multifaceted look at the human form, and the way photographers have chosen to depict it.

But let’s be honest: For centuries, art has provided artists with a handy excuse to ask pretty young women to disrobe, and the convenience of the camera certainly made that proposition easier. A lot of nude photography aims to celebrate the aesthetics of the female form within preset categories (The Innocent, The Mother, The Siren), and much of that is on display. The works that stand out, however, are those that move beyond mere studies of light and shadow spreading across nubile breasts — the photos that reveal an inner state, a higher concept or self-commentary. In Yukio Mishima’s re-enactment of San Sebastian (as photographed by Eikoh Hosoe), or Emett Gowin’s superimposition of root vegetables on a naked torso, the body still has a starring role but within a much larger picture.

Interestingly, in the chosen works of more recent artists (Nobuyoshi Araki, Larry Clarke, Nan Goldin) we see echoes of the documentarian nature of early photographers. Minus suggestive poses or dramatic lighting, the photos are stripped of extraneous layers of “art.”

It’s an impressive collection, but visible stretch marks mar the exhibition. A photo of a shirtless workman in Edo is as inappropriate as Diane Arbus’s image of sunbathing suburbanites. Great photos, yes, but they really don’t belong on these walls.

Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Photography is open 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Thu., Fri. until 8 p.m.); admission ¥500. For more information, visit www.syabi.com/e/contents/index.html