Exploring themes of dimensions and time, Japan’s contemporary art scene is a cosmos of its own

by Matthew Larking

Special To The Japan Times

“The Cosmos as Metaphor’ at Taka Ishii Gallery and Hotel Anteroom Kyoto is almost entirely engaging. Bringing together many diverse artists, the expectation is that the exhibition concept is spread wide. Indeed “Multi-dimensional and magical time spaces” along with “untouched civilizations” and “other mythologies” are the staggering parameters. The restriction to 12 contemporary artists helps to assuage the nebulous theoretical framework.

Among the paintings, Makoto Ofune’s mineral pigments in “eternal #5″ (2007) produce an abstraction of exquisite surface effects. Moving past the piece, metallic blues and amorphous purples streak aurora-like and then shimmer away. While not strictly a painter, Kazuki Umezawa creates a sprawling inkjet print titled “A Certain Mankind’s Super Landscape” (2011) composed of supernumerary artistic borrowings. Combining miniature cute girls from manga, depictions of monuments and skyscrapers, a phoenix and Buddha figures in a fantastic amalgamation, it is a fusion of pop culture and painterly abstraction that is entirely successful.

Among the sculptures is Hirata Akihisa’s “Flame frame” (2008), which translates the art form through the architecture of organic chemistry. According to the gallery, conjoining geometrical aluminum fittings into an elegant upright form based upon the structure of amino acids suggests the “possibility of architecture that is freed from vertical gravity.” Yet, it is installed vertically and bolted to the walls.

Kohei Nawa has exhibited “Swell — Deer” (2007), recreating the animal in blistering blobs of yellow-brown foamed polyurethane. Nawa did similar accretive sculptures in pixelations of beads in 2009, creating works that confirmed his presence in the top tier of contemporary artists in Japan. Observing some of the prehistory to that artistic acclaim is one of the show’s engagements.

Of the more interesting installations, Kohei Yamashita’s “Apollo” (2011) sees the artist arranging telescopes looking onto the outdoor rock garden in the hotel foyer. Taking a peek through them reveals mildly murky views of astronauts planting the American flag. Like the circulating urban myth stipulating the inaugural moon landing as fabrication, Yamashita is able to set up a convincing model of how documentary evidence can be contrived.

Where the show begins to limp along is in the conceptual art offerings. Hirofumi Isoya’s “Diffused Reflection of Reading” (2008) is composed of devices said to reflect “light in numerous directions to scatter the flow and understanding of time.” Mostly, these are wonky mirror disco balls.

Nobuko Tsuchiya’s shiny, bulbous form in “11th Dimension Project 2″ (2011), is reminiscent of a giant breast implant and is indeed made of silicone. Set upon an oddly measured metal rack it is hard to avoid notions of surgical femininity. Yuki Kimura’s exhibit of found children’s chairs in “eleven,” meanwhile, treads the well-worn territory of childhood reminiscence and nostalgia. It almost engenders a nostalgic pining for a more robust conceptualism of times past.

Makoto Ofune, Kazuki Umezawa, Kohei Nawa and Kohei Yamashita, Hirofumi Isoya and Nobuko Tsuchiya’s works are on show a Hotel Anteroom Kyoto. Yuki Kimura, Akihisa Hirata and other Nobuko Tsuchiya installations are on show at Taka Ishii Gallery Kyoto. “The Cosmos as Metaphor” runs till Sep 1 at Taka Ishii Gallery Kyoto (open from 11 a.m.-7 p.m., closed Sun and Mon), and till Oct 7 at Hotel Anteroom Kyoto (open from 12 p.m.-7 p.m. daily). Admission is free. For more information, visit www.takaishiigallery.com/en/exhibitions/2012/cosmos or http://hotel-anteroom.com/2012/08/19/1645.