Soaking up the ‘male gaze’


What to make of photographs of blue tarpaulins, mobiles of cigarette butts and bathroom sponges folded to suggest a woman’s derriere?

I’m not sure, but I like it.

I really don’t think artist Takaaki Izumi means to be abstruse, but his work is certainly flummoxing. It can appear unfinished until you evaluate exactly what it is.

“I like to keep my works simple, as important things ought not to be understood, but be realized quickly and instinctively,” says Izumi.

Still, free of any handy point of reference, his works reside in a curious place somewhere between naively straightforward and conceptually inaccessible.

Izumi is showing nine new pieces in a variety of media in an exhibition running until Aug. 5 at the Taro Nasu Gallery in Roppongi. Although the artist says that the pieces are united to some degree by the female image — or more accurately the male perception of said image — ironically there isn’t an image of a female anywhere in the show.

“I mean to relate to everyday life and the environment that surrounds me, or a personal experience, or my memories. This time, I have taken as a motif the universal image of woman, one of my important concerns,” says Izumi. “For example, in my work ‘W.X.Y.W.’ I express the perversion of women’s images, and the male tendency toward objectification of women.”

“W.X.Y.W.” is based on an adolescent graffiti doodle that represents female frontal nudity by arranging the letters W, X, and Y on a vertical axis. Izumi has carved the letters into blocks of wood, and though I normally don’t go in for art that mimics adolescent sensibilities, the wooden medium gives this attempt just enough weight to stand on its own.

One thing I easily appreciated was the artist’s treatment of what feminists have termed the “male gaze.” For centuries artists have fixated on the female form; Here Izumi draws that gaze to a flesh-colored sponge. Carefully “posed” and photographed to suggest a back view of the iconic curve from waist to hip, the object absorbs the male gaze — that is, until the realization that it is merely a sponge.

But that’s the point, Izumi wants us to see that it is a sponge, and so he wants the deception to be quickly demystified — the sponge is displayed right there, mounted on the gallery wall beside the faux-erotic photograph. And it is a sad, little, soiled sponge that I couldn’t help likening to the male gaze.

Then there are those cigarettes: Caster filter tips that dangle from the ceiling in the middle of the room. Now, I’ve smoked a lot of cigarettes while thinking about women, could it be that the two are interrelated?

But perhaps I’m overreaching.

The 30-year-old Izumi lives in Aichi Prefecture, the home of Toyota, which he has entertainingly addressed with a work comprised of party streamers celebrating the carmaker’s logo. An on-site catalog of Izumi’s previous work shows experiments dealing with disparate everyday objects and environments such as concrete pillars, shoes, Styrofoam cups and rocks wrapped in foil. The pieces improvise with material and form to create an art that reflects the joy of discovery, tempered by occasional dark undercurrents.

As this was Izumi’s first solo show in Tokyo, I was pleasantly surprised that most of the pieces had sold by the first weekend. In total the exhibition proves Izumi to be that rare artist who is able to maintain a sense of humor while taking his work seriously. Better yet, he is bent on investigating wholly original processes for inspiration and creation.