National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
Closes in 24 days

Apparently the smudged and blurry divide between reality and the realm of fiction and fantasy concerns women more than men. At least it seems to at “Fiction for the Real,” a relatively small exhibition at MOMA, Tokyo (www.momat.go.jp), that brings together 14 works by four cutting-edge female artists — Sophie Calle, Leiko Ikemura, Miwa Yanagi and Chiharu Shiota.

Each, in her unique way, explores the issue of identity and the connected factors of desired, projected and perceived image. French conceptual artist Calle sets arbitrary rules for herself, then records the results in pictures and text. As with her offerings here, her work often seems more suited to the book form than a gallery space. Ikemura’s naive, childlike terracotta figures express the desire and confusion of a middle-age artist who refuses to grow up. Shiota’s “Bathroom,” a monochrome video installation, shows the artist in a bath of mud, washing herself in a slow, strange rhythm. This perverse ritual could have grand political resonances with the way humanity relentlessly pollutes its own environment then wallows in the filth, but in the exhibition’s context, Shiota seems to be awkwardly fighting the male objectification of the female — one that she has invited by presenting herself naked in her own work.

The theme of projected and assumed roles is also skillfully dealt with in Yanagi’s photos that feature a large group of almost identically dressed and madeup elevator girls. Looking at the regimentation and commodification of femininity that is sometimes encountered in modern Japanese consumer society, Yanagi takes a reductio-ad-absurdum approach. Her diptych “Elevator Girl House 1F” imagines what happens after the department store has closed for the night. Like puppets no longer needed, the elevator girls are shown slumped on a moving pavement that has also been switched off: the role assumed in the daytime has become a horrifying reality in the night.

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