Alexander Gronsky is slightly surprised at his own success. Standing outside the warehouse building that is hosting a joint reception for several artists, including Thomas Ruff, he chain smokes a couple of cigarettes while we chat about doing photography during a typhoon, and how nobody in the Tokyo art scene seems to have ever been to Ikebukuro.
While we are talking a large black MPV pulls up and a distinguished looking lady steps out, smiles at Gronsky, then glides gracefully into the vernissage.
“Do you know her?” I ask. “She looks stinking rich.”
“I hope so,” he replies with a cheerful glee.
Gronksy is developing a new photographic series while he is in Japan. Working with a collaborator who has come from Estonia with him, he emphasizes that it will be of “ordinary” scenes and “ordinary” people, intentionally avoiding the temptation to exoticize. He is also interested in diptychs and stereoscopy, as he is no longer enamored of the singular landscape image — the format of the work he currently has on show at the Yuka Tsuruno Gallery that owes much to the aesthetic of the New Topographics.
While Gronsky himself may feel he wants to move on, it is not difficult to see why the images have been so well-received. They are deeply satisfying from a compositional point of view, but also they bear repeated viewing for their ability to sustain different readings, something that the artist is happy to promote.
Many of Gronsky’s landscapes are peopled with small figures isolated from each other by a flattened picture plane, reminiscent of the voyeurism of Hieronymous Bosch, Bruegel the Elder or Heian Yamato-e cloud paintings, and may appear to be lacking in emotional investment. Susan Sontag would certainly have been scornful of this “disinterestedness,” but if one thing could be said about the artist, it is that he is massively interested, just not overtly judgmental or partisan.
We can be amused by a man swimming in a small hole cut in the ice as a skier passes by, or the image of a couple enjoying a rural idyll overshadowed by huge cooling towers, but the humor is not cruel.
“I only recently realized that I make a face like this when I am taking photographs,” Gronksy says, looking like he’s just sucked on a lemon. “I get stressed with people getting in the way, or worry if I’m going to get the shot; landscape is constantly changing.”
Gronsky’s partner is grinning while he says this, and then gently reminds him that the reception is starting and we should go back in. “Wait a minute. I want to finish this,” he says, slightly uncomfortable with the idea of wasting half a cigarette.
“Alexander Gronsky” at the Yuka Tsuruno Gallery in Koto-ku, Tokyo, runs till Oct. 25; open 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Free. Closed Mon. and Tue. www.yukatsuruno.com