Tokyo Station Gallery is showing a pick ‘n’ mix exhibition, “12 Rooms 12 Artists,” comprising a variety of modern and contemporary art acquisitions from the UBS art collection. There is no explicit curatorial imperative to connect or compare the works, so you’re free to enjoy the visual confections in your own way.
The pieces are all two-dimensional, with the exception of a figurative bronze “Odalisque” by Anthony Caro. Given that these are from a corporate collection, only one work in the show may cause a banker to have a Damascene moment and quit to start a boutique sourdough bakery, and that would be Taiwanese artist Chen Chieh-Jen’s 2003 piece “Factory”. This montage of archive 1960s black-and-white propaganda shows the life of factory workers in Taiwan’s textile industry, and contemporary video of women who worked for over 20 years in the Lien Fu garment factory, now derelict, before being made redundant in 1996 without any severance pay or pensions.
“Factory” is declamatory about its engagement with social and political issues. Other artists in the show are more ambivalent, their concerns dealt with more subtly, or they grapple with issues of a more personal sort.
Isaac Julien’s work, for example, is represented with three luscious and cinematic photographs from the 2010 film installation project “Ten Thousand Waves.” The two glossy landscapes and a dramatic restaging of a scene from the 1930s Chinese film “The Goddess” come across as picturesque and exotic, though one of Julien’s intentions behind entangling traditional myth, cinema and the deaths of trafficked Chinese workers in northwest England in 2004 was to draw attention to the dark side of travel and globalization.
The two largest spaces of the gallery are occupied by the work of the creatively seminal Ed Ruscha and more organically seminal Lucien Freud. In the first case Ruscha’s tongue-in-cheek reworkings of advertising, company logos and vernacular architecture fill the room with color and drama, as he signals to us ideological mechanisms buried in American visual culture. An installation of intimate and personal torn snapshots dating back to 1972, entitled “Days We Were Happy,” by Noboyushi Araki, appear in a small side room to Ruscha’s space. The contrast between the two approaches works very well.
The display of a couple of Freud’s fleshy paintings and 24 monotone etchings in the main 2nd-floor brick-walled gallery are harder to get excited about, mainly because their intensity and introspection are dissipated by the size of the room. The exhibition ends with some examples of 1980s Italian “transavangardism” from painters Mimmo Paladino and Sandro Chia, which reminded me that a lot of the ’80s needs to go away and never come back.
“12 Rooms 12 Artists: Works from the UBS Art Collection” at Tokyo Station Gallery runs until Sept. 4; 10 a.m.-6 p.m. (Fri. until 8 p.m.). ¥1,000. Closed Mon. www.ejrcf.or.jp/gallery
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