Art

Left-field visions of Kyoto's rising artists

by Matthew Larking

Contributing Writer

The Museum of Kyoto’s current exhibition, “Kyoto Art for Tomorrow,” has a history of 60 or so years. For the 2019 edition, the selection of artists was made by committee, based on recommendations by those at Kyoto city and prefecture art universities, gallerists and curators. Presented as a noteworthy emerging cast are 45 artists, all under the age of 40, working in miscellaneous mediums — from lacquer to small-scale mixed-media installations. A special few were awarded distinguished prizes by sponsors, and this year’s grand winner, a moving image installation by Yuriko Sasaoka, was a nod to digital media in an exhibition format usually dominated by painting.

Sasaoka trained as an oil painter, though her Best Artist prizewinning “Gyro” is a filmography of a theater stage in miniature, filled with amusing fusions of real-life and animated imagery. The generalized composition borrows conventions of representing the death of the Buddha in which the pantheon and a host of animals gather around the central deity.

Sasaoka’s collage of references, however, includes Shinto torii gates, animal heads craftily painted onto outstretched human hands that occasionally close in acts of prayer and an impish figure putting in miles on a treadmill. Captions at the bottom of the screen implore for the acknowledgement of existence and refer to fears of earthquakes, tsunamis and torrential rainfall, admitting “Here is an eternal jail.” “Gyro” is a grotesquerie of playfully digitized puppetry, combined with what seems a poignant evocation of the succession of natural disasters afflicting Japan in recent times.

Paintings on show run the gamut of expressions, from the impasto pricked geometric patterns in the abstract “Structure Object 8” by Shinya Imanishi, to the more conservatively styled duck on a pond set before an ethereal background by Haruka Iwai. Figuration, however, is the exhibition’s forte and its standout practitioners include Yusuke Yagi’s “2018/11/30 2:43,” for which he uses pointillism to create a glistening night scene of an under-bridge intersection of roadways; Haruki Yamaba’s stop-motion succession of several hundred figures dancing into a fantastical musical score; and Momoko Yoshida’s “OLD Brg.,” an unnerving phantasm that almost appears to skirt along and then away from the surface of her painting.

Also admirable is the crumbly and skein-like surface of Yasuaki Kuzumoto’s “Vision of Empty,” a delicately inverted white vessel; Yukari Inoue’s documentary shorts concerning the hopes and poetic reminiscences of old-age Japanese wives resident in the Korean Peninsula; and the voluptuously unsettling pair of torso sculptures by Yosuke Takasaki.

To buoy the new names, an accompanying exhibition in the museum’s Annex features the specially installed supernumerary plastic figurine assemblages of the internationally prominent Hiroshi Fuji. In “Jurassic Inheritance,” Fuji has filled the hall with a swirling, candy-colored mandala of discarded children’s toys, carefully arranged on the floor like an eccentric game of dominos. These Happy Meal figurines, “Doraemon” and Disney characters, are the raw materials Fuji uses to create small-scale dinosaur sculptures that rise up out of the debris, the leftovers of prepubescent pop culture engendering his present-day primordial visions.

“Kyoto Art for Tomorrow 2019: Selected Artists in Kyoto” and “Special Exhibition by Fuji Hiroshi: Modern Artist — ‘Jurassic Inheritance'” at The Museum of Kyoto and its Annex runs until Feb. 3; ¥500, free entry for Annex exhibition. For more information, visit www.bunpaku.or.jp/en.