Art

The power of cultural and economic capital

by John L. Tran

Contributing Writer

Compared to exhibitions in which art objects are meant to seduce us into epiphanic transcendence, the works in “Surface and Custom,” a group show at Shiseido Gallery organized by Berlin-based artists Jay Chung and Q Takeki Maeda, are more akin to frank expositions about the exchange of cultural and economic capital.

It feels a bit like the scene in Ron Howard’s 2001 movie “A Beautiful Mind” where the awkward mathematician John Nash fantastically fails to pick up a girl with the spiel, “I don’t exactly know what I am required to say in order for you to have intercourse with me, but could we assume that I said all that? I mean essentially we are talking about fluid exchange right?”

Chung and Maeda were invited to curate a show to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Shiseido Gallery after they used reconfigured images of the cosmetic company’s archive materials in an exhibition in Cologne earlier this year. In their slideshow, “Moulting,” photos of Shiseido window dressings, product shots of cosmetics and fashion designs flash by in an exploration of culture as a form of skin — a covering that is periodically shed in order to facilitate growth.

Pierre Leguillon’s “Merida (Painting for Sale, by the Meter)” addresses cultural hybridity and the validity of discriminating between craftsmanship and “fine” art. Leguillon mixes a vernacular wall pattern from Mexico with kasuri (splash pattern) textile design from Kyushu. The resulting paintings are then offered for sale according to strict guidelines that emphasize the practical terms of the transaction, drily satirizing the economics of the art world.

Four 1986 watercolor sketches by Yuji Takeoka depict the pedestals of landmark works in Western art history, but without the works themselves. Like Leguillon’s paintings, Takeoka’s sketches question the social and intellectual processes through which objects gain the status of being “art.” In Japan, the idea that sculpture should be elevated by a pedestal, like the broader notion of “fine art” existing as distinct and superior discipline to craft, only dates back to the Meiji Era (1868-1912). Takeoka’s choice of which pedestals he has depicted — including, for example, the very low base of Rodin’s “Les Bourgeois de Calais” and the parodical base for Duchamp’s “Bicycle Wheel” — indicates how the discernment of “art” has also gone through re-evaluation in the Occident.

Carissa Rodriguez’s cinematic video work “The Maid” follows a number of sculptures by Sherrie Levine, which are themselves modeled on sculptures by Constantin Brancusi. One goes through the involved process of art shipping, while others are documented in well-to-do homes surrounded by other trappings of wealth. The use of drone camerawork allows for impressive exterior shots of a penthouse overlooking Central Park in New York City. The sculpted head forms, lying on their sides, face outwards like trophies brought back from a hunt for civilization.

Meanwhile, Sara Deraedt’s straightforward pencil sketches of Cologne Cathedral are, on the surface of it, the kind of thing that could be bought for a few euros from a skillful street artist. In the setting of this exhibition, there’s something oddly belligerent about their mundanity.

Klara Liden’s constructions, made with materials from the street — cardboard, bits of metal, wire and barricade weights — look intentionally awkward and rough in the bourgeois setting of the Shiseido Gallery. Liden brings the specter of homelessness, street protests, police suppression and pollution into a white cube space run by a company with a stated mission of “beauty innovations for a better world.”

It’s a puzzler as to whether dissent has any potency in this context, but hats off to Shiseido for bringing up the dilemma.

“Surface and Custom” at Shiseido Gallery runs through Dec. 22; free. For more information, visit www.shiseidogroup.com/gallery.

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