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Back to Reviews 96

The First Steps

new york reviews
by joan kee

"The First Steps:
Emerging Artists
from Japan"

at Grey Art Gallery, NYU

Jan. 16-Feb. 21, 1997

Featuring the winners of an art competition sponsored by Philip Morris for Japanese artists, this show of relatively young (20- 40 year old) artists provided a fascinating mix of content and form. The gently undulating folds of gauze and soft iridescent pastels of Takayuki Katahira's cloth and wire constructions posed an interesting contrast to the precise eye of Manabu Yamanaka, whose startlingly candid photographs of naked elderly Japanese men and women embodied both clinical accuracy and human empathy in his attention to anatomy and facial expression.

Many of the works dealt with breaking away. In Miran Fukuda's Woman With a Letter, an oil painting seems to undergo a slow eruption as pieces of the work move away from each other. This mirrors the idea that Japan is also moving from slavish emulation of Western artistic ideas and trends. Grand Prize winner Yutaka Sone hints at the ambiguous fate of Japanese art in The Hong Kong Mirror--Storyboard for a Never-ever Film, a series of gritty, postcard-size panels drawn in charcoal and illustrating urban life in Hong Kong. Rapidly shifting between panoramic Kowloon cityscapes to closeups of a man's leg or face, Sone suggests the precariousness of urban life and a marked ambivalence towards the city. The double possibility of reading his storyboard from left to right in the Western tradition, or right to left in the Japanese style furthers this ambivalence. Whether ambivalent or assertive, however, all ten artists in the show decisively proved the absence of a definitive "Japanese" esthetic in contemporary Japanese art.

Grey Art Gallery, NYU, 100 Washington Square East, New York, N.Y. 10013

JOAN KEE frequently writes on contemporary Asian and Asian American art.