Bome (pronounced "bo-may") is a designer and model-maker for the Kayodo company of Osaka, Japan. On display at Feature are 14 sub-quarter scale models of Japanese cartoon characters, lacquer-on-resin prototypes for the manufacture of model kits that customers must assemble and paint themselves. These sculptures are in fact three-dimensional reproductions of two-dimensional anime found in Japan's popular Manga, a type of comic book with "mature" themes that appeals to teenagers.
Bome makes commercial art objects. While arguably exotic here, Manga are mainstream in Japan.
Bome's foot-high fetish pieces are the adolescent heavy-metal embodiment of wet dreams, if realized on a relatively small scale. The diminutive babes are hot and lovable, their perky adolescence enlivened by close scrutiny. Exquisitely lyrical, these campy mini-vamps with their wide Keane eyes are female stereotypes made plastic. Each figure, thematically festooned in an outfit that strains against reality, blazes with polymorphous perversity and promises of surreal sexual bounty. At the same time -- incredibly -- these dolls present a fantasy of lethal independence along with the jaw-dropping sentimentality of the Cabbage Patch Kids. They're mega-Barbies, deeply embedded in a complex commercial structure.
The presentation of these models by Feature is audacious, if not bodacious. Within the context of the art gallery it has been ordained as art -- not hard to do, these days. As for their cliched, objectified bastardization of the female form, hey, it's a cartoon character -- a fantasy made physical. In our media society, they're hardly different from Barbarella, Roseanne and Camille Paglia!
In Japan, the art world is hissy over the increasingly popular collectible model industry (Bome's model kits sell out as soon as they hit the stores, with many collectors never taking the model from the box). This is a new wrinkle on the high art vs. kitsch debate. Call it Fine Kitsch. At any rate, Bome's dolls are the next step in the history of doll-making, and reflect the same obsessions that art history reveals in a culture that has produced beautiful dolls for thousands of years.
Bome at Feature, Inc., Jan. 6-Feb. 14, 1998, 76 Greene Street, New York, N.Y. 10012.
PAUL H-O is a New York artist and producer of the public access television show, Art TV.