Art is Fun 10 at the Hara ARC

by Monty DiPietro

Really: I got lost on the way to the exhibition "Art is Fun 10" because the map I was carrying got eaten by a goat. The hungry critter was one of the attractions at "Green Bokujo," a farm/amusement park that stands, improbably, between the closest back-road bus stop and big V-shaped postmodern barn that is the Hara Museum ARC, way out in rustic Gunma Prefecture. And although the goatís chomping was certainly inspired, it soon became evident that the animalís critical taste was woefully underdeveloped, because the group show I finally track down at the ARC is a great round-up of wonderfully diverse work by some of Japanís best young artists.

The exhibition, sub-titled "Angelic, Devilish, or Both," is the tenth in the ARCís annual summer series. The eight participating artists are all either in or around their thirties, and there are some 40 works on display.

One of the most impressive pieces is the kinetic sculpture "1999.12.24" (1997-99), an iron Christmas tree which would be over five meters high were its trunk not mounted very nearly parallel to the ground, on a cement-mixer motor. As the heavy tree slowly rotates, gravity is constantly re-orientating the hundreds of decorations affixed to it Ė a loud, clanging process that joins hum and creak of engine in an overpowering din. The artist, Taira Ichikawa, has stuck a mercury-vapor lamp in the hollow of the tree such that light streams out through holes and plays planetarium-like patterns on the walls. Large scale, weighty, and in command of the room Ė this is what a powerful installation should be.

There are video-projected faces on the very Tony Oursler-like efforts of Izuru Kasahara, a number of trompe líoeil light-reflecting boxes, titled "Refscopes," by Tae Morita, and a room full of eccentric inventor-style, bicycle wheel-mounted robot camera devices from Tatsuji Ushijima, who also built a big wind-powered rotating-bed sculpture, "Memory-Landscape" (1998), that spins out on the museumís sprawling lawn.

Five of Hiroshi Sugitoís acrylic on paper and canvas works are here. The pictures find tiny airplanes and other object dotting otherwise empty landscapes. The horizons, which tend to bisect one of the thirds in the compositions, divide richly textured fields of green, and stark gray-blue skies. Still in his twenties, Sugito is a talented painter who we will be seeing a lot more from in the next few years.

Masayo Koizumiís computer-treated photo portraits of museum guests join her pioneering installation "The Dolls for the Girlís Festival," a painted and jewel-encrusted baby bottle monument first displayed 10 years ago. Few Japanese artists have as much invested in the cute art genre as Yoshitomo Nara, whose Disneyesque fiber-reinforced plastic dog sculptures are complimented in this show by "Lonesome Puppy" (1996), a childrenís storybook-style 17 panel work on paper that follows the one of the artistís signature, impishly-grinning little girls as she climbs up the back of a giant puppy. The girl is surprised at the size of the dog, and this is evident from the little sweat bead that forms on the girlís face. But in the next frame she smiles a cute little smile, and the big lovable puppy is charmed, then the pair become friends and, it can be assumed, live happily ever after.

Thankfully, the exhibition quickly recovers from this possible saccharine poisoning, saved by the mural-like oil on canvas paintings of Japanese-Brazilian painter Oscar Satio Oiwa. The artist attributes his use of political subjects, vivid color and forced perspective in the big allegorical pictures to his Latin American influences. In a further tribute to his homeland, Oiwa primes his canvases with coffee grounds.

With "Art is Fun 10: Angelic, Devilish, or Both," the Hara curators (Tomoyuki Mitsui did this show) have once again shown that they know how to balance a show, and in the process have given art-lovers an excellent reason to take a day trip to their country cousin the ARC. If any more convincing is required, there are excellent hot springs just up the road. Please mind the goats en route.


notes: until Sep 26, 1999 (0279-24-6585).
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