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Anne Daems Everywhere

by Monty DiPietro

Tokyo galleries are back in swing after the New Year's holiday, and the surprise toast of the town is an emerging artist, Anne Daems. A look at 34 year old Belgian's bio reveals that Daems has had but four solo shows in her short career, and that is exactly the number of local exhibitions featuring her work right now.

There are plenty of precedents for concurrent exhibitions by a single artist, and a number of advantages to holding them expenses are shared, exposure and media coverage is multiplied, and collectors are presented with a wider range of work from an artist that everybody in the art scene ends up talking about, if only by default. What is noteworthy about this month's concerted focus on Daems is that she is a relative unknown, and as such it is fully possible she might have slipped through Tokyo unnoticed had she shown at but one gallery.

Daems is a multi-disciplinary artist, and her pencil, ink, and crayon drawings are now in at Points des Suspension in Daikanyama and Gallery Side 2 in Sendagaya the latter space also has several of her photographs on hand. At Otsuka's Taka Ishii Gallery are a larger selection of Daems' photographs, while the Tokyo Opera City Gallery in Shinjuku has photographs, drawings, and a short video from the improbably ubiquitous artist.

Daems work is characterized by restraint. She coolly documents what appear to be non-subjects found in her environment, things like a middle-aged woman trimming the hedgerow around her blah brown cottage, a man seen through the window of a similarly bland apartment block, the empty terrace in front of a fast food restaurant. There is nothing new to this aesthetic, it is one of the more prevalent in art photography of the last decade. But what makes Daems' work interesting is her knack for composition, the pictures look as is they were staged, but the artists says they were not. It is in the patience of her process one imagines the artist waiting in ambush for passers-by to fill up her frame that Daems brings the quiet commitment that balances what seems her obsessive need to look and look and look.

And so we are caught up in Daems' seeking out of the something where there appears to be nothing, scrutinizing the stuff of apparently empty moments. As I mentioned, this is nice but not new in contemporary photography what raises Daems' work a notch is the childlike wonder she brings to her drawings.

The drawings at Side 2 are simple and sparse. Subjects range from a green tea bowl and whisk to "Alexander's Bed," viewed from above and depicted as the rectangular outline of a duvet with a smaller rectangle, the pillow, peeking out from underneath. As with many of Daems' drawings, the subject matter only becomes apparent when one reads the tiles, as Daems illustrates only selected elements of what one would expect she saw. An example of this is "Two Businessmen Having a Few Beers," in which the artist has drawn only a couple of neckties, which seem to hover in space above two mugs of beer.

In many of the drawings, Daems has smudged, erased, or whited-out things and then redrawn them elsewhere, creating ghosts where what is seen could have been. The drawings bring the viewer in, they are a delight to look at.

Daems, who won the Belgian young painter's prize in 1999, is a little fazed by all the attention she is getting in Tokyo. I ask her about it at the Side 2 opening party.

"Having four shows is very strange, but I like it a lot!," she laughs, "You know that pop song, 'Big in Japan'?, well tonight, that's how I feel!"

The coordinated showcasing of Daems may well signal the start of a new way of introducing artists among the increasingly united Tokyo contemporary art galleries. Personally, I have mixed feelings about the idea. With no more than a couple of dozen serious contemporary art spaces in Tokyo, showing a single artist at four different locations can seem like a waste of limited space. On the other hand, local collectors are notoriously unwilling to trust their own judgement when it comes to emerging artists. By working together, a handful of smart gallerists have made something of a star out of Daems, and added a little sparkle to the often-bleak Japanese contemporary art market. And there is only good in that.

Notes: Anne Daems is at the Taka Ishii Gallery (3915-7784), Gallery Side 2 (5771-5263), and Points des Suspension (3770-1737) to February 10. Her work is also featured in the group show "Encounters" at the Tokyo Opera City Gallery (5353-0756) to March 18.

Pictured is Untitled (Woman at bus stop) 1996, C-print mounted on aluminum, 38 x 57 cm, by Anne Daems.
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