Japan Visual Art Exhibition at Fujita Vente

by Monty DiPietro

Everyone loves to win a prize, but you wouldn’t know it from the expression on the face of Tetsuya Ishida, co-winner of the this year’s Grand Prize at the Japan Visual Arts Exhibition.

"I don’t really feel happy," mumbles the artist, while avoiding eye contact. "I am worried because I’ve reached a transition and I feel like I have to change my work now, so I’ve got to think about that."

As Ishida slowly speaks, it is evident that the 24 year-old artist is thinking really, really hard. And he is glum, despite the fact that he has just beat out 210 other artists to share a one million yen first prize and win a trip to go and exhibit in Slovakia next year. Four of Ishida’s paintings and the work of the annual competition’s three dozen other finalists are on display at Fujita Vente in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward.

Ishida’s 103x146cm acrylics on wood-panel paint an unsettling picture of human despair against a lifeless grey urban landscape. His subjects run on sinister treadmills, or morph with buildings. Some stand trapped chin-deep in concrete or lay wrapped in clear plastic sheets, While pain is suggested in the works, the faces of the people in Ishida’s nightmare images display all the emotion Ishida does upon winning the Grand Prize; that is, none.

On the ogallery’s opposite wall hangs a bright series of tattooed gangsters and geisha by Hisashi Tenmyoya. The artist’s subjects roll dice, wield swords, fire guns, and drop dead honorably. Each of Tenmyoya’s rhombus-shaped, pine-framed large panels is subdivided several times to tell an underworld-flavored tale. Realistic, hard-edged painting works well with Tenmyoya’s up-close and personal composition to bring the viewer into the works.

Organizers have made sure to represent almost every imaginable type of two-dimensional art. There is hands-on photography - visitors can rearrange the magnetized mouths, eyes and noses in Mayumi Oana’s portraits - plenty of paintings and ink on paper, and an amusing computer-art series, "Tokyo is Beautiful," which features giant human statues towering in the center of Tokyo.

But the focus of the show and prefered medium of the finalists is not high-tech - it is paintings.

"I like paint," says Ishida, "because if I used photography or video, I would have to start with real people and buildings and then change them. By using paint, I can bring these images out of my imagination."

Considering that Japan Visual Art ‘97 is funded mainly by Fujita Corporation and the Japanese government, some of the work is surprisingly political. Ishida’s work in particular, but also the teenage prostitutes and flaming saleryman in"Tokyo is Beautiful" comment on consumer society in a way too often absent in contemporary art here. Perhaps the eccentric Katsumi Asaba, one of the judges, decided it was time for this country’s artists to stop being cute and start being critical.

"This is just the real Japan," says Japan Art and Culture Association’s Kaori Hashiguchi, whose group is one of the show’s sponsors. "Art has to be different from the political policy," she explains, "And we don’t like controlling art."

The social criticism may be tame by Western standards, but combined with the diversity of the works on display, it makes the Japan Visual Arts Exhibition a good one-stop sampling of some of Japan’s most interesting young artists.

notes: until Oct 15, 1997 (3796-2486).
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