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Jun Miura at the Laforet Museum

by Monty DiPietro

From the moment one squeezes through the six thick hanging slabs of foam that serve as the old saloon-style entranceway to Jun Miura's current Laforet Museum exhibition, it is apparent that this is no ordinary art show. "Jun Chan Intense #3" is the latest installment in the artist's popular Laforet series, and it offers up a postmodern smorgasbord of Japanese pop culture, as seen through the eyes of a seemingly ageless pop culture hero.

Miura does a good job of hiding his 44 years behind a set of dark sunglasses and shoulder length hair, but the Kyoto-born 'multi-tarento' uses his experience as an illustrator, musician and record producer to effect, mining old films and phonograph records for the 60s and 70s camp sensibilities that inform his work.

Actor/musician Tomoru Taguchi hooked up with Miura in the mid 1990s to form a musical group oriented more by concept than toward performance. Under the name "The Bronsons" (inspired by the no-nonsense machismo of Hollywood action man Charles Bronson), they released a CD single, "Mandam The World Of Man," the title lifted from a corny 70s Japanese television for a manly after shave lotion. Improbably, Taguchi and Miura's esoteric fun found a dedicated audience among kids half their ages. Then, lest he sink back into Scatman John obscurity, Miura took things to the next level, branching out into writing, photography, painting and installation work -- and a cult hero was born.

The first room of Miura's Laforet Museum show is split by a narrow winding path, on either side of which lies a field of crushed white pebbles. The main attraction here is the literally thousands of small, paperbook-sized collages pasted floor to ceiling on the walls and columns. These are made up of mostly pornographic images, the sort one might find by perusing 'adult' magazines or videocassette sleeves. Taken individually, the cut and paste pieces communicate an adolescent male's sexual obsession. Regarded as a room-filling installation, they communicate a very disciplined adolescent male's sexual obsession.

Round the back of the space one finds an area in which Miura is showing photographs he took of "ema." These are the small wooden boards upon which Japanese write down their wishes -- for everything from good health to a pretty girlfriend to a sporty convertible -- and leave on special shelves at Shinto shrines. What Miura has done here is present selections from his photographs of amusing ema -- one, for example, bemoans the writer's involvement with a certain individual. I didn't get most of the humor, but I did see smiles on the faces of some of the young visitors. No guffaws, but smiles.

One next proceeds through a red-walled corridor covered with album covers and retro movie posters from Miura's vast collection.. This part of the show is subdivided into themed selections -- blaxploitation, kung fu, nipples, and so on. The mix of Japanese and Western items nicely shows that some 70s Osaka crooners had sideburns every bit as juicy as you'd find in period Detroit.

The last and largest room of the show is filled with Miura's recent acrylic on canvas paintings, these done thin and crude, really just barely paintings, but busy, full of garish color, and not without a certain charm. Subjects include period rock stars such as Dylan and Johnny Winter, big bold kanji characters, nudey amazon women, and contemporary pop fluff like the Teletubbies -- these often pictured together on the work, in a simple overlapping compositional style that gives Miura's paintings an illusion of depth.

One note, in these large paintings, Miura also throws Hindu deities into the mix. Certainly, posing Vishnu beside a busty nude could be taken by some as disrespectful to one of the world's oldest faiths. But Miura is a cult figure, not a rebel. If he were inclined to make a statement about religion, he might have caricatured his native Imperial family instead.

Ambitious, superficial and immature, Miura's "Jun Chan Intense #3" is not important art by any stretch. But it is a fair bit of creative fun, and there is nothing terribly wrong with that. A concurrent exhibition of photographs and video from Miura's previous ('96, '97) Laforet shows is showing just down Meiji Dori at the Lapnet Ship Gallery in Laforet's annex shop, Foret.

Jun Miura is showing to May 15, 2002 at Laforet Museum, 6F, 1-11-6 Jingumae, Shibuya; 03-3475-0411. The museum is open 11:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. and regular admission is 700 yen. The Lapnet Ship show is free and also runs to May 15, 4F, 1-8-10 Jingumae, Shibuya; 03-5411-3330.

Jun Miura Gallery
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