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Prime: Reflection of Color and Form at the Opera City Gallery

by Monty DiPietro

Color and Form: A couple of words that, if you wanted to try and wrap up painting in a couple of words, would serve you better than the rest. These are the words that an art teacher could write on the blackboard on the first day of classes, then stand back and point at, inviting their students to join in a silent contemplation of the possibilities. Color and form: The fundamentals from which all painting develops.

The Tokyo Opera City Gallery in Shinjuku is taking a look at how today’s young Japanese artists work with the basics in its new exhibition, "Prime: Reflection of Color and Form." The show features 35 works, mostly paintings, from a half-dozen mostly-under-40 artists. And it is a delight.

There is a bright and airy, wide-open feeling to the Opera City Gallery, a big space that had been mostly shrouded in darkness the last time I visited, for Tatsuo Miyajima’s LED extravaganza.

The show’s first room is filled with Yuumi Domoto’s big abstract canvases—a pageantry of garish color described in de Kooning-esque back-and-forth brushstrokes. Toward the back wall is "Round Rectangle" (1998), the largest of Shiro Matsui’s nine pieces, all of which are solid-color sheets of silicone rubber and very pop.

In the next room are Hidenori Majima’s round canvases—cloudlike formations described in India ink and linen paper, portholes on a dreamy night sky.

Masakatsu Kondo, meanwhile, has brought a series of landscapes that recall the flatness and muted colors of traditional Japanese Nihonga painting. The acrylic on canvas studies, of mountain ranges, desert vegetation, and lime trees, look as if they might have been computer-treated, in that they appear both perfect and unreal.

Noriaki Maeda has put the Opera City’s ample space to good use. Maeda’s untitled copper and resin sculpture, which resembles a rusting hull section from a beached frigate and stretches almost ten meters across the show’s fourth room, is a highlight of the show. This is the first work Maeda has done on this scale, and it shows great promise. The artist is currently working on another large sculpture for a summer gallery show in London.

Nine beautiful botanical paintings by one of Japan’s most exciting young painters, Chieko Oshie, close out the exhibition. Several new works join some of Oshie’s best-known studies of burdock root, among them pictures that were featured at the Chicago 2000 art fair last month. The artist’s "Amai Nioi," a 1999 work in washes of reds and purples, might be the single most impressive piece in the show.

With their ICC neighbors concerned primarily with media art, it is nice to see the Opera City turning turning its attention to painting. And while a show of more-established artists (say, yet another Picasso or Impressionist exhibition) would certainly draw more visitors, this fine new art space deserves credit for offering its walls to new Japanese painters.

"These days," says the show’s curator, Santo Oshima, "when we talk about contemporary art, it is more installation-oriented work, photographs, video, and things like that that come to mind. But I wanted to try to go back to the origins and focus on the formalistic aspects of art."

"Prime: Reflection of Color and Form" is a show that does just that. There is a good deal of good work here, and it should satisfy both contemporary art enthusiasts and those whose tastes run more to the traditional styles of creative expression.

Notes: Until July 20, 2000, Tokyo Opera City Gallery (5353-0756), pictured is a work by Chieko Oshie
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