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Beautiful, Bittersweet, Dazzling and Dark: Bijin-ga & Mythology, Pop Japan, and Kuma-Puff at Bui

Every new generation of artists must deal with the dreams and burdens of art history in its own way — a dynamic that is further complicated and enriched if that generation is also confronting locally and globally significant societal and political issues at the same time. For the generation of young Japanese artists represented in this tripartite group exhibition, it’s rather a perfect storm, as they take on not only the centuries-long visual paradigms and conventions of Japanese visual culture, but the way those tropes portrayed female power and beauty — and this within the context of the increasingly mingled aesthetic of East-West inter-pollinations in popular culture, as well as many of the same environmental, economic and social justice issues that their generation is grappling with around the globe.

Shiki Taira at Building Bridges Art Exchange

What is pretty? What is sexy, powerful, innocent, cute, corrupt? How to tell apart what is real from what is fantasy? What is truly modern when history weighs so heavily and looms so large? What do ancient mythology and centuries of folkloric archetypes have to teach us about today? How can female artists work within the visual language of pattern, hyper-stylization, stereotype, and superficial beauty standards to both celebrate and subvert their influence, creating compelling, insightful modern images that symbolize the very metamorphosis their generation is undergoing in everyday life? All of this and more inheres in the work of these artists, and their sampling of high-fashion iconography from museum-quality kimono to the shops of Harajuku, rituals from spiritualism to modern dating, and especially feminism and sexuality as portrayed in cultural segments from geisha to manga, anime to sci-fi, mythology to modernism.

Beniko Choji at Building Bridges Art Exchange

Within this swirling universe of cultural cross-currents, these individual artists also seek to tether the universal dimensions of their visions to the bedrock of personal experiences, specific influences, and the full range of unpredictably and eccentric inspirations that animate the souls of every artist. Curated by Seiji Toyoshima, in partnership with art du marche, Ginza Modan Art & MAM, this timely exhibition comprises three parts. First, a residency by “Traveling Handicrafter” Atsuko Matsushita, whose Kuma-Puff installation reflects a new paradigm for redefining the cuteness and innocence of childhood through the production of awkward, emotional, toylike emotional avatars. Second, a capsule exhibition called Bijin-ga & Mythology, which takes a specific look at the bijin-ga artform — vintage Japanese woodblock prints, photographs and postcards of beautiful women, especially ones wearing brightly patterned kimono and striking seductive poses. Artists Beniko Choji, Momoko Koie, Natsuko Tanihara, Shiki Taira, Takuya Mitani each in their particular way address elements of stylized rendering from the photographic to the psychedelic, introducing elements of modernity like prevalent eye-contact that pierces the sexualized reveries in a manner most reminiscent of the challenge to the patriarchy presented by the self-possession of Manet’s Olympia.

Hiromi Moegi at Building Bridges Art Exchange

Kuma Puff “Sato” at Building Bridges Art Exchange

Finally, Pop Japan (featuring artists Chisato Tatsumi, Hiromi Moegi, Hirono Morita, Marukomexy, Mei Maro, Misa Tsuchiya, Narumi Hosokawa, Nori Yamamoto, Rina Takagi, Roco Asada, and Reimi) takes a specific focus on the cosmically vivacious, mischievously coy, supersaturated color and visual texture of contemporary pop styles. Working in more recognizably modern idioms in both dress and draftsmanship style, as well as recognizing the incursions of abstract expressionism into the dialog with mythology and folklore, this work seems more overtly expressive of the conflict or at least complexity between East and West that animates the natural surrealism of social media influencer avant-garde fashion-obsessed youth culture. Of course within the Pop umbrella there is always the chance for occasional intercontinental curve balls. Taken together this meta-exhibition offers a unique and lively look at the future of fresh paint, speaking a globalized language of visual cultural with an accent of archetypal Japanese flair.

Kuma Puff at Building Bridges Art Exchange


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