Chiharu Shiota, Endless Love, 2023, Threads on canvas, 55.2x63 in. Courtesy of the artist and TEMPLON.
Photo by Jake Price for Japan Contemporaries.
The Armory Show and Manga Art
By Kyoko Sato, September 9, 2023
The 2023 edition of the Armory Show, held at the Javits Center in New York City from September 7 to 10, marked the first show under the umbrella of Frieze. The Armory Show was initially founded by New York art dealers, while Frieze had its origins in London. With notable New York dealers such as Gagosian, David Zwirner, and Jeffrey Deitch absent from this edition, one cannot help but contemplate the political dynamics at play within the world's largest art fairs. Nevertheless, art has the power to transcend politics; it should be a means of crossing borders and fostering human connection and love.
Politics aside, at the Armory show, I was delighted to discover the works of Japanese artists who, renowned for their enduring spirituality, presented their creations quietly yet profoundly. The centerpiece at TEMPLON Gallery was Chiharu Shiota's "Endless Love" (2023). With its red color symbolizing our blood and its strings resembling blood vessels, this large-scale installation consistently stirred the hearts of viewers, showcasing Shiota's unwavering belief in love.
Tomokazu Matsuyama, Duvel Nostalgia, 2023, acrylic and mixed media on canvas, 54x54x2 in. | 137.2x137.2x5.1 cm
Courtesy of the artist and Kavi Gupta, photo by Jake Price for Japan Contemporaries.
While gazing at a piece at Kavi Gupta Gallery, I had the pleasure of conversing with an art collector who already possessed several works by the artist Tomokazu Matsuyama (b. 1976). He expressed his admiration for Matsuyama's ability to infuse vibrant rainbow colors into his subjects' clothing. The specific piece in question, "Duvel Nostalgia" from 2023, had already been sold before the art fair's opening.
Matsuyama skillfully incorporates refined traditional Japanese art patterns from history, including elements like flowers, trees, and birds dating back to centuries-old Japanese masters' creations including inspiration from Ukiyo-e prints from the Edo era.
What particularly caught my attention in this artwork was the portrayal of the right arm. The arm's flow, resembling a plum tree branch swaying in the wind, was beautifully executed, albeit not entirely natural in its shape. This reminded me of the approach used by the Italian Renaissance master Sandro Botticelli (1445-1510) in his iconic work "The Birth of Venus" (1485), where he deliberately elongated Venus's left arm and adjusted her shoulder to create an extraordinarily beautiful body structure.
Both Italian Renaissance and Japanese Edo period patterns are known for their opulence and beauty, products of rich cultural currents in their respective histories. Matsuyama possesses the remarkable ability to blend these traditional elements with contemporary influences, including the colorful graffiti tradition of New York.
Whitestone Gallery has consistently championed the evaluation of art's value in modern Japanese art history, notably by representing artists such as Yayoi Kusama and those associated with the Gutai movement, elevating their status in the global art landscape. Interestingly, they also showcased the works of Toshimitsu Imai (1928-2022), who ventured to Paris in 1952 and became a pivotal figure in the "Art Informel" movement under the guidance of Michel Tapié. The remarkable vitality and intensity of Imai's artistic energy are unmistakably evident in his painting "Untitled" (1961).
Toshimitsu Imai (1928-2002), Untitled, 1961, Oil on canvas, 78.7x62.5 in. | 200x150 cm, Courtesy of Whitestone Gallery
Photo by Jake Price for Japan Contemporaries.
As history has shown, Takashi Murakami emerged as a pioneer in East Asian art history, ultimately becoming a significant presence in the global art landscape. I'm pleased that Kaikai Kiki Gallery, under Murakami's leadership, showcased cutting-edge Japanese art at the Armory Show. One artist, in particular, caught my attention: Emi Kuraya (b. 1995). It's intriguing to explore why her works command higher prices compared to the better-known works of Hisashi Eguchi who also participated in the Kaikai Kiki's booth. Notably, Kuraya is represented by Perrotin Gallery. This disparity in the perceived value of artworks offers a revealing insight into how people assess and attribute worth to art.
Emi Kuraya, On the Way Home from After School Club Activity, 2023, ©2023 Emi Kuraya/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved. Photo by Jake Price for Japan Conemporaries.
Anne Kagioka Rigoulet, Figure k-h-20, 2023, oil and mixed media on panel, 636.4x1709 ft. | 194x521 cm
Courtesy of Maki gallery, Photo by Jake Price for Japan Contemporaries.
I inquired of Masahiro Maki, the most successful gallerist in Japan, why he took the risk of presenting three emerging Japanese women artists at the world's most prestigious art fair. Maki's response was straightforward: "We must invest in the future. With the exceptional space I have at Warehouse TERRADA, it is my duty to support the next generation. All three artists I'm showcasing here possess extraordinary talent. Yes, I may have paid more in shipping costs than the actual value of their paintings, but it is the right choice to invest in nurturing artists and securing our future in the art business."
While standing before the masterpiece "Figure k-h-20" (2023) by Anne Kagioka Rigoulet (b. 1987), it's evident how great cosmopolitan artists can create masterpieces, drawing inspiration from the beauty and grandeur of French Claude Monet's art in Paris or the rich textures of American abstract expressionism.
Keiichi Tanaami, Tanaami!! Akatsuka!!, 2023, Byobu folding screen, 21x6x2 ft. Presented by Shueisha Manga-Art Heritage (SMAH), at Art On Paper, Courtesy of Shueisha and Kosuke Fujitaka.
Simultaneously, Art on Paper was held at Pier 36, where Shueisha, a publishing company established in 1926, had a booth showcasing collaborative works by Keiichi Tanaami (b. 1936) and Fujio Akatsuka (1935-2008). Shueisha has played a central role in Japanese manga culture by publishing comic magazines, including Shonen Jump. In 2019, The British Museum organized an exhibition titled "Manga," affirming the significance of Japanese manga as an art form in history.
Shueisha decided to produce Tanaami Akatsuka art prints using the gravure printing process. This decision was made because it coincided with the closure of the last remaining gravure printing factory in Japan, and it is likely that gravure printing ceased operations worldwide by the end of 2021. The purpose of this project is to preserve gravure prints and their production history. Their ambitious goal of the Manga-Art Heritage project is to preserve manga art for the generations of the next thousand years, recognizing its enduring importance in the world of art.