Visitors to Santa Fe’s Zane Bennett Contemporary Art this month are treated to “IMPACTS! 勢み,” an exhibition organized in collaboration with Tokyo’s Mizuma Art Gallery, featuring works by 16 contemporary Japanese artists. With works from emerging and established individuals, the show is primarily focused on figurative painting, but also includes ceramics, sculptures, and video, offering a diverse overview of Japan’s contemporary art scene. Alongside the exhibition, the gallery will host a series of events, including parties, live painting, and discussions intended to celebrate, inform, and entertain.
Many of the artists included work in a Pop mode, inspired by Japan’s stylized comics and cartoons. Like those sources, the artists’ works can include stunningly graphic and surrealistic adult imagery, as in Yoshitaka Amano’s complex and highly detailed acrylic-and-enamel paintings on aluminum. Blending narratives from popular video games with Japanese mythology, a white-robed avatar in Yoshitaka’s White Hero battles sea monsters while polychromatic swells and sprays of water burst erotically around the nude form of the woman he’s attempting to rescue. In his psychedelic Vermillion Bird, Yoshitaka alludes to traditional scroll painting, but emphasizes trippy, detailed patterning. In many ways, his ornate scenes recall the sculptures and prints of Jake & Dinos Chapman, which include comic, sexual, and unsettling narratives that draw from pop culture.
Similar to prominent Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, Ai Yamaguchi explores the sexualization of young heroines in Japanese pop culture, twinning their multifarious roles by combining representational and abstract depictions, and by layering girls with different personas on top of one another in shaped picture planes. Ai paints on blankets stretched over custom panels, realizing very precisely modeled figures with ornate patterning. In Netemo Nedemo (2013), a girl curls into a ball, the edges of her body lined with a woven red crosshatch and blue-and-green flowers. In the negative space created by the flat color of her skin, another young nude floats languidly, a look of concentration on her face.
Other artists in the show experiment with very different aesthetic conventions. Sakan Kanno’s abstractions on plastic panels, such as 2003041 (2014), invoke Ellsworth Kelly’s shaped monochromes and his floral drawings. O Jun’s reductive oil paintings are evocative of the tradition of ink-and-brush calligraphy common throughout East Asia, though with color and texture as added aesthetic dimensions. And the sculptures of Tanada Koji, similar to busts by American artist John Ahearn, capture singular people rendered as symbols of much larger social and cultural ideas.
— Noah Dillon