Artforum: Parergon: Japanese Art of the 1980s and the 1990s

May 2, 2019

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Parergon: Japanese Art of the 1980s and the 1990s
By: Kavior Moon

“Parergon: Japanese Art of the 1980s and 1990s” offers an intriguing, wide-ranging survey of artistic themes and approaches in Japan between Mono-ha’s heyday in the 1970s and the rise of neo-pop by the century’s end. In contrast to the elegant restraint of the artworks in the first part of the show (on view earlier this spring), the pieces in part two revel in simulacral fantasy and serious play. Mario Mori’s photographic panorama Empty Dream, 1995, depicts pleasure-seeking bathers at the Seagaia Ocean Dome, the world’s largest indoor beach (which was demolished in 2017). Mori herself oneirically appears as a mermaid within the scene. Tadanori Yokoo’s mixed-media paintings pay homage to canonical artists, updated with a dose of pop culture, as in his Ectoplasm (In Dedication to Caravaggio), 1986. Some of the comical-looking works are solemn, too: Geiger counters are embedded in Kenji Yanobe’s retro-futuristic Atom Suit, 1987, and toy-like Atom Car (White), 1998. The former is a joltingly yellow radiation suit which the artist donned while walking around Chernobyl following the nuclear meltdown—a visit he documented in his larger photo series “Atom Suit Project,” 1997–2003, also on view here.

Upstairs, the works underscore the themes of migration and cross-pollination. Yukinori Yanagi’s Atlantic, 1996, is a standout: The ninety-six colored-sand “paintings” of national flags have been muddied by ants crawling through a network of tunnels. Nearby, an archival display of photographs, album covers, and printed matter looks more closely at transnational dynamics within Japan, particularly its underground “noise” scene and other subcultures of this period. “Parergon” justly shifts the margins to center stage.

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