Despite all its other functions, nudity has an almost mystical power to enchant and create an ethereal mood. This is especially apparent when it exists in juxtaposition to specific landscapes or locales, something that the great Belgian Surrealist painter Paul Delvaux understood deeply in his dreamscapes featuring nude figures.
It also seems to be something that the Japanese photographic artist Kishin Shinoyama understands with his latest exhibition “La Maison de rendez-vous,” held at the Hara Museum of Contemporary Art.
If Shinoyama’s name doesn’t ring any bells, just think of the iconic album cover for John and Yoko Lennon’s Double Fantasy album, featuring the couple kissing a few months before Mark David Chapman killed John Lennon, and you’ll have your man.
Shinoyama, now 75, has had a long photographic and artistic career, much of it focused on the nude form–mainly young and female (funny how that always happens.) This is something that has brought him into conflict with the Japanese authorities on occasion. Some years ago, he was fined for “public indecency and defiling place of worship” when he photographed nudes at Aoyama Cemetery.
The exhibition at the Hara, which opened with a performance by pole dancers (yes, I was there), represents a much safer locale for Shinoyama, legally-speaking. And just as nudes in a cemetery have an interesting resonance–the old trope of sex and death–so the sleek Art Deco lines of the Hara Museum and its gardens provides a stylish and atmospheric backdrop for the 33 nude models that Shinoyama brought in to create the large prints that now adorn the museum’s walls and–even more effectively–its garden.
What stands out about most of the images (besides interesting artistic effects achieved with clever composition, multi-depth focus, and fisheye lens) is that the models seem to be having fun. This takes away some of the “sleaze factor,” as does a bit of careful Photoshopping around their genital regions.
In the prints, we see the girls clambering through some of the existing permanent exhibits, such as the mirrored room installation by Yasumasa Morimura and study of Yoshitomo Nara, a room dedicated to the artist well-known throughout the world for his depictions of “evil-looking but cute” children.
Because it’s “the current year” and Shinoyama doesn’t want to appear too “sexist,” one of the rooms also features shots of a handsome young hunk stripped to the buff. But one couldn’t help feeling he was merely making a perfunctory gesture, doing this only to lessen criticism of what he obviously loves doing a lot more – taking photos of naked, young female models that have an oddly playful and innocent atmosphere.
The best time to visit the museum is on Wednesday evenings, the one day the museum stays open late (till 8pm). Arriving in the dusk, you will see spotlighted images of what look like naked women in the garden, and may have to rub your eyes a couple of times before getting your bearings on these bare ones.