Originally published on metropolis.co.jp on February 2013Going to group shows of contemporary art in Tokyo is the artistic equivalent of Russian roulette. There’s just no way of knowing when you’re going to bite the bullet of bad taste. But luckily, this year’s “Artist File”—the annual show for rising artists staged by the National Art Centre Tokyo—is a welcome reprieve from “instant art death.”
Of the eight participants, only two will make you groan—Shiho Kagabu with her garbage installation and Jun Azumatei with his bedwetting-stain art. The other six are pretty good and, surprisingly, three of them are foreigners.
British artist Darren Almond’s main installation—a tribute to his gran—is disappointing, but a series of photographs taken using long exposures in moonlight fascinates, even though the images produced are not dissimilar to daytime photography.
Indian artist Nalini Malani has a heavy-handed painting style, but by setting her images on diaphanous revolving cylinders suspended from the ceiling and projecting a movie through them, she manages to create a kaleidoscope that seems to generate myths.
Korean artist Yeondoo Jung’s work shows a keen sense of humor. He takes naïve children’s art as a starting point and then stages photographic recreations of it that are daft yet endearing.
The remaining three artists are also well worth seeing. Takamasa Kuniyasu’s large assemblages of bricks and logs may seem pointless, but the aesthetic effect and tangible sense of effort behind their creation is impressive.
Hideaki Nakazawa’s mesmerizing paintings of children are a surprise. The subjects stare at us with innocent eyes that elicit a similar unguarded response from the viewer. Delicately painted with alternate layers of thinned oils and tempera, they have a nostalgic atmosphere of works from long ago.
The highpoint, however, is the mysterious flash photography of Lieko Shiga. One of the irritations of many exhibitions in Japan is the slow-moving line of visitors crawling along the walls of the gallery, looking at each picture in sequence. Shiga avoids this by refusing to hang a single work on the walls. Instead they are propped up on the floor in a chaotic, maze-like arrangement that forces visitors to wind their way among them as if in a dream.