For a quarter of a century, Tim Blum and Jeff Poe have been showing some of the most notable Japanese artists to emerge since World War II, discovering now mega-famous artists like Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara. Blum lived in Tokyo and became fluent in Japanese before opening a gallery here so he was well-equipped to comprehend the complicated nuances of the art made in that country.
As Blum and Poe Gallery celebrates its 25th anniversary, it is fitting that they would host Parergon: Japanese Art of the 1980s and 1990s, an ambitious two-part exhibition organized by Mika Yoshitake. This is art that came after art of a more contemplative nature made in the 1960s and 1970s and known as Mono-Ha (also previously an exhibition arranged by Blum and Poe) and before the Neo-Pop of the early 21st century.
Part II of Parergon, named after Gallery Parergon that showed such work between 1981 and 1987, is revealing of a youth- driven Japanese art scene that had become self-aware, self- confident and rebellious. The political and social forces that drove punk rock in the U.K. and elsewhere turned up in a country better known for its cultural concern with rules and coded behavior.
One of the upstairs galleries is devoted to ephemera such as vinyl records, magazines, ‘zines and black and white photographs of punkish musicians and underground culture.
Even before the internet and immediate awareness of everything everywhere, this scene evolved in the early ‘80s with its own force and fashion. Borrowed from Black Editions Archives, it is worth checking out as background to the spirit of the early ‘80s and the performance-based art in the show.
Occupying much of the first downstairs gallery is Kenji Yanobe's Tanking Machine (Rebirth) (2019), a sci-fi sculpture originally from 1989 that has renewed relevance since the Fukushima earthquake and nuclear crisis. Mariko Mori’s Empty Dream (1995) is a 24- foot long color photograph of an artificially constructed beach complete with bathers. Kodai Nakahara's Kodainomorpho (1988), lumpen, animalistic sculptures in black and white painted plywood satirize and soften the edges of Western tradition.
In the upstairs gallery, geo-politics are pithily and perfectly addressed by Yukinori Yanagi in Atlantic (1996), a grid of international flags, each a 10 by 15 inch plexiglass box containing a composition of colored sand and…ants. I have no idea how it is done but when I saw the piece, the symbolism of U.S. stars and stripes was being slowly eroded. All of the flags will be further transformed by time and industrious insects by May 19, when the show closes.
You can see for yourself at the gallery this Saturday, May 4, when from 2 to 4 p.m. electroacoustic musician and producer Otomo Yoshihide will discuss underground music using electronic improvistion and effects with professor and author David Novak. That night, Yoshihide performs with SAICOBAB at Zebulon. For more information, go to Blum and Poe.