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FROM THIS EPISODE

Any Japanese artist coming of age in the aftermath of World War II would be impacted by the devastation and humiliation of defeat. Gutai, a group of Japanese artists influenced by historic events and the American abstract expressionist movement have received considerable attention in the past decade. A newly opened gallery on Highland Avenue, Nonaka-Hill, is showing paintings by Kimiyo Mishima, born in 1932, and photographs by Shomei Tomatsu, born in 1930.

Freed from expectations of pre-war Japan, living in a culture newly flooded with products and publications from the West, both artists came up with critical responses.


Kimiyo Mishima. “Transfiguration II”, 1966. Magazine, oil on canvas. 130.5 x 162 cm 51-3/8 x 63-3/4 inches © Kimiyo Mishima / Courtesy of Nonaka-Hill and Taka Ishii Gallery

This show includes Mishima paintings from the 1960s, swathes of muted color integrated with printed materials torn from books, magazines, photographs. Culture of all sorts from the west — an ad for a Garard turntable, the Penrose Annual of 1965 — are more revealing today perhaps than when they were made, evidence of cultural shifts that took place so quickly after the war. Mishima is now 82 and still working in Osaka. She has said that she felt in the 1960s that she was drowning in a sea of new information and tried to execute that feeling in these paintings.


Kimiyo Mishima. 
“Erosion I”, 1966. Magazine, oil on canvas. 162 x 130.5 cm 63-3/4 x 51-3/8 inches © Kimiyo Mishima / Courtesy of Nonaka-Hill and Taka Ishii Gallery

In later years, she turned to ceramics and is known for making realistic clay reproductions of soda and beer cans or other items. Two examples are in the rear gallery.


Masaomi Yasunaga. “Dakkoku”, 2017. Glass, soil. 15 x 18 x 13 cm. 5-7/8 x 7-1/8 x 5-1/8 in. Photo courtesy of Nonaka-Hill, Los Angeles

That gallery also features six small ceramic sculptures, simple and intriguing forms, by artist Masaomi Yasunaga, who was born in 1982 but is intelligently responsive to the history of the medium.


Shomei Tomatsu. Plastics, Kujukuri Beach, Chiba, 1988-89/1989. Chromogenic print. 41.9 x 41.9 cm 16.50 x 16.50 inches © Shomei Tomatsu - INTERFACE / Courtesy of Nonaka-Hill and Taka Ishii Gallery Photography / Film

Tomatsu is a formative figure the era of great post-war photography in Japan and founded the “Workshop” school with the now revered Nobuyoshi Araki, Eikoh Hosoe, Daido Moriyama and others. Plastics, as this series of photographs is titled, are from the late 1980s, and reflect his time walking the black sand beachs in Chiba. He documented the plastic waste that washed ashore. Shadowy, not showy, they present early evidence of what is now an epidemic of ocean pollution.


Shomei Tomatsu. Plastics, Kujukuri Beach, Chiba, 1988-89/1989. Chromogenic print. 41.9 x 41.9 cm 16.50 x 16.50 inches © Shomei Tomatsu - INTERFACE / Courtesy of Nonaka-Hill and Taka Ishii Gallery Photography / Film

The gallery, located in what was previously Best Cleaners, was designed by architect Linda Taalman with a contemporary but subtly Japanese sensibility like the narrow entrance gallery with a simple wooden bench that acts like a tokonoma. A narrow band of l.e.d. light is hung around the upper perimeter of the spaces. In an unconventional twist, they did not cover the glass windows on the front of the space, an open invitation to passersby. The venture is headed by Rodney Nonaka-Hill, formerly with the recently closed Marc Foxx Gallery, and his husband Takayoshi Nonaka-Hill. Collaborating with Taka Ishii Gallery in Tokyo, they are breaking with convention in another way, opening around noon and staying open until 8 p.m. to be available to people going to the many restaurants in the area.

(They are next door to Petit Trois.) It is an enjoyable and thoughtful way of presenting Japanese art, all the more important since the Japanese pavilion at LACMA is temporarily closed. The show closes June 30.

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