By INGRID DINTER, OCT. 2016
Two Japanese artists, MISAKI KAWAI and TOMOO GOKITA, had solo exhibitions on view, in different parts of town (East Village and Chelsea, respectively), each bringing their particular multi-cultural distillations to our shores.
MISAKI KAWAI, on view at The Hole, currently inhabits a colorful cave, the inside of a giant golden globe. Her glowing inner wonderland is strewn with a wild assortment of solid black shapes: bugs and snakes and bones, of squiggles and spheres and other forms, painted directly on floor, walls, and ceiling. It feels like free flowing wallpaper, in a child’s enormous playroom. Then, as in a conventional art exhibition, canvases are properly placed on the walls. These paintings depict what could be viewed as cave art — simple black oilstick lines on inside out gessoed stretched canvases (up to 100 x 80 inches) of abstracted stick figures, of critters and folk and food. And a group of cave paintings, on various colorful backgrounds with the black figures and shapes, more fully formed, in seeming cheerful array. The bones and critters also make it to the floor, in multi-functional forms of furniture sculpture, as benches constructed of Masonite — brightly and broadly painted in primary colors, like oversized toys, perfect for babies, but useful for grown ups as well.
This is a world in which a child could feel safe and comfortable and entertained, shielded from adult atrocities — a return to more innocent times. The critters may potentially threaten harm, but now are tame, domesticated. In this cave they don’t roar, bite, or sting. (Even the pet rocks, for sale at the front desk, have friendly faces on a sunny yellow surface.)
The paintings, hung at adult height, belie more complex information about life’s realities in an outside world — the twists and turns and uncertainties — and hints perhaps, at how to navigate those challenges. But, the child still has lots of time to grow up in this protected cocoon, to see, and learn, and understand.
TOMOO GOKITA, on the other hand, inhabits a stark adult world of black and white and many shades of gray — of slick surfaces, depicting men and women in various self-conscious poses, referring to old movie magazines and popular culture from a bygone era, not Japanese.
This is Gokita’s second solo exhibition at the prestigious Mary Boone Gallery. His first appearance in New York City was at Dinter Fine Art in 2005, in a group exhibition curated by Taylor McKimens called “Stranger Town”. It featured a presentation of about one hundred drawings by Gokita on various scraps of paper, in pencil, charcoal and ink, hung in a loose circle covering a large part of one wall. Many of these pictures can be found in his (out of print) book published in 2001 titled “Lingerie Wrestling”, which is a veritable catalog of the images from which the later work appears to derive.
When asked back in the day where these images came from, Gokita indicated, amongst other things, old movie star magazines, like from Central America — obscure sources, recalling telenovellas and local popular culture. Those early works included allusions to tattoos, wrestling, sentimental landscapes, and always a highly stylized and emoting actor or actress in an awkward pose. Like something an adolescent in a foreign country, with limited access to information, feverishly imagines how popular culture might look in that faraway pop mecca of the USA.
Soon after this debut Gokita turned to painting, in a more conventional format. Not shy to go big (the paintings in this show range up to 102 x 74 inches), he took this pop menagerie on the road, so to speak, and gave them an added glamor in his stark slickly painted depictions in stylish black, white and gray. What better way to remember the 50’s and 60’s than through the prism of small screen B&W TV.
But the inhabitants of this frothy world mostly lost their visages in the process — either their hair would flop over their faces, like they were painted backwards from the neck up, or they were blotted out as though covered with featureless masks. Besides being startled by this willful negation, one’s eye is forced to roam the canvas in a different way, looking for other signs and signals of a narrative. Besides the low brow subject matter, other, and more sophisticated, references start to surface — like the distortions we are familiar with in George Condo’s work, or the deformations in Picasso, or the drips we recognize from the Abstract Expressionists, and so on. Some portraits even hint at the grotesqueries of Cindy Sherman, thereby adding depth and drama to the knowing visual vocabulary. Even the titles of the works read like poetry: “Sweet Soul”, “Relaxin’ With Lee”, “Servant of Fear”.
Gokita’s world is dreamy, retro, glam, and also anonymous. Couples, singles, and small groups pose for pictures, or portraits, or inhabit stills from some unknown film. Even Playboy isn’t what it used to be. Out of sight could refer to many things: to the unglamorous world behind the glam, the quotidian struggle to produce escapist fantasy, or the occasional epiphany. In any case, it is something strange to contemplate.
Both shows were on view in New York City. WM
Ingrid Dinter is an independent curator and sometime writer, based in New York City. She was the owner of Dinter Fine Art, a gallery in Chelsea, from 2004 to 2009. Besides curating 35 exhibitions at the gallery, she also curated “Consider The Oyster” at Graham & Sons (2010) and “Summer Salt” at The Proposition (2011), as well as an ongoing artists film program called “Bohemian Nights”, shown at various venues including the Gershwin Hotel (New York City), The Emerald Tablet (San Francisco), and at IMC LAB (New York).
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