Art Exhibition Review

It was a great learning experience to visit ‘For a New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography 1968-1979’ that was located in the Japanese society. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, was the organizer of the event. The exhibition was of great interest because I have a keen interest in Japanese culture. I thought the exhibition would give me a chance to view photographs depicting another culture and showing a different view on life. 

The Japanese society has taken it upon itself to explain the circumstance that resulted in their current art and photography. The aim of this task is to help people to appreciate the art on display after getting an idea of the motivation behind it. According to the society, the new visual language was crafted in the late 1960s by photographers and artists that envisioned a new age of uncertainty. They embraced the experiments that were based on cameras that led to a shift in the cultural landscape as well as ushering in the contemporary Japanese art.


The economic damage that Japan suffered in the Second World War had plunged it into a crisis. However, it resurged in the 1960s as an economic power. Around this time, artists and photographers came up with a new art that represents modern day contemporary Japanese art. There is something in the Japanese culture that is unique and makes it very enjoyable. It easily influences the viewers just like I was influenced by it. Photographs tell a lot about the culture in which the artists come from. The Japanese society put on display more than 200 photos that were collected from Japanese artists and photographers. Works from Moriyama, Takamatsu, Tomatsu and Miyako were among those on display. I paid great attention to how the photos were taken in a bid to unravel their hidden meaning. An untitled photo by Shigeo Gocho from the series “Familiar Street Scenes”, 1978-80 intrigued me. Looking at the girl’s face evokes mixed emotions. The street is crowded as she walks with her father with an ice cream in her hand. Although she looks happy, she shows some anxiety over the large number of strangers around her. Attention to her emotion is drawn by the sun light on her face. The way the picture captures how she felt at that moment is very striking that I got so drawn to it from the beginning. It is a photo that commands your attention, drawing you in.

The second photo that had a great effect on me was Twins girl in a park also by Shigeo Gocho, May 2011, from the series “Self and Others”. It is a pretty picture of two girls taken in a park. The picture captures the emotions on the girls’ faces in a very fascinating way. A closer look at the photo reveals that the two girls are displaying the same emotion, something not easily captured on camera in normal occasions. The girls present a mirror image of each other. They are wearing similar cloths and have positioned their hands in such a way as to look like a reflection of the other. I would say that the photographer caught this magic moment on camera so that the viewers can marvel at the incredible scene that happened in that park. This photo made me want to see more of Japanese culture in photos, but the exhibit was small and without a lot to show. It made the tour around the exhibit very enjoyable. Despite the Japanese Society being a small place, the organization is very attractive with every space filled with art that resonates the Japanese culture.

The other photographs that caught my attention as I went round the exhibition and I thought were very interesting were by Koji Enokura, Two Stains. I got the idea that it would have a stain as part of the photograph. However, the picture has no stain at all, but only a hand and its shadow. The strongest color on the picture is the black line on the wall. It is this line that captures your attention when you first see the picture. It is possible that the black line was the stain referred to by the title. The photo by Daido Moriyama, “From Asahi Camera”, was also very exciting. The picture is of an accident scene involving two cars. The photo is exciting because it looks more like a painting than an actual photo. I had the idea that it looked like that because it was overexposed, but it still amazes the viewer with how it was captured. People are walking by the car wrecks that have smoke rising from them. Some of them are moving away from the cars as if they were the occupants of the now wrecked cars. They do not seems concerned with the wrecks as they walk by. It needs a great understanding of the Japanese culture for one to figure out the message the artist was trying to pass. It was a perfect place for experiencing contemporary Japanese culture and getting to understand the Japanese better. It was a great learning experience on the evolution of Japanese photography and the effects that the evolution has had on Japanese photographers and their work.

Visiting the ‘ocean of images: New Photography 2015′ at Moma museum New York was equally exciting and informative. The main theme was comparing the photography from different ages as a way of protecting and promoting photography as part of art despite the common notion that it should not be classified as art. I went with the view to get an experience of the changes that photography has gone through time, and what respect it receives as an art. As Glenn Lowry, the director of the museum notes, “When John started that series in the mid-‘80s, there were very few institutions dealing with photography. There were few photo galleries, very few platforms…. The times have changed.” It shows that more and more institutions are dealing in photography currently, I was curious to know how the photography has changed itself.  

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In the show’s first gallery, they displayed a DIS work of art, positive ambiguity (beard, lectern, teleprompter, wind machine, confidence), that was commissioned by The Museum of Modern Art. It keeps trumpeting the buzzword “Post-Internet.” Its main aim is to stress the extent that photographic practices by many artists reflects the rapidly changing techno-social norms. The work of art is ambiguous and exciting. The video shows a pop artist that appears in a teleprompter like she is expecting an award. The glass panes of the teleprompter are clear, and the actress has a beard on, she looks like a man but is a woman in reality. It is this ambiguous images that strikes the people’s attention as they go round the exhibition. Perhaps the main purpose of these work of art, so strategically located, was to promote the museum itself, given that they logo appeared on the art, and to show how people can adapt to new images and identities as something that is linked to the ever changing roles of the screen. It gave me the morale to visit the other pieces of art and see how marvelous they were.

A work of art that got my attention while I was going round the museum is Lucas Blalock’s Strawberries (forever fresh), 2014. It shows strawberries spread on a polythene paper on a table. A closer look reveals that some of them are not real strawberries. They look like crumpled pieces of paper that is strawberry colored. Some of them look bitten. They lie on a mart that has delicate pustule-like patterns. It is an amazing art that evokes many thoughts as to what the artists intended to portray. The titles of ‘forever fresh’ for this photo also raises concerns in the viewer’s mind since it is not possible for such delicate fruits to be forever fresh. The photo somehow points to the same theme as the first video shown at the first gallery that intimates towards the changing perception of photography as a whole. The ambiguity that it presents excited and fueled my interest to go round the museum and see how many pieces of art were like these two that I has already seen. Wanted to know more of what the museum was displaying. 

Another photo that I got interested in was Lieko Shigo’s Cultivation from the series Rasen Kaigan. It captures ones attention at how the artist captures the fore ground and leaves the background obscures. A man and a woman, probably his wife, are presented standing and looking straight out of the photo. The man looks like he is holding an uprooted tree stump with its trunk and roots in an upside down direction. The man stands with the roots and stump behind him. What is most exciting is that the trunk of the tree looks like it pierces the man from the back of the neck to appear again in front through his chest. However, he does not appear to be in pain, nor is the woman concerned that the man has a tree trunk going through him. Indeed, the man holds the trunk like a workman holding a drill, as if he was using it to work. The ground under their feet is grass-covered with no signs of recent cultivation. It is impossible to tell their surroundings because the ground behind them is dark and the area on the right and left sides is covered in darkness. They seem to be illuminated by a light that is behind the camera. I was left baffled by the photo.  I kept asking myself whether the couple were in a forest during the night or somewhere near a residential area where they had to use light for illumination when the photo was taken. This piece of art had a much bigger impact on me than the two other images I had observed before. I could not figure out the meaning right away. The meaning of this art is even more obscured by the fact that the title suggests that the image is of people cultivating, but there is no cultivation in the image. Instead there is destruction of trees. The excitement I felt by observing this portrait was mixed with the many questions that went through my mind. If I were to recommend somebody to visit a gallery where they will leave with more questions than answers, Ocean of Images would be the perfect gallery. I had a great experience attending the exhibition. Although I left with many unanswered questions, I was stimulated to think more about other cultures other than my own.

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