On the first of what will no doubt be several visits to the 2017 Whitney Biennial I was confronted with an uneasy feeling. As I worked my way through the crowded galleries, I stood shoulder to shoulder with others pondering the works before me. It was like standing next to a stranger in a public bathroom, looking into the mirror. Are we staring at ourselves, or looking past one another wondering what the other person is thinking, while trying not to make eye contact. However innocuous the encounter, I walked away from each artwork feeling that we are all here because of a common purpose and a desire for shared experience.
The “Zeitgeist” portrayed in the Whitney’s newest survey of American art is one of seriousness and concern over the polarization in society. Significant artworks deal with themes of inequality and injustice that were at the forefront of last year’s election. Probably the most talked about piece is Dana Schutz’s homage to Emmett Till, the painting of a young black boy who was brutally killed following false accusations by a white woman in Mississippi in 1955. Controversy erupted as some black artists protested what could be perceived as profiteering on a “black death spectacle,” criticizing that – as a white female artist – Schutz has no ownership in the cultural heritage and the civil rights movement that the image of Emmett Till represents. In her defense, Schutz has made clear that she never intends to sell the painting.
I disagree with the criticism and feel strongly that it is for all Americans to own that shared cultural heritage including the shamefulness of white supremacy. It’s certainly better to confront that experience than to run away from it or deny its continued existence. Biennial’s co-curator, Christopher Lew on artnet put it this way: “It is deeply painful and traumatic—more so for some than others, in unequal terms—but it is something that we all have to deal with, and I think if we don’t confront it, if we don’t have these kind of conversations, then we’re not getting anywhere.”
That painting is also the subject of a personal confession and the source of that unsettling mirror-image I was feeling. In a moment of pictographic ambiguity, the yellow cloth surrounding the victim’s head suddenly resembled the shock of yellow-blond hair that we have all become too familiar with. Was it Emmett Till’s casket open in front of me or was I staring into a dystopian void in which Donald Trump was staring back at me? However fleeting, this weird moment of confusion was a reminder that the subject of racism is ever present in society today. Our fate as Americans – white and black – are all wrapped up in the heritage that led to the death of Emmett Till and we have a shared responsibility to deal with it. I am reminded of the song “Everyone’s a little bit racist” from the musical Avenue Q:
If we all could just admit
That we are racist a little bit,
And everyone Stopped being so P.C.,
Maybe we could Live in — harmony!
In the words of another notable white figure, controversial on matters of racial injustice, the Polish-British author Joseph Conrad said this: “In order to move others deeply we must deliberately allow ourselves to be carried away beyond the bounds of our normal sensibility…” Whether through literature or painting, art has a way of transcending reality to engage us in new ways of thinking about ourselves and our shared experience.
Biennial co-curator Mia Locks wraps up the exhibition this way: “When people keep talking about racism, when people keep talking about inequity, when people keep talking about debt — when conversations come around without you bringing it up — you realize: These are the ideas!”
For a show bustling with the energy of an overzealous crowd in search of the next big controversy, the Whitney Biennial also offers quiet moments of reflection. The busy visitor will miss the beauty and poignancy in “Harmony of Difference”, a video and music installation by jazz musician Kamasi Washington. As I stood and watched, I could hear hushed questions from impatient passersby asking “is anything going to happen”.
Slow images rolled by as visitors came and went. For those who patiently waited, Washington’s beguiling music evolved and the video rewarded greatly with “Desire,” “Humility,” “Knowledge,” “Perspective” and “Integrity” – the five themes beautifully woven together. My take away of the whole biennial: for true understanding, we must take the time to look (and listen) carefully and to see deeply.
Domo Arigato to all of the visitors to the exhibition “Water Abstracts” – artworks by Berlin artist Silvia Sinha. Thanks for commenting on the tranquil beauty of these works, which mirror the Japanese aesthetic for calm (odayaka), impermanence (mujō) and the essence of minimalist order (kanso). Enjoy this recap. If you like what you see, think about adding Silvia’s works to your collection. Contact Project Art Lounge for details.
Creative collaboration is in the DNA of Hikarie 8/ – the “Shibuya style” marketplace that has become a meeting point for fans of art and design in Tokyo. Located on the 8th floor of the Shibuya Hikarie building, the panorama windows offer a great viewing spot overlooking the 3 million people who pass through busy Shibuya Station every day. It is also the perfect place to see “Water Abstracts” – an exhibition of photographic artworks by German artist Silvia Sinha. In painterly images, Silvia captures the light and flow of Berlin, which similar to Tokyo is full of energy and vitality. By depicting a city reflected in rippling bodies of water, Sinha conveys a sense of tranquility as well as the fleeting nature of the urban landscape. “Water Abstracts” – Silvia Sinha runs through Sunday, November 22nd.
Just as the Paris Photo Show opens its doors to international artists next week, Project Art Lounge is pleased to present the works of European photographer Silvia Sinha at one of Tokyo’s most innovative art and design spaces. Following an invitation-only preview earlier this year, “Water Abstracts” by Berlin based Silvia Sinha will be on display from November 19-22, 2015 at Hikarie 8 / Creative Lounge across from the busy Shibuya station.
Like Hiroshi Sugimoto’s Seascapes, Silvia Sinha takes us on a “voyage of seeing” in her series “Water Abstracts”. In photographs which the artist likens to “painting on the water’s surface” Sinha captures the ever changing light and flow (光と流) of the urban landscape.
Silvia Sinha’s recent works were featured in the European Month of Photography in 2014 in Berlin and at international exhibitions in Basel, Switzerland and Tokyo.
ベルリン拠点の写真家、Silvia Sinhaによる「Water Abstracts」シリーズでは、杉本博司の 海景と同じように、我々を「眺めの旅」に誘います。今回、Project Art Loungeが紹介する展示はSinhaの捉えた、常に変わり続ける都市風景の「光と流」というテーマです。 アーティスト自身が写真を「水面上に描くペインティング」のように捉え、都市風景をシンボルとして、陸封メトロポリスの活気を表す作品です。
Creative Lounge MOV aiiima 3
Project Art Lounge (www.projectartlounge.com)
Looking out at the New York City skyline from atop the new Whitney Museum I was reflecting on the ambiguous title of the new Whitney’s inaugural art exhibition: “America is Hard to See”. In referencing Robert Frost’s ode to the unintended consequences of discovering America, I thought of my own discovery tour of the Japanese art world. Whitney curators appeal to the difficulty of charting the course of American art, and perhaps of the American identity itself. Art is not only a portal to the identities of the artist, but also an opportunity to escape the limitations of one’s own narrow perspectives and discover new possibilities.
Transcending borders is what expats do for a living, so it was fitting that Project Art Lounge invited members of the expat organization InterNations to visit 3331 Arts Chiyoda Center in Tokyo. In a converted high school building near the manga and electronics mecca of Akihabara, artist Masato Nakamura has created a space to bring together contemporary artists and the local community. Rather than the sleek facade of many new contemporary art spaces, this revitalization of an existing public gathering spot is a unique pairing between old and new traditions of Japan. Like the traditional call and response ritual symbolized in the 3331 name, a single stroke of ingenuity enables artists and galleries to show off their hard work and achievement.
3331 Chiyoda Arts hosts more than 10 contemporary art galleries along side co-working spaces and creative agencies such as the Huffington Post and Softbank’s robotics lab featuring Pepper. Through an artists in residence program, international artists add global perspective to an otherwise very local environment which also plays host to community flee markets and knitting clubs. An interesting gift shop and Japan’s only Lomography Gallery Store can be found in the center’s lobby.
During the InterNations visit, Tama Art University’s AKIBATAMABI21 gallery gave a sneak preview of their new graduate curated show. The Kyoto Design Lab showed of innovations in 3D-Printing and architectural innovation. KIDO Press presented the emotive manga-esque prints of Bangkok artist Wisut Ponnimit, while Bambinart Gallery showed an enigmatic paintings solo show by Shinobu Hanazawa. In Gallery Jin, visitors learned the difference between the words “kawaii” (cute) and “chow” (scary) in an freakishly intriguing installation by Yuriko Sasaoka. The art space Island Medium presented an simple but poignant installation from Akira Fujimoto’s “New Recycle” series, which was also featured along side Yang02’s work at the Art Fair Tokyo. The Able Art Gallery showed a number of interesting works produced by artists with disabilities.
The exhibition that drew the biggest response from the expat visitors, though, was probably the exhibition of #Hogalee at Gallery Out of Place Tokyo. The artist was on hand with gallery director Kazushige Suzuki and assistant Emily, who guided the group of expats on a tour of the center.
In the show “n-th derivatives”, artist Hogalee quotes a work by Cindy Sherman before superscribing himself with photographs of his own version of Cindy Sherman’s Untitled #96 taken at spots around Tokyo like a traveling gnome. By further expanding the idea of derivatives, Hogalee invites visitors to take pictures of his work and post them on social media with the hashtag #hogalee. Hogalee then re-appropriates the images on Hogalee’s instagram account, displaying the resulting posts in the gallery in a manner similar to the Instagram series presented by artist Richard Prince.
After a fascinating tour, the expats of InterNations had plenty to talk about over food and drinks in the center’s 3331 food lab. As exhibitions change almost monthly (including an impressive exhibition of Jasper Johns prints at KIDO Press), 3331 Arts Chiyoda center is definitely worth a return visit. The exhibition schedule can be found on their website: http://www.3331.jp/schedule/en/.
Thank you to everyone who visited the exhibition “Water Abstracts – Photographs by Silvia Sinha” presented by Project Art Lounge in Tokyo. In case you missed it, here’s a look back at the event.