“Gaze and Distance” at KOTARO NUKAGA

The Installation View of “Gaze and Distance” (2019) ©KOTARO NUKAGA, Courtesy of KOTARO NUKAGA

Have you ever seen any art exhibitions consisting of historic artists such as Pablo Picasso, Paul Cézanne with contemporary artists? KOTARO NUKAGA, a gallery located in Tokyo, Japan, just finished such show this month. The gallery held a group exhibition titled “Gaze and Distance” which primarily featured nude paintings from the early 20th century to the present. As the theme of the exhibition was interesting, the list of participating artists was interesting as well.

It contained artists who are familiar to us such as Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, Egon Schiele, and also artists representing the 20th century including Tom Wesselmann, Keith Haring, Marlene Dumas. Also, three Japanese artists Tsuguharu Foujita, Makoto Saito, and Yukimasa Ida were on the list. If you know that Yukimasa Ida, one of the emerging Japanese artists, is only 29 years old, it is clear how fresh the list of the exhibition was. This exhibition made it possible to enjoy both contemporary art and historic artworks in the context of art history with the theme of “nude paintings”.

According to the gallery, to trace back the history of nude paintings is the same as to lookback on art history, the evolution of art. Diverse depictions of the body have developed after the end of academism in the 20th century, beginning the contemporary art. It starts from Cézanne. Cézanne’s style of nude paintings was different from other painters at that time. He intentionally used the body as one of the pictorial elements, for the sake of whole composition of the work. His series of bathers are famous for utilizing triangular structure to stabilize the composition and harmonizing  figures with the landscapes: this led him to become a father of contemporary art.

After he broaden the scope of body depiction, various art movements began to emerge like Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, and Dada. For example,, it is widely known that Pablo Picasso created “Les Demoiselles d’Avignon” (The Young Ladies of Avignon) after he was inspired by Cézanne’s series of bathers.

The Installation View of “Gaze and Distance” (2019) ©KOTARO NUKAGA, Courtesy of KOTARO NUKAGA
The Installation View of “Gaze and Distance” (2019) ©KOTARO NUKAGA, Courtesy of KOTARO NUKAGA
The Installation View of “Gaze and Distance” (2019) ©KOTARO NUKAGA, Courtesy of KOTARO NUKAGA

If we categorize Paul Cézanne, Pablo Picasso, and Egon Schiele as artists from the same period of the 19th to 20th centuries, we could say Tom Wesselmann, Keith Haring, and Marlene Dumas are the artists who was born after 1930. Especially Wesselmann and Haring, they were both from New York, the city which became the new center of the art scene after the World War II.

The representative art movement at that time in New York was called ‘Pop Art’, which usually depicted body within a context of mass production and image consumption. Wesselmann’s work also shows the characteristics of Pop Art. There is an old quote that “The eye is the mirror of the soul”, but in his work, the figure without eyes seems to have got no soul. There’s no gaze of the model, but there are the gaze of heterosexual man and the audience.

Lastly, along with the western historic artists in the show, we can see the names of Japanese artists: Makoto Saito, Tsuguharu Foujita, and Yukimasa Ida. When focusing on their works, we could see what are the states of nude paintings in modern and contemporary art.

Especially the depiction and expression of each nude painting were distinctive and impressive. For example, Foujita’s delicate ink contours and Saito’s intensive depiction of woman’s genital in his works to be based on computer-processed images of photos taken during his sexual activities.

Also, Yukimasa Ida, globally-known emerging artist who paints portraits of people whom he has encountered in the course of his life, in a quick and intensive manner. He not only paints the people whom he met in person but also those whom he has encountered indirectly, such as historical figures including those from the history of art.

Through the exhibition “Gaze and Distance,” we could think about various perspectives, including how we have described naked body, and how we have expressed it as the gaze of an ‘artist’, how we have seen it as the gaze of a ‘viewer’. Also, the gaze of a ‘model’ which sometimes has been deleted and limitedly expressed. It was an exhibition where you could follow varied gaze and appreciate the context of the past and contemporary art while we might see possibilities for new way of representation of the body from those artists.

“Gaze and Distance” at KOTARO NUKAGA

  • DATES : October 19 (Sat) – December 7 (Sat), 2019
  • HOURS : 11:00 a.m. – 6:00 p.m. (Tue, Wed, Thu + Sat)
    11:00 a.m. – 8:00 p.m. (Fri)
  • Closed on Sundays, Mondays and National Holidays
  • Admission free.

Article written by Jeongeun Jo
Jeongeun Jo is from Korea now living in Japan. She is one of the member of TRiCERA who graduated from Graduate School of Fine Arts at Tokyo University of the Arts (TUA/ Geidai). She is also working as an artist herself. 

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