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Japan Society Events During Asia Week - Bye Bye Kitty!
March 16, 2011  | 

A shimmering taxidermy deer and a gasp-inducing canvas depicting a tumulus of minuscule salary men are among the compelling works set to greet visitors to Japan Society Gallery from Friday, March 18 to June 12, 2011. The occasion is Bye Bye Kitty!!! Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art, an exhibition introducing American audiences to a new wave of Japanese artists who challenge their country’s long love affair with the kawaii (cute) aesthetic.

“This is grown up art, created for the most part by artists who are little-known here in the United States,” says exhibition organizer David Elliott, a noted independent curator who has directed several major modern art museums, including Tokyo's Mori Art Museum, Stockholm's Moderna Museet, Oxford’s MoMA and Istanbul’s Modern. The 16 participating artists range in age from their late 20s to their mid-40s, with the exception of the senior Yoshitomo Nara, well known both in Japan and the West for his engagement with popular manga culture, who contributes the touchstone work of the exhibition: a color photograph of two large, symmetrical “Hello Kitty” polychrome stone figures atop a beautifully maintained gray granite gravestone (2008).
“Bye Bye Kitty!!! is very much in dialogue with the themes raised five years ago in Little Boy, a milestone exhibition at Japan Society Gallery organized by the artist Takashi Murakami,” says Joe Earle, Director of Japan Society Gallery. “The artists represented in this exhibition, however, have a less ironic, more dynamic and varied view of the world, reflecting a wide range of personal histories and agendas.”

Many of the paintings, sculptures, photographs, installations, and videos in Bye, Bye Kitty!!! illustrate the manner in which today’s vanguard artists in Japan freely and creatively sample Japanese pictorial conventions, ultimately reframing tradition—whether it be the conservative aesthetic of traditional Japanese painting and sculpture, the graphic ingenuity of Ukiyo-e prints, or neo-traditional styles developed in the early decades of the last century.

A two-panel work by Makoto Aida, for instance, emulates the traditional decorative form of painted screens, but with imagery—two massively heroic schoolgirls squared off against one another, each hoisting a South Korean or a Japanese flag aloft—that is a biting commentary on today’s uneasy East Asian relations. Similarly, in a large-scale triptych entitled Defeat at the Single Blow, Robust and Magnificent Feature, Gallant and Brave Behavior (2008), Hisashi Tenmyouya supplants the religious imagery one would expect from the format with a depiction of battle as a feral experience. In two views of Narita International Airport (2005), Yamaguchi Akira employs the pictorial devices associated with the 17th-century “famous views” of Kyoto, only to insert scenes of environmental despoliation within the familiar golden, misty clouds (which one now suspects are petrochemical smog). Other works in the show meditate on the natural environment and our precarious relationship with it. Haruka Kojin, at 27 the youngest artist in the exhibition, contributes an eerily reflective installation made from multi-hued cut paper forms that seem to float in space. Rinko Kawauchi’s constellation of 46 different-sized photographs depicts the minutiae of moments in an allusive world.

 “Here we see Japanese artists critically examining tradition and history; responding to a threatened natural world; and expressing an unquiet, even nightmarish, consciousness,” says Elliott. “Taken together, these three approaches comprise a quintessentially Japanese response to the present and the future.”

Three new works of art will be unveiled in Bye Bye Kitty!!!. Kohei Nawa is currently preparing a taxidermized deer covered with a skin of plastic beads to form an irregular, globular skin that confounds expectations of sight and touch. Tomoko Shioyasu is making a large-scale installation, employing the decorous Japanese art of paper cutting to snip, slit, cut and slice large swathes of paper into sheets of white membrane-like forms that animate surrounding space with cast light. Chiharu Shiota’s installation Dialogue with Absence, recently unveiled in Paris, combines a painted wedding dress with pumps, tubing, and red-dyed water to create an umbilical network of linked veins that suggests a dreamlike, unconscious state of anxiety.

The 16 artists represented in Bye Bye Kitty!!!, half of them women, are Makoto Aida (b.1965); Manabu Ikeda (b.1973); Tomoko Kashiki (b.1982); Rinko Kawauchi (b.1972); Haruka Kojin (b.1983); Kumi Machida (b.1970); Yoshitomo Nara (b.1959); Kohei Nawa (b.1975); Motohiko Odani (b.1972); Hiraki Sawa (b.1977); Chiharu Shiota (b.1972); Tomoko Shioyasu (b.1981); Hisashi Tenmyouya (b.1966); Yamaguchi Akira (b.1969); Miwa Yanagi (b.1967); Tomoko Yoneda (b.1965).


Yale University Press will issue a comprehensive catalogue accompanying the exhibition. Bye Bye Kitty!!! Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art features essays by exhibition organizer David Elliott and Tetsuya Ozaki, the publisher and former chief editor of ART iT magazine and Elliott’s essay provides a survey of the artists and explores many of the social issues facing Japan today, including the rise of feminism, the decline of the “salaryman,” and the latent instability of an aging, shrinking society. Ozaki illuminates the history and culture of Japan's current Heisei era. (Bye, Bye Kitty!!! will retail in bookstores and online nationwide for $35.00 in March 2011.)

Related Programs

Cordoning the Child, Killing the Kawaii
Saturday, March 19, 2011, 12:30 pm
In recent years, Japanese contemporary art has too often confined itself to the restrictive hierarchies of the antique, the childish or the “cute.” This talk by David Elliott, curator of Bye Bye Kitty!!! examines the ways many young Japanese artists have confronted cultural stereotypes, digesting, recycling, and re-imagining tradition in a challenging and at times visceral exposition of contemporary experience. $11/$7 Japan Society members, seniors and students (includes exhibition entry).

j-CATION 2011: Beyond Cute
Saturday, April 9, 2011, 11 am-11 pm
Japan Society's second annual j-CATION all-day open house festival shatters preconceptions about Japan's kawaii (cute) culture and blasts New Yorkers into a new era of Japanese ideas and imagination. j-CATION 2011 promises some of the most recent, radical and wondrous trends in Japan today: extreme fashion, interactive art, boundary-crossing cinema, spectacular live music, sophisticated design, bodacious body art, crazy crafts and even a high stakes Japanese-style game show. Just as thousands gathered for the first installment of j-CATION to "visit Japan without ever leaving New York City", j-CATION 2011 gives a taste of all Japan Society offers, with films, performances, exhibits, workshops, talks, language lessons, family-friendly fare, food, fun and more. $5 (includes exhibition entry).

Art Cart: Super Scenography
Sunday, April 17, 2-4 pm
Children and their families, led by a Japan Society educator, participate in a gallery lesson focused on topics in Bye Bye Kitty!!!, including fantasy, magic realism and transformation. In the hands-on portion of the program, working with a set-designer, children and their families will design a three-dimensional stage-set maquette and act out an original story of their own creation. Recommended for children ages 8-12. $12/$5 Japan Society members; children ages 2 or under free.

Going Public: Artists Critique Consumerism, Corporations, and Cultural Narratives
Thursday, April 21, 6:30 pm
International artists engage in social and political critique. Bye Bye Kitty!!! artist Tomoko Yoneda, known for her ominous photographs of notorious historic sites, and MacArthur Fellow Alfredo Jaar, whose work explores the public’s desensitization to images and the limitations of art represent tragic human events, discuss their respective oeuvres as they relate to select themes in the exhibition. $11/$7 Japan Society members, seniors and students (includes exhibition entry).


Bye Bye Kitty!!! Between Heaven and Hell in Contemporary Japanese Art is generously supported by Yasko Tashiro and Thierry Porté; Edward and Anne Studzinski; Chris A. Wachenheim; Masako and Jim Shinn; Minoru Mori, President and Chief Executive Officer, Mori Building Co.,Ltd.; the Dedalus Foundation Inc.;  The Pollock-Krasner Foundation, Inc.; Barbara Bertozzi Castelli; Margot Paul Ernst; Ota Fine Arts; and the Leadership Committee for Bye Bye Kitty!!! Further significant funding has been received from the National Endowment for the Arts; the New York State Council on the Arts, celebrating 50 years of building strong, creative communities in New York State’s 62 counties; and the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, in partnership with the City Council. Media sponsorship is provided by WNYC. Transportation assistance is provided by Japan Airlines.   Exhibitions at Japan Society are made possible in part by the Lila Wallace-Reader’s Digest Endowment Fund and the Friends of the Gallery. Japan Society also wishes to thank The W. L. S. Spencer Foundation for its catalogue support.

About Japan Society Gallery

Japan Society Gallery is among the premier institutions in the U.S. for the exhibition of Japanese art. Extending in scope from prehistory to the present, the Gallery’s exhibitions since 1971 have covered topics as diverse as classical Buddhist sculpture and calligraphy, contemporary photography and ceramics, samurai swords, export porcelain, and masterpieces of painting from the thirteenth to the twentieth century. Each exhibition, with its related catalogue and public programs, is a unique cultural event that illuminates familiar and unfamiliar fields of art.

About Japan Society

Founded in 1907, Japan Society has evolved into a world-class, multidisciplinary hub for global leaders, artists, scholars, educators, and English and Japanese-speaking audiences. At the Society, more than 100 events each year feature sophisticated, topically relevant presentations of Japanese art and culture and open, critical dialogue on issues of vital importance to the U.S., Japan and East Asia. An American nonprofit, nonpolitical organization, the Society cultivates a constructive, resonant and dynamic relationship between the people of the U.S. and Japan.

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