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Art Review : Japanese Natives At Work In The U.s.

July 22, 1986|COLIN GARDNER

"Japan/America," at the Long Beach Museum of Art (through Aug. 17), is an exhibition of works by eight Japanese-born artists living and working in the United States. According to curator Patricia Boutelle, this merging of clearly defined cultural traditions "proposes to raise questions about heritage and environment, about past and present."

Although the artists seem to have little in common stylistically, they apparently share a common intellectual and spiritual tradition that has been nurtured and expanded by the Western aesthetic milieu.

This often manifests itself as a pronounced dialectic between formal understatement (usually focused upon the "spiritual" resonance of natural materials such as wood and stone) and a more secular expressionism, epitomized by painterly effusion or the subtle manipulation of surfaces.

Thus, Keiko Kasai's delicate constructions of painted branches and handmade paper seem to draw upon both the economy of the haiku and the chance juxtaposition of dreams, while Minoru Ohira injects the ordered formalism of found branches with the mythological iconography of Mexican folk traditions.

Such artists as Mineko Grimmer (kinetic sculpture), Masayuki Oda (environmental installation of cut-out forms) and Hirokazu Kosaka (brashly physical calligraphies that reflect his dual concerns as both performance artist and Buddhist priest) each reflect a more universal concern with the meditative or transcendent properties of the artistic rite.

In contrast, Kyoko Asano's beach scenes of human detritus and Mayumi Oda's silkscreen paeans to womanhood are more deliberately painterly and decorative, raising Western stylistic accessibility over rigorous concept. Similarly, Masami Teraoka's familiar satires on conspicuous consumption ( Ukiyo-e meets Pop) lean closer toward current Post-Modernist interests in pluralism and appropriation than to creating a unique hybrid of conflicting philosophies.

The main problem with neatly tailored exhibits such as this is that they usually end up stating the obvious. Exclusive organizational parameters that aim to underline the importance of ethnicity either become self-fulfilling prophesies or inadvertently draw attention to all those artists who were ignored in a wider schema, in particular those Western artists who have conversely absorbed Japanese, particularly Zen, traditions.

The argument is thus either too hermetically restrictive to allow for dissent or too broad to raise aesthetic and ideological issues that can move beyond curatorial subjectivity.

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