It has been a very very long time. In the interim, I’ve been writing a bunch, making new works, dreaming of traveling, and wrestling (literally) with the folks at the visa office. All fun things–ok, save for that last one. I wrote this bit following for a magazine, and fortunately for you, it didn’t make the cut. (this is fortunate, because I get to post it online here, and you can read it for free). It’s another review for the show currently up at Halle Saint Pierre here in Paris. The first one I wrote, a lengthier account, will be published in next month’s issue of Art Asia Pacific Magazine, which is based in New York. With no further ado, here’s the text. If you want to see some of the images from the show, there’s a great website www.art-brut.jp , which was created by the Japanese side of the equation to promote the exhibition here in Paris. Happy reading~
<<The exhibition Art Brut Japonais currently on exhibit at Halle Saint Pierre in Paris, France has been lauded as a veritable tsunami of artistic innovation crashing upon Montmartre. “Une vague Japonais,” literally “a Japanese wave” culls to mind Katsushika Hokusai’s iconic woodblock print The Great Wave, humorously likening Montmartre to Mt. Fuji, and the huddled boatmen to tourists visiting Sacre Coeur. On another level, if we consider the myriad artistic allusions to Great Wave, and its immeasurable cultural impact, the iconic image becomes larger than itself, as its interpretations change with its absorption into disparate visual cultures. Japonais Art Brut is similarly grander than the sum of its parts. The artist Jean Dubuffet once likened Art Brut to a strange wind blowing up against culture, challenging it to mutate and dry up before our very eyes. From strange wind to tsunami wave, this radical intensification of simile is apt, as it points to Halle Saint Pierre’s role in a drastic redrafting of the cultural and conceptual boundaries delimiting what’s nowadays considered Art Brut.
In its first iteration two years hence, Art Brut from Japan at the Art Brut Collection in Lausanne, Switzerland, was the product of collaboration with NO-MA Borderless Gallery in Japan. The twelve artists featured in Lausanne represented a diverse cross-section of Japan’s Able-Arts Movement and ateliers supported by Japan’s social-welfare system (principally the Mizunoki Workshop in Kyoto). True to Dubuffet’s intentions for the Art Brut Collection, Art Brut from Japan created the illusion of a finite set by way of conservative curation, while simultaneously alluding to the multitudes of correlatives in absentia. It seemed to be a comprehensive collection of Art Brut from Japan. However, it’s important to note that this collaboration was predated by the Collection’s sizable acquisition of works from Mizunoki (1994), and was book-ended with the Workshops’ subsequent and generous donation of many more works.
The exponentially larger Art Brut Japonais at Halle Saint Pierre includes the original Lausanne dozen, expanding its scope to include a total of 63 artists drawn from a larger pool of ateliers. While Lausanne curated disparate Japanese visionaries into harmony within their own collection, Japonais’ cast of five-dozen unique voices simultaneously perform their own operettas. One is immediately dazzled by this veritable cacophony of imagery and color—tsunami indeed! The breadth of themes and materials, coupled with the vast range of technical skill and pictorial intrigue bears neither the semblance of a finite collection, nor does it purport to represent the cream from the top. In similar fashion to the Art Brut Collection’s debut exhibition at Galerie René Drouin (1947, Paris), in which Dubuffet erred on the side of maximalist-curation, Japonais proposes no hierarchy among those presently exhibited and those creators still ‘undiscovered.’ While the Lausanne exhibition—unintentionally, perhaps—created significant Japanese Art Brut artists, through their inclusion within the larger Collection, Japonais is open-ended, offering instead a survey representative of their collaboration with NO-MA those affiliates of the Able-Arts Movement, and their respective agendas.
Both NO-MA and Able-Arts endeavor to disentangle the “handicapped arts,” so-called in Japan, from its paradoxically stigmatized association with Japan’s social welfare system through re-contextualization within the realm of fine art. Though the terms Able-Art and Japanese Art Brut are not synonymous, both encourage a reappraisal of such works by imparting an art-historical precedent and affording them an alternate rhetoric. And, as Martine Lusardy, Directrice of Halle Saint Pierre, suggested to Raw Vision, “The West has always been wary of art-therapy ateliers. ‘Art Brut Japonais,’ which has notably consisted of the mentally handicapped, obliges us to rethink our positions.” This simultaneous shift in eastern and western rhetoric is brilliantly in keeping with Art Brut’s original agenda.
Art Brut Japonais boasts an abundance of calligraphic text, appropriated popular and traditional imagery, codified personal narrative, fictive realms revealed, and microcosmic cartographies representative of the infinite complexity that is contemporary Japanese culture. Surpassing their shared nationality and similar mental handicaps, the most strikingly evident commonality among these works is the apparent urgency and intensity of their creators. And as many of these creators are still quite young, Art Brut Japonais is but a primer for much great Japanese Art Brut still to come.>>