Fergus McCaffrey is pleased to present a tandem
exhibition of Natsuyuki Nakanishi and Yayoi Kusama. While of the same generation
and country, the artists pursued divergent paths in their practice.
On view are some of Kusama’s earliest works on paper which explore motifs taken
from the artist’s childhood dreams and hallucinations. The works on paper paint a
surreal and sometimes dangerous psychological landscape. During this period
Kusama moved to the United States and in 1958 landed in New York. Firmly
establishing herself as a presence in the 1960’s tumultuous art scene, she created
performances, almost exhibitionist in nature, with nudity, polka dots and free love,
adding to the zeitgeist of the 60’s.
Almost simultaneously, halfway around the world, Nakanishi joined together with Jiro Takamatsu and Genpei Akasegawa to form the artist group Hi-Red Center that took to the streets of Tokyo, making social statements with their performances. One of the most well-known actions by the group, Street Cleaning Event, took place in Ginza during the 1964 Tokyo Olympic Games. The group (with volunteers) literally cleaned the streets in white lab coats and facemasks, mocking the government’s message to the people to present a clean city. Other actions were more surreal in nature incorporating actual studio produced sculptures on busy Tokyo metro trains and Nakanishi himself taking to the streets in rush hour, his face adorned with dozens of clothes pins. Like Kusama, Nakanishi’s actions question cultural normativity and social values. Interestingly, while both artists were engaging in these public actions, both maintained studio practices, creating paintings formally similar, yet from conceptually different starting points.
With the sculpture Walking on the Sea of Death, 1981, which features prominently in the ABHK presentation, Kusama revisits a turning point in her practice. In 1963 she produced the first of many ‘Boats.’ In Aggregation: 1000 Boats Show, at the Gertude Stein Gallery in New York, she exhibited the boat along with 999 photographs that she used to wallpaper the gallery. This was a monumental leap for the artist, moving from producing two-dimensional, discrete works, to three-dimensional environments. One sees this notion of ‘accumulation’ in the later works of Nakanishi, as individual canvases are used to create maze-like viewing spaces in which one’s eyes leap fluidly from one canvas to another. However, unlike Kusama’s ‘Nets’ and rooms, which purposefully try to keep the viewer’s eye from landing in any one spot, Nakanishi guides the viewer and acts as a kind of mediator between the work of art and the spectator.