Tsubaki-kai Exhibition  

Beauty is word seldom used about art any more. Beauty is too difficult to define and too culturally loaded. Yet, we all have a wardrobe full of skeletons and prejudices that drive our fashion, food and entertainment tastes. So long as you dont expose them at the art gallery, you will be safe with the chic crowd.

'Tsubaki-kai, (camellia club), is an exhibition which considers some contemporary attitudes of beauty. It is the second part of an annual series of exhibitions at the swanky Shiseido Gallery, Ginza, which aims to explore new trends in the visual arts by following the careers of a selected few artists with annual showings.

'Ambient-light Sakura, a pastel mauve series of paintings by Yasue Kodama, exemplify the essence of this exhibition. They are two huge canvases filled with branches of plum blossom. A third canvass, smaller and painted mauve all over, leans nonchalantly against the wall nearby.

In a few practiced and assured strokes Kodama captures the delicate profusion of plum petals. Her painting style reflects the fluidity of Nihon-ga art, with an ease and assurance of brush stroke that would make a master calligrapher proud. Her work is also unmistakably modern and owes a great debt to some of the masters of abstract expressionist art who manipulated paint with powerful expression and energy.

However, Kodamas painting -- too pink, too delicate, too big, too simple -- is too beautiful. The subject of plum blossoms is also far too cute. There in lies the tension in her work. Are these just paintings of picturesque petals? Or is there something more mocking to the mauve. For better or worse they recall every haiku written about falling petals, every snapshot of blossom laden trees and every intoxicated toast to flowering trees.

These paintings also evoke memories of every luscious oil paint laden brushstroke on canvass hung in a museum. Too many stereotypes have been plucked for us not to begin to wonder if someone is playing pictorial parody. It all becomes a bit much. It is difficult to distinguish the trees from all the beauty.

Also included in the Tsubaki-kai exhibition and worthy of note is the striking red abstract painting of Naoaki Yamamoto, the atmospheric oil of Yuumi Domoto, the ethereal glass and concrete sculptures of Rury Iwata, and the lacey transparent iron works of Noe Aoki.

The bronze sculpture by Wakiro Sumi, oil paintings of Toeko Tatsuno, and a large series of drawings by Kyoko Sera are each striking statements re-addressing contemporary aesthetics. 'Interior, two paintings by Mitsuko Miwa seemed to take a famous quote from Henri Matisse rather literally. Matisse, said that a good painting was supposed to be like a comfortable armchair where a businessman could come home and relax into.

Miwa has painted a leather lounge. Its padded and worn surface looks a particularly cozy place to settle. The second painting placed above the first, is a stark striped abstract work. It seems as though it is decorating the wall of the room where the painted lounge might belong.

Miwas work reminds me of a slogan on a favorite T-shirt from a once visited now forgotten US museum. It cheekily but definitively proclaims 'good art isnt supposed to match your sofa.

Shiseido Gallery

May 26, 2002