THE GIANT MEMBER FUJI VERSUS KING GTIADORS
The Mori Art Museum (MAM) is part of the so-called Art Triangle in Roppongi, an upscale district (some people would say “foreigners ghetto”) in Tokyo. When it opened with great fanfare in 2003, it attracted its share of criticism because it seemed to favor crowd-pleasing blockbusters over thought-provoking projects. However the initial problems were soon rectified, and now the MAM is highly regarded as one of the best contemporary art institutions in Asia.
Guided by director Fumio Nanjo’s expert hand, the museum has been especially successful in introducing the best art from Asia – one of the MAM’s stated goals – as testified by wide ranging collective projects about India and the Arab world, and Ai Weiwei’s solo retrospective. As for Japan, Motohiko Odani’s haunting “Phantom Limb” in 2010 has been recently followed by enfant terrible Makoto Aida’s exhibition.
For several years Aida has been one of Japan’s best kept secrets. With only a few solo shows abroad, he has participated in many collective projects like 2003’s “The American Effect: Global Perspectives on the United States, 1990-2003” at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and 2009’s “Wallworks” at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts in San Francisco. This time, though, the MAM has put all its considerable PR power behind him, resulting in one of the most hyped Japanese exhibitions in recent years.
Aida’s multifaceted talent – and the large-scale paintings he has started to produce since 2000 – is big enough to thrive even in the museum’s cavernous spaces. Each room highlights a particular phase of his career so far, as well as his biting sense of humor. Indeed, more than the exhibition’s duller English title (“Monument for Nothing”, its Japanese version – “Tensai de gomennasai,” means “Sorry, I’m a genius”) perfectly exemplifies Aida’s wit and nonchalant approach to art and fame. During the press conference he even apologized for been unable to finish the huge painting he had been commissioned by the MAM, adding with a suave smile that these are the kind of things you would expect from a genius…
Aida’s free-range reinterpretation of both Eastern and Western art is showcased in works which deliberately mix sublime lyricism and vulgarity, like a cherry tree painted in traditional Nihon-ga style over a collaged background of call girl stickers that are usually plastered over city walls and inside telephone booths.
“War Picture Returns” is a series of paintings that Aida made over three years in the late 1990s. He never takes sides, but rather taunts everybody while stressing the absurdity of war and how difficult it is to divide the world between black and white, good and evil.
Aida often recreates the style of the old propaganda posters, using traditional Japanese folding screens and materials like mineral pigments that he mixes with acrylic paint, photocopy on holographic paper, and collage.
Some of these works are very graphic, like “Gate Ball” (1999) which depicts a group of old people who merrily play a game of croquet (a very popular pastime among senior citizens in Japan) using the severed heads of children from different Asian countries that were occupied by the Japanese army during the war. Another work which should make many flag-waving Americans spill their cookies is “A Picture of an Air Raid on New York City” (1996) where a storm of Zero fighter planes flies over a burning Manhattan.
The “Posters” series, on the other hand, parodies the “morally uplifting” works that Aida was forced to make when he was a child. By distorting their original messages, he highlights society’s hypocrisy and false truths while stressing his deep-rooted distrust for authority and formal education.
Aida’s wry wit is again on display in some of his 3D works. “Shinjuku Castle” is an attempt to ironically upgrade the shabby card box “houses” in which many homeless people live around Tokyo and other Japanese cities.
Aida’s desire to lead an idle life is represented by “The Non-Thinker” – one of the works he made especially for this exhibition. The FRP-made statue parodies Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker” that in typically Japanese fashion he turns into Onigiriman (Rice Ball Man), a slacker superhero who looks like he is sitting on top of a huge pile of poop.
Aida’s otaku-like obsession with young girls can be found throughout the exhibition. This subject has been explored ad nauseam by many Japanese (and even some foreign) artists, but Aida often goes one step further by putting the viewers in an uncomfortable spot, making them accomplice to his perversions.
“Harakiri School Girls” portrays in vivid colors a group of cute mini-skirted nymphets who, between ecstasy and excruciating pain, proceed to disembowel or behead themselves while striking provocative poses.
The big painting ”Blender” possibly goes one step further in depicting a hellish scene – between Dante’s Inferno and torture porno – in which thousands of naked girls are used to make a special brand of what Aida calls “cranberry juice.” It must be said that Aida often warns us not to seek too many hidden ideas in his works. He admits that some of them are just “nonsense fun” – albeit of the twisted variety. In a way he holds a mirror in front of us, challenging people to react to them, and our reactions often say more about ourselves and our hidden thoughts and feelings than the artist’s intentions.
This exhibition even features an x-rated area that is off-limits to minors. Inside a dark room – guarded by a shy-looking female staff – we find among other things a photomontage of a girl copulating with a giant bug and an exquisitely made painting of teenage girls in different stages of amputation. These works are reminiscent of Trevor Brown though his cute style is replaced here by another take on traditional Japanese painting.
The same red-light room is dominated by “The Giant Member Fuji versus King Gidora” where a quiet suburban area is the scene for a mortal combat between an anime character and the titular multi-headed dragon.
One of the most striking pieces included in the exhibition is “Ash Color Mountain” that Aida took two years to complete. Seen from a distance, the huge painting seems to present a classical landscape. Upon closer examination, you realize that the mountains emerging from the mist are actually made of the bodies of thousands of office workers piled up one on top of each other. The message – a bleak look at capitalism – may be obvious, but you would be hard pressed to find a more original take on globalization.
There are many other rooms to explore, which show Aida’s sometimes contradictory approach to and scathing critique of such themes as technology, communication, ecology and suicide through his distinctive style full of bizarre contrasts. Although what emerges at the end of this marathon is an artist whose complexity defies easy analysis and categorization.
Aida and his wife, the artist Hiroko Okada, who met in New York in 2000 while he was on a yearlong residency and married in a shotgun wedding upon their return to Japan, moved here two years ago seeking more space and stability after leading what the pair describe as an itinerant life of switching apartments in Tokyo. Their humble property consists of two boxy pre-fab structures, a driveway cluttered with bicycles and lawn chairs and an unkempt back yard, featuring a rusting port-a-potty inherited from a previous tenant, tipped sideways by a storm.
The setting is unusually quaint but appropriate for an artist known for his perverse drawings, paintings, installations and performances skewering both the underside of Japanese society and his own insecurities about a breadth of topics from sexuality to international relations. On this overcast day, the clouds took away the bright shine of the country in spring, revealing the grittiness of the surrounding human interventions into nature and obliquely recalling Aida’s large-scale mixed-media painting 人 (hi-to: human being) PROJECT (2002), depicting, with picturesque green and blue shades, a proposal to level an expanse of rain forest, fill it in, cover it with asphalt and then use reflective, white traffic-marker paint to create a monumental Chinese character for the word “person” in Japanese, hito.
As an absurdist emblem of unchecked chauvinism, the hi-to proposal is characteristic of Aida’s wide-ranging and at times contentious oeuvre. Now 42, Aida is an iconoclast. When he feels like it, he can make paintings of incredible refinement and graphic punch by manipulating technique and scale. Yet Aida is equally capable of producing sloppy drawings mimicking the style of young children and amateur artists—parodies of Japan’s education system and government-supported community art programs—and videos such as Lonely Planet (1998), for which he sat in a corner of a room in front of a world map and dialed random numbers to see what languages people use in different countries in an attempt to counter the assumption that English is the world’s reigning lingua franca. An ephemeral outdoor ceramic piece made with art students and volunteers, Shit by Jomon-type Monster (2003), consisted of mounds of coiled, brown clay that simultaneously resembled gigantic feces and the pots left by Japan’s pre-historic Jomon civilization. Intentionally crude, the work was an embrace of failure, as was the “Assisted Suicide Machine” series (1986-2002) of nooses made from hiking gear and other safety equipment, designed to collapse under the weight of a potential victim. One ASM device fits the specifications of Aida’s young son, and is displayed with a plastic stool for a child to reach the noose.
Born and raised in northern Niigata prefecture, Aida is the son of a leftist-leaning sociology professor at Niigata University. However, during the tumultuous 1960s and 1970s student movement, his father was persecuted for not being radical enough. In reaction, Aida wavered between admiration for both liberal and conservative intellectuals. He idolized the free-spirited writer and peace activist Makoto Oda, as well as the novelist Yukio Mishima, who committed ritual suicide in 1970 in a tragic-comic attempt to restore wartime authority to the emperor, and Hideo Kobayashi, a pioneer of literary criticism who outspokenly supported Japanese expansion in Asia.
In high school, Aida was swept up by experimental new wave manga comics and enrolled at Tokyo National University of Fine Arts and Music with the intent of becoming a manga artist. Studying in the oil painting department, Aida dabbled in conceptual art, but his aesthetic breakthrough came in graduate school at the same university when he painted Dog (1989), his first serious use of academic Nihonga Japanese ink painting, a genre he originally dismissed as “being for grandpas,” but came to respect as a potent tool for communicating his ideas about contemporary Japanese society.
Made with mineral pigments on paper, a subdued color scheme and fine brushstrokes, Dog updated the subtle eroticism characteristic of modern-era bijinga paintings of beautiful women—a sub-genre of Nihonga—and amplified it to shocking effect, depicting a chained, naked young girl with her limbs amputated, sitting on the stumps of her haunches and looking up with her tongue sticking out like a dog. With uncanny timing, the painting’s completion coincided with the 1989 arrest of serial killer Tsutomu Miyazaki, who murdered four young girls and sexually molested their corpses. Police investigating Miyazaki’s home in Saitama prefecture outside Tokyo found thousands of videotapes of pornographic anime and hard-core films. The media outcry over the incident led to the popularization of the word otaku, referring to socially outcast obsessive geeks. Now, 20 years later, otaku is a major subculture, difficult to define but essentially driven by animations, comics, character goods and even theme cafes oriented toward the virtual consummation of fetishes ranging from Lolita complexes to the idolization of sexy maid outfits and the more innocuous absorption with model kits and train-spotting trivia.
Aida, although not an otaku, continued exploring untouchable subject matter. A monumental painting on acetate film, The Giant Member Fuji versus King Gidora (1993), fused the aesthetics and saturated color palette of ukiyo-e woodblock prints with their contemporary descendants, manga and anime drawing. Borrowing from Hokusai’s The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife (c. 1820), which shows a naked woman in the throes of passion with a pair of octopi, Aida’s work depicts a giant woman in a ranger outfit as she is raped by a many-headed dragon, their epic battle crushing the city streets beneath them. Modeling the woman on a character from the long-running kitsch TV show Ultraman and the dragon from the Godzilla movies, Aida conscientiously pushed his work further into the realm of otaku taste while also invoking a rich tradition of popular erotic art, shunga, and contemporaneous whimsical compendiums of ghouls and creatures.
After graduation, Aida underwent what he calls “the poorest time of my life,” performing odd jobs. His work, including Giant Member Fuji, was exhibited in a group exhibition at Rontgenwerke in Tokyo—an early incubator for contemporary artists at a time when there was little gallery infrastructure—but did not sell. Aida bounced around from venue to venue until 1995, when the collector turned dealer Sueo Mitsuma organized a three-person show as part of an art event, “Morphe’95,” at his newly-opened Mizuma Art Gallery, for which Aida contributed a series of photographs entitled “Apt. Kubo-so #6” (1993), racy shots of a girl’s doll in various states of undress.
Mitsuma initially dismissed Aida as an otaku artist but learning that he also painted, asked to see some works. Aida showed him a school-era painting, Azemichi (1991), a riff on Nihonga landscape painter Kaii Higashiyama’s bucolic masterpiece, The Road (1950). Aida’s version added the back of a girl’s pig-tailed head as she walks down a path in a field. The line of the girl’s scalp, visible where her hair is parted down the middle and aligned in the center of the canvas, blends seamlessly with the path, which extends to the vanishing point of the painting’s horizon. Mitsuma bought the work on sight and offered Aida a solo show at the gallery. Mitsuma, a gregarious but generally composed man, recalls, “That night, I was so thrilled, I couldn’t even sleep. I had found a genius artist.”
Early in his career, Aida continued to wrestle with the legacy of native Japanese modernism through appropriations of art historical genres. The “War Picture Returns” series, begun in 1995, tickles the raw nerve of Japan’s imperial past by using the earthy tones and melodramatic composition of war-era propaganda paintings, sensouga. Works in this series include A Picture of an Air Raid on New York City (1996), showing World War II Zero fighters strafing a burning Manhattan skyline, and Mi-Ni-Ma-Ru (Minimal) (1999)—the title is a winking reference to the work of American sculptor Donald Judd—which features a wooden shrine gate against a silver background with the charged war-era slogan, “Long Live the Emperor,” painted in “young man’s blood” in mournful, subdued brush strokes.
These works are poetic, topical and disturbing, imbued with ambivalence toward the former Japanese empire’s nationalist ideology and its post-war reckoning with the drastic social changes brought about by American occupation. The apotheosis of “War Picture Returns” is an offshoot, Aida’s homemade manga comic Mutant Hanako (1997), sketched out in frenetic line drawings that instill a sense of urgency and spontaneity to the story. The manga’s young female protagonist, Hanako, gains superpowers after the atomic bombing of Hiroshima. She takes on and defeats the US army, extinguishing the continental United States under a stream of excrement, after battling with a penis-headed President Roosevelt monster in outer space.
Родился в 1965 году в Ниигата, Япония. Живёт и работает в Чиба, Япония
Избранные персональные выставки:
2011 “День и ночь”, Центр современного искусства, Вильнюс, Литва
2010 “Е-ВАКА”, галерея Mizuma Art, Токио, Япония
2009 “Я работаю над огромными картинами в Пекине”, галерея Mizuma and One, Пекин, Китай
“Фотоработы АИДА Макото”, A・Zone, Окаяма, Япония
2008 “Я – IWAKI в Mizuma Art Gallery!!”, Mizuma Art Gallery, Токіо, Японія
Избранные групповые виставки:
2012 “Двойное видение: современное искусство из Японии”, Московский музей современного искусства, Москва, Россия
2011 “EMERGING / MASTER 1: АИДА Макото | Это искусство или не искусство”, Tokyo Wonder Site Hongo, Токио, Япония
“Medi(t)ation: биеннале азиатского искусства 2011”, Национальный музей изобразительного искусства, Тайчжун, Тайвань
2010 “MADE IN POPLAND”, Национальный музей современного искусства, Сеул, Корея
2009 “ОБОРОТ И КРИК/ Современное искусство из Японии”, Бангкокский центр искусства и культуры, Бангкок, Тайланд
“Настенное”, Художественный центр Buena, Сан-Франциско, США