Masao Yamamoto's photographs are like vignettes of imagined memories--hazy, familiar, and uncannily private. Born in Japan and trained as a painter, Yamamoto began to work photographically in 1975. His most famous work to date is entitled A Box of Ku, an ongoing series containing hundreds of unique, ruminative images. Yamamoto's photographs are usually small enough to fit in the palm of your hand, and their surfaces are given more attention than almost any other photographs made today. The artist distresses his final objects by creasing the prints, sanding them down, dying them, and fraying the edges. What one then sees is not so much an image as a souvenir from a dream. Not too many photographers pull this off successfully--Joel Peter Witkin and Luis Gonzales Palma being the most famous exceptions. The images are lonely, evocative and poetic. The back of a man's head with a songbird leaning into his ear; a globe that has been crushed and fallen from its perch. They are open to a myriad of interpretations, both universal and personal.
SK Josefberg Studio will be displaying nearly three hundred of Yamamoto's photographs, many of them affixed directly to the gallery walls. Hopefully, there will also be a copy of "Nakazora" available for viewing. It's the artist's most recent publication--an 18-foot scroll featuring recent images by the artist. I'll go out on a limb here and say that this will likely be one of the most haunting and beautiful exhibitions of the year. CHAS BOWIE
Erwin Wurm: Fat Survival
(Hatje Cantz Publishers, paperback, $35)
Alright guys and gals, it's time again for the second in our series of artist's book reviews. Last month, I realized that at a glance, one might have thought that Gregory Crewdson's Twilight was showing in Portland, as the review wasn't immediately identifiable as a book review, so this week I'll be right up front about it. Wish as I might, Erwin Wurm does not have a show in Portland right now, nor is there one in any imaginable future. In fact, Wurm (pronounced "Verm," I'm told) shows in Europe about ten times as much as in the States, which is too bad for us because he is a splendid humorist and conceptualist, and I think he will end up being a major influence on young artists. But the book at hand, which is all I have to deal with today, is called Fat Survival, and is a hefty catalogue to accompany a big show of his work at the Neue Galerie Graz, which Google informs me is in Austria.
Wurm's primary medium is the human body (mostly other people's), which he uses as an abundant and readymade prop for his uncanny scenarios called One Minute Sculptures, Outdoor Sculptures, or when he draws them out, Instruction Drawings. The drawings are the best place to start--crude line drawings from the late '90s featuring solitary figures, a few props, and instructions for an arrangement that usually looks tolerable but highly embarrassing, and more than a little uncomfortable. Some of my personal favorites are "Two Mushrooms," in which the woman has two of them sticking out of her nostrils, and "5 Objects," where the guy leans against the wall, holding plastic bottles of 409 and Maalox between himself and the wall with various parts of his body. The natural progression from these drawings was, of course, to have people bring them to life, if only for a minute, and God bless 'em, some people will do just about anything for the artistic cause, even sit outside with pickles sticking between their toes or lay face down in the street with their head in a dog dish. The drawings seem mildly cruel and control-freaky, yet the photographs have a lot more levity and whimsy, although the girl with 'shrooms up her nose looks pretty ticked.
In 1969, the British duo Gilbert + George unveiled their singing sculpture, which was the two of them in gold face paint, lipsyncing an old Flanagan and Allen tune. Soon thereafter, Charles Ray was propping himself up against walls with planks of wood and Vito Acconci was wanking it under the floor of Sonnabend Gallery. But none of these direct precedents have been quite so directorial, giving instructions and sets of rules, like Wurm does, as in his photo series "Instructions for Idleness" (Smoke a joint before breakfast. Be too lazy to argue...). It's this tension, this discomforting relationship between the artist and his performers (and viewers?) that keeps me coming back to the work. Now Erwin says "Roll Up a Magazine and Stick it in Your Mouth!" CHAS BOWIE