December 1, 2013

Art review: At Bates, a remarkable 'Redefining' moment

Japanese multiples show joyously expands the idea of printmaking

By Daniel Kany

In many ways, “Redefining the Multiple: 13 Japanese Printmakers” is the show that “Piece Work” – the PMA’s 2013 Biennial – wanted to be.

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Koichi Kiyono’s “Cultivation II,” etching on cotton-wool and felt with handsewing.

Images courtesy of Bates College Museum of Art

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Chiaki Shuji’s “Sky Flow 1,” etching, aqautint, and drypoint.

Additional Photos Below


“REDEFINING THE MULTIPLE: 13 JAPANESE PRINTMAKERS” – Hideki Kimura (Kyoto), Junji Amano (Kamakura), Kouseki Ono (Tokyo), Koichi Kiyono (Tokyo), Chiaki Shuji (Kyoto), Toshinao Yoshioka (Nagoya), Shunsuke Kano (Osaka), Naruki Oshima (Kyoto), Marie Yoshiki (Kyoto), Nobauki Onishi (Kyoto), Shoji Miyamoto (Osaka), Arata Nojima (Kyoto) and Saori Miyake (Osaka).

WHERE: Bates College Museum of Art, 75 Russell St., Lewiston

WHEN: Through Dec. 14

HOURS: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday to Saturday; until 7 p.m. Wednesday

INFO: 786-6158;

If I picked one show in Maine this year that emerging contemporary artists should have seen, it’s “Redefining.”

If I can play at being an editor for a moment, I would strike the “de” from the title and make it “Refining the Multiple.” This show, after all, is all about refinement.

Americans have a troubled history with the notion of refinement – at least in terms of visual culture. Our reigning myth of the artist proffers an idea of authentically unmediated articulations, uncolored by any opinion of others: an idiom allergic to external critique and refinement. Fortunately, it’s only a stereotype, but it’s damaging and to a certain extent misleading as well. The American business world, however, doesn’t work this way: Most patents are improvements, and we have never brooked leaving well enough alone. That, however, is the traditional European model of art: Respect the great things that came before and take them even further to reflect the times and light the path forward. In reality, this is the Western model of art to which American artists largely subscribe; but these public and art-world discourses too often trip over themselves and break down, leaving the artists frustrated and their would-be audience dismayed.

“Redefining” features some of the most sophisticated and brilliantly finished art seen in Maine over the past couple of years. It flies an arrow into the bullseye of the conceptual target aimed at by many of our most promising contemporary artists and then splits that arrow again and again.

Koichi Kiyono’s installation of etching on felted disk forms would be a show-stopper in any museum in America, and it’s only more fascinating in the context of a show focusing on the logic of prints. The eye-poppingly colorful forms could hardly be more fun. And yet, after your wow-grin fades to an open-mouthed how-did-he-do-that?, the experience shifts from joyous appreciation to awe.

And that perfectly sets the stage for the piece that you glimpsed (but didn’t fathom) when you entered the main gallery (which, with the temporary walls gone and new lights installed, has never looked better since the building went up in 1986). The piece occupying the entire center of the gallery, “Silence on the Move: Reflection” by Kouseki Ono, looks at a glance like office-building carpet remnants (or, more generously, an aerial view of post-growing season fields in, say, Nebraska). But it is actually a series of several million ink towers about one-quarter inch high built up by layer on layer of screenprint.

Ono’s other works – a gorgeous worn-tapestry-like framed monochrome khaki print and a rainbow-colored-spike-adored cicada shell – are easier to fully understand and so make returning to the large piece on the main floor into an awe-inspiring (re)encounter.

In other words, they refine your understanding of the initial work you saw.

“Redefining’s” extraordinary sophisticated does not overwhelm because it is so fun: Nobuaki Onishi finishes his cast clear resin simulacra with an extraordinary trompe-l’oeil hand. (This guy should meet Carly Gloviniski – one of Maine’s most talented and brilliantly hilarious art camouflagists.) Onishi’s “Isu,” for example, is a broken-topped old stool (think Man Ray’s old iron with nails welded to its bottom) with cast resin legs that appear to be the original wood until they reach the floor as clear resin. If you take the time to think about it, Onishi’s pencil – revealed by the clear resin core that would be a lead – is a stroke of genius, and it is executed to near perfection.

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Additional Photos

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Naruki Oshima’s “Reflections 0106,” c-print mounted with plexiglass.

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Shoji Hiyamto’s “Red and Fatty Tunas,” water-based ink woodblock.

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Hideki Kimura’s “Glass 2011-11-27,” acrylic ink squeegeed onto glass.

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