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Written by Tomohiro MASUDA   
Published: August 09 2011

[fig.1] Photo: ALPS

[fig.2] Photo: ALPS

[fig.3] Photo: ALPS

[fig.4] Photo: ALPS

[fig.5] Photo: ALPS

[fig.6] Collage of painted Japanese papers (by Higashi-san)
Photo: ALPS

I looked inside through a glass door on which a sticker with words “Painting Briefing Session” was sticked (figure 1). I see three paintings hung on the facing wall. The one on the center is a portrait of certain someone of Nuclear and Industrial Safety Agency. The ones on both sides are abstract paintings (figure 2. I found out later that one of these was a work of a painter Ryosuke Ogino, and the other was a work of Azuma who was a friend of Umetsu). There are microphone stands in front of each painting. The microphones are directed toward the paintings but their cords are not connected to anything (figure 3). Pipe chairs are placed before them. A person is sitting on one of those chairs whose back is facing toward me and is looking down. Wilted house plants are placed here and there that simulates the transparent atmosphere of the place.

I curled my fingers around the nob of the glass door. It is locked and does not open. While I stood there suspecting something was wrong, other people who found the locked door left here mumbling “oh it isn't open” (figure 5). I think it wasn't detailed in the direct mail. I wonder it opens at certain times of the day for some performances... I thought so and I decide to leave the place once.

I went back after a while but the door was still locked. The inside looked just the same. Then I realized that there were no changes at all. It's not just the appearance of the venue but the tilt of the neck of the person sitting on a chair is exactly the same as I saw a while back. I realized, for the first time, that the captions of the works that had to be placed next to works were on the wall outside. I noticed a caption as a material of work which read “Gallery x.” Aha, this exhibition was supposed to see the gallery space itself from the outside as a piece of art work.

Well then, what the exhibition “Painting Briefing Session” planned by Umetsu would explain us? We usually just not only view works of art in a exhibition space, but also read exhibition concept, try to find out what it portrays from their titles, and listen to explanations from the artist himself. That way, we think that we understood what a work of art represents. A work of art needs to be acknowledged as a work of art by viewers to have an existential value. In this mindset, an exhibition space can be said that it is a very political place. By capturing it this way, I can say that Umetsu relativized the political nature of a venue of exhibition by creating a system, of which people are rejected from entering. The quiet space representing a press conference room, and the portrait of the artist which would never speak are emphatic irony to the current political condition. In which the mere fact of having a press conference will become a token of executed accountability. This exhibition will be, even if no one noticed it is actually going on, added to Umetsu's exhibition history, and will become a resume to tell that he is creating works of art and presenting them to public. With such resume, his face will be saved.

Nevertheless, whether the keynote of this exhibition is to visualize and relativize the political nature of exhibition space is not clear. People might just passed by because they did not realize this exhibition was actually taking place. The glass door was closed but the important fact is that the spotlight-casted paintings in the venue weren't really refusing to be seen through the glass door. That is to say, the paintings were in the space beyond the glass door as mere “objects” called painting. They did not exist there to represent a particular meaning, nor to express some messages by being recognized as a work of art. This concept of painting, while it precedes any meanings or interpretations, is a mere fact with which there is no relationship with independence of paintings in the modernism. Considering the characteristics of Umetsu's paintings, the pointillism that does not create mixture of vision even when it is seen from afar, proved that his portrait hung on the wall was just an image created by accumulating pigments that had no relationship with himself, even looking across at it through a glass. Furthermore, Azuma's and Ryosuke Ogino's work looked like they were placed carelessly because it was hard to find any mutual relationships to each other (figure 6). This fact and the abstract nature of the motif created the air of unknown-ness of his work. More specifically, in his exhibition, viewers are excluded from the space so the existence of his paintings will not be converged with a cheap meaning or a message. However, we still need to remember that it was shown us through the transparent glass. After the Tohoku Earthquake, I was filled with a feeling of powerlessness of myself. I solicited, consciously or unconsciously, that the value of my existence who involved in art was not something which would be shared by public, but was something to self-affirm or defend myself in disguise in a mask of publicly sharable existence. Therefore, I think his attitude, though roundabout, is very clear and bold, and is gloriously fun.
(Translated by Yoshikazu Noda)

Referred exhibition:

Venue: SPROUT curation
Period: Saturday, May 28 - Saturday, June 4

Last Updated on October 21 2015

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