Parco Museum Tokyo presents “Global Pop Underground,” a group exhibition curated by contemporary art gallery NANZUKA, based in Shibuya. Following the concept of “Tokyo Pop Underground,” which was held in the New York and Los Angeles spaces of Jeffery Deitch last year, presented on this occasion is a special exhibition that reconfigures the global artist selection of the gallery from the perspective of “Underground.”
In “Tokyo Pop Underground” Nanzuka explored the context of Japanese artists outside the framework of "fine art (art for art’s sake)," citing historical backgrounds that are unique to Japan. Originally in Japan up until the Meiji period, most of what was referred to as art were practical items, and had therefore developed together and in integration with popular culture. There are indeed too many examples to mention, from calligraphy to byobu (folding screens) and fusuma (sliding paper doors) paintings, crafts such as tea utensils and negoro lacquerware, netsuke (miniature sculptures used as key-holders), Ukiyo-e that served as posters and commercial portraits, and intricately realistic handcrafts like iki-ningyou (life-like dolls) that were made for exhibitory=performance purposes. Such “creations” can essentially be regarded as “pop” due to their popular and democratic nature, and are what is referred to as “underground” within the fabric of academic art.
“Global Pop Underground,” while following the above context, as an anti-thesis to the stereotypes of “high” and “low” within the framework of art academism, serves to interactively mix and bring together the explosive and simultaneous outbursts of “outsider” discourse taking place on a global scale. This exhibition also includes numerous works that present expressions of sex and violence. This is something that the artists had intentionally incorporated in order to imply statements of anti-authority, anti-uniform management, and anti-uniform justice. For example, there are Keiichi Tanaami’s Mandala-like paintings based on his own experiences of the war, the sexual and aggressive portraits of women painted by Harumi Yamaguchi in tow with the Women’s Liberation Movement in the 1970s, Toshio Saeki’s 1970s drawing works that depict various sexual taboos, and Hajime Sorayama who continues to produce paintings that reflect human instinctive desires through using robots as a filter. These are the artists who produced works during the dawn of Japan’s avant-garde art, and had not come under the “fine art” spotlight until now due to the radical intensity of their practice.
Artists with this kind of background is not only limited to those who are Japanese. American artist Peter Saul who will be 86 years old this year, despite being a pioneer engaged in producing pop art style works in the late 1950s that referenced cartoon characters, had long been distanced from art authorities, not receiving proper evaluation as a result of the satirical nature of his work. Alternatively, Joyce Pensato, an American female artist who unfortunately passed away last year and continued to depict various American-born characters through a unique drip style aesthetic, also did not receive acclaim for her practice until the later years of her career due to not riding with the tides of success in the art world, such as engaging with main stream principles and trends.
In addition to legendary artists who have paved the way, this exhibition introduces the younger generation artists. Featured on this occasion are the works of Javier Calleja, a Spanish artist who depicts portraits of characters with huge eyes in a surrealistic manner while drawing influencing from Japanese manga; Haroshi who creates wooden sculptural works using used skateboards as his materials through a distinct self-developed technique; Hiroki Tsukuda from the field of graphic design; Masato Mori, a Japanese artist whose practice traces back to graffiti; Oliver Payne, a British artist who has produced numerous conceptual works under the theme of punk as a virtual enemy against the vested interests that control contemporary society; and Todd James (Reas), an artist who represents the 90's NY graffiti scene. Through presenting the works of artists with various backgrounds in illustration, design, manga, street art, underground culture and so on together in parallel, the exhibition serves to systematically illustrate the sheer diversity of present progressive art.
“Underground,” as a cultural language in our current age, while incorporating counter areas such as sex, punk, cyber, science fiction, psychedelic, street, manga/otaku which are often considered as “low” in opposition to “high” art, is indeed starting to be reviewed on a global scale. This movement can be regarded as a phenomenon that has emerged as a counter to the social situation in today's developed countries, which are intensifying in their tendencies towards exclusionism.