There’s no shortage of art on display in Tokyo museums and galleries. In fact, the sheer volume of exhibitions in any given month can leave one feeling spoiled for choice. Terra Cotta warriors? Yawn. Warhol? Whatever.
Seeking something completely different, I recently checked out the “Parody and Intertextuality: Visual Culture in Japan Around the 1970s” exhibition at the Tokyo Station Gallery. Don’t let the dour tittle bring you down, this exhibit is a rollicking ride fueled with a high octane mix of clever and cocky social commentary (for the adults in your party).
Welcoming visitors is a small room packed to the ceiling with playful portraits by Leo Yamada who is currently working on 100 versions of the “Mona Lisa” as if painted by masters other than da Vinci. There were several of the works on display at the Tokyo Station Gallery. It’s both engaging and unsettling to work out who he is mimicking, mimicking da Vinci. He’s also done a “da Vinci” on some current world leaders, many of which are on display, giving the exhibition a timely and political edge. Alas, there’s no Trump.
One of my favorite displays featured a vibrant array of Tokyo Metro manner posters from days gone by. Hitler as a seat hog? Jesus bemoaning lost umbrellas? (See below) They certainly don’t make ‘em like that anymore. These days, we are usually served impotent illustrations of animals and giant kanji lessons. I can’t imagine anything released in the last 10 years ever being displayed in a gallery, unless the subject is unintentional irony. Remember “Please do it at home”? Please don’t.
Another eye-grabbing display, was a wall papered with dozens of the colorful covers of “Bikuri House” a parody magazine that ran from 1974-85. There was also a treasure trove of manga, with many volumes laid out for personal perusal. Guilt consumed me as I picked up a weathered copy of Bikuri House and quickly found out how easy it was to damage some of the fragile pages. Reminder: keep those comics in plastic.
Overall, it was fun, informative and eye-catching. Isn’t that what art is supposed to be? I think so. While the “Parody” exhibition is finished, keep an eye on the Tokyo Station Gallery website for future events, as they seem to feature art that’s decidedly off the beaten path.