By Mutsumi Morita / Yomiuri Shimbun Staff Writer“It’s an exhibition of about 40 years of pictures of buildings — I think people will get sick of it partway through,” joked modern artist Shinro Ohtake, 63, when describing his solo exhibition at Art Tower Mito.
“Shinro Ohtake: BLDG. 1978-2019” at the Contemporary Art Gallery of the museum in Mito features a whopping 606 pieces, overwhelming visitors with the sheer number but also the artist’s passion.
Ohtake has been active on the international art scene since the 1980s, expressing himself in a wide variety of ways, from painting and three-dimensional works, to printing, photography and video.
Yet except for 11 pieces, every creation in this exhibition is two-dimensional, which include paintings, prints and drawings. And they all either depict buildings or something building-related.
Ohtake said he didn’t intentionally set out to draw buildings, but the theme arose unexpectedly.
“It occurred to me that, ‘This could be a series,’” he thought, and for the last few several years every time Ohtake came across a picture of a building or a piece of film depicting one, he would put it in a corner of his workplace. He ended up with more than 800 pieces, he said.
The pieces do not depict specific landscapes, rather “landscapes that are a mixture of the humidity, smell and heat of Tokyo, London, Hong Kong and other cities from Ohtake’s memories,” said Yu Iseki, who is curating the exhibition.
Cuboid buildings with square windows appear over and over. He said these represent the “Showa buildings” that were built in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Ohtake, who was born in Tokyo, was in his teens. The Kasumigaseki Building is an example of this kind of edifice.
They can be taken as imaginary landscapes based on the Tokyo scenery transformed by the 1964 Summer Olympics.
In 1988, Otake moved his base of operations to Uwajima, Ehime Prefecture.
“When you live in a big city, the actual landscape of clusters of buildings gets erased from your mind. Because there aren’t many high-rise buildings in Uwajima, it amplifies the building scenes I saw as a child,” he said.
A piece in which something that appears to be a Buddha statue by 19th century monk and sculptor Enku appears among a cluster of buildings is reminiscent of Giorgio de Chirico’s metaphysical paintings.
Other pieces bring to mind abstract expressionism. The modes of expression are multifarious, including one in which countless drawings and scrap wood are pasted onto a support structure.
Ohtake said he tries to “draw pictures without lying to myself.”
Every one of his works glistens roughly, like the inspiration flowed directly onto the canvas without being diluted, making finely arranged parts a fancy decoration.
Such energetic, tumultuous works of art seem like they were not made by human hands, though they are not inorganic.
On the contrary, they amplify one’s emotions and passions.
It is as if, even in the middle of the rapid economic growth, Ohtake is emphasizing the sympathetic, real people who lived under these buildings.
“Material abundance is supposed to enrich the heart, but in the modern age it produces savagery in inverse proportions,” he said.
With the 2020 Tokyo Olympics coming next year, rather than conveying feelings of nostalgia, the depictions of buildings in this exhibition are critical of contemporary society.
Ohtake said that while he used to work furiously on his art, his frame of mind has changed somewhat in recent years.
“After having run amok creating things, I’ve come to a standstill," Ohtake said. "Now that I’m past 60, I’ve started wondering what am I going to do with such a huge amount of work?”
Now, while he creates new artworks, he brings together pieces that seem like they fit under the same theme.