In the second of three interviews with the people behind Wako Works of Art’s current exhibition for four hands, I talked to Yukie Kamiya, the show’s curator.
Currently Adjunct Curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York, Yukie Kamiya studied Art History at Waseda University in Tokyo and completed the De Appel Curatorial Programme in Amsterdam. She has curated exhibitions in Asia, Europe, the United States and South America, including Adaptive Behavior at the New Museum of Contemporary Art, Under Construction: New Dimension of Asian Art at the Japan Foundation Forum and Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery, Fantasia at Space IMA in Seoul and the Far East Modern Art Center in Beijing, and Space-Jack! at the Yokohama Museum of Art. She has also written for catalogues and periodicals including Afterall, Art Asia Pacific, Asahi Newspaper, Bijutsu Techo and Wolgan Misool.
How did this exhibition come about? Jordan and Gabriel didn’t know each other before, so what made you bring them together?
This project started when Mr. Wako came to New York. We had a fun, touristic window-shopping trip around Manhattan together. He’s been having piano lessons, so at that time, he was fascinated with piano showrooms and when he offered me the chance to organize an exhibition, I thought of organizing the show to the theme of pianos or music. When two people play a piano at the same time, their music can be called a ‘four-handed piano performance’ and I liked this expression ‘four-handed’ as a way of referring to a two-person performance. So I named this two-person show for four hands, focusing on four pieces and ultimately I invited these two artists to take part in this exhibition in order to fit the theme I had come up with. That’s my job as a curator! (laughs).
The show is as much about the curation of sound as it is about the curation of image. Can you talk about your experience of curating their work?
With the structure of the exhibition inspired by the idea of two people performing on one piano, you have two people sharing one space: Jordan’s sound piece and Gabriel’s video work share the same space in one half of the gallery, while Jordan’s drawing and Gabriel’s sound and light piece share the other half.
Both Gabriel and Jordan have used piano music in their works before and it was clear to me that they share similar interests and aesthetic concerns, even though they didn’t know each other’s works so well. Also, they are both highly inspired by film and they incorporate aspects of it into their work. I was interested in how they employ elements of mass culture that exist everywhere in this age of reproduction and do more than just appropriate them, but interpret them into the minimal visual language of their respective works.
I wanted to provide them with a platform to exhibit each piece individually, but at the same time make it possible for unconscious or unexpected opportunities to create a single spatial installation of sound and image. I didn’t want to force them to collaborate, because that would be a compromise. For example, I wrote in the exhibition text about the first film Woody Allen directed, in which he used two 1960s Japanese films and dubbed them with completely new and different lines in English to create a comedy. In a similar way, the two artists could bring together two different ideas of image and sound and create a new, even unique experience for the audience, as well as for themselves.
On a practical level, how did the two artists adjust their work to fit each other?
The great part of organizing this exhibition was that both of them completely understood my concept and at the venue they adjusted their works so as to make them fit each other’s work and the space. Gabriel selected non-colored light bulbs that fit nicely with Jordan’s simple pencil drawing, and with his sound piece, Jordan changed the frequency of the sound of the match being struck so as to fit the silent images in Gabriel’s video. In the end, the combination of these two artists’ pieces is amazingly beautiful.
Are there any differences you have experienced between curating in Japan and in the United States?
Every exhibition I curate is a different experience, regardless of which country or region the show is taking place in, and the experience also varies depending on the type of place the works are being shown in, be it an institution, a gallery, public space, publication or web-site. However, the one unifying experience is that in all cases, exhibitions are the product of dialogues with artists.
Gabriel told me he was interested to know how this show would be received in Japan. Do you think the Japanese audience looks for different things?
Japanese people are quite polite, so I’ve only heard positive comments so far. I’m also curious to know how the audience will react to the show. Even if the show meets with criticism, it’s a nice trigger for getting their work known in Japan. In the end, this exhibition explores universal issues of the contemporary age — artistic practice in age of reproduction — so it can be exhibited any country.
What other universal concepts do you think about when curating?
I’m conscious of the themes and concepts associated with time and place; I consider why I’m curating the exhibition at that moment and at that place. My first exhibition at a museum was in Amsterdam and when I was an independent curator, I organized exhibitions in Japan and overseas including Brazil, Sweden, Seoul and Beijing. In every location, I was thinking about how the show could be site-specific and time-specific.
This exhibition is for a gallery whose owner loves piano music. That became a specific reason to develop the concept further, as well as the character of the gallery space giving me ideas. There are two gallery spaces at Wako Works of Art, so it was possible to install one sound piece in each space.
Since this show is in Japan, I did take that into account, and chose two young, talented artists to introduce to a Japanese audience for the first time. This is their first visit to Asia, and so the exhibition could also provide new and unique experiences for the artists, as much as for the audience.
What do you think about the state of conceptual art today? You could say that it is the type of art that frustrates people the most… is there a difference in perception of conceptual art in the US and Japan?
Conceptual art is a fantastic form of artistic expression! But of course, I understand what you mean. This frustration mostly comes from unfamiliarity. Once people become familiar with something, it becomes easier for them to appreciate it and conceptual art is like that. But I don’t think that their practice is totally conceptual. I’m interested in how they employ elements of mass culture: things that are visually and aurally familiar to us. I can see that the young generation of contemporary artists is highly inspired by 1960s and 1970s artistic practices including Conceptualism; they are not only inspired by it but also adapt it and translate it in their art production.
In the United States, the art scene is strongly led by the market, so the audience tends to appreciate tangible pieces that they are able to collect. Conceptualism is not popular from this point of view and can only seen in specific galleries. Equally, in Japan, art and art production is closely associated with the idea of craft-making techniques, so Conceptualism might make an unfamiliar impression on viewers here. But that’s not a bad thing: I enjoy curating because I like to provide challenging points of view.
To read the interview with Jordan Wolfson, click here.
To read the interview with Gabriel Lester, click here.