PAINTING FOR JOY: NEW JAPANESE PAINTING IN THE 1990S at the Jap-an Foundation (131 Bloor West), to July 31, Monday-Friday and July 7. 416-966-1600. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNNN
one thing that these paintings from 90s Japan have in common is that they are not what they seem.
Makoto Aida 's series of colourful abstract sketches actually depicts the sidewalk where a pop star jumped to her death, and his painting of looping airplanes refers to the now despised imperialist "war painting" of the 40s. Nobuhiko Nukata 's hard-edged geometric grids look machine-generated but are in fact meticulously rendered by hand.
Taro Chiezo , Yoshitomo Nara and Takeshi Murakami paint cartoon figures that seem to pay homage to the pop culture of anime and manga but undercut it by bringing its more sinister qualities to the fore. Miran Fukuda 's abstract red grid on a yellow ground is instantly recognizable in Japan as the packaging of Kewpie mayonnaise.
Many of the artists, born in the 60s and just hitting their stride in the 90s, comment on the act of painting in the context of Japan's fraught relationship to Western influences. Fukuda chops up her imitations of clichéd Western-style paintings into 3-D surfaces or puts a bucolic scene on an angle so it appears to be sliding off the picture plane.
The show has been touring for a while, and in the meantime many of the artists have become stars in the West.
Some work with robotics, computers and installation, while Murakami runs a factory that churns out his Mr. DOB figures, designs for French handbags and computer-enhanced paintings and sculptures for both the art market and ordinary consumers.
Bad boy Aida has gone on to exhibit such incendiary works as his X-rated Mickey and Minnie painting that dares Disney to sue with the words "Fuck copyright."
There may be joy in painting, but dig a little deeper and you'll also find irony, anxiety and anger.