Pop-art from post-tsunami Japan comes to SAAM

Mr.’s painting “Stationed at the Convenience Store” 2013, Acrylic on canvas, 59 1/16 × 118 1/8in. (Photo courtesy Lehmann Maupin)

The Japanese artist Mr. brings his first solo museum exhibition in the United States , a series titled “Live On,” to the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM) beginning Friday Nov. 22nd.

Mr. is a protegé of the prolific contemporary Japanese artist Takashi Murakami, and derives his name from the Yomiuri Giants professional baseball team’s player Shigeo “Mr. Giants” Nagashima. Mr. has said that the March 2011 tsunami that hit Japan’s Tohoku coast had a profound effect on his work.

“Give Me Your Wings – Think Different” is the centerpiece of this exhibition. It features an installation of hundreds of objects reflective of Japanese life post-tsunami. It is meant to be an embodiment of the fear, frustration, and chaos that Japanese citizens experienced after the natural disaster covered their homes and country with debris.

“Because the disaster has lasting effects today, we wanted to create a space to give people who haven’t experienced the tsunami a sense of what it was like living in Japan after the disaster,” said the SAM’s Curator of Japanese and Korean art, Xiaojin Wu.

Mr. has said that he doesn’t attempt to mimic western styles of art, but instead chooses to work with his, “Asian, Japanese, capitalist, born-after-the-war, everyday self,” as his artistic inspiration and motivation. Classifying himself as part of the “otaku” (anime and manga) subculture that is popular in Japan, Mr. appeals to many that relish art and expression that doesn’t always directly align with reality.

Mr in studio2
Mr. in his studio. (Photo courtesy of Mr.)

The exhibit’s centerpiece is among a series of paintings from Mr.’s past 15 years of work that feature characters done in anime style, with vibrant colors and energy, reminiscent of childlike freedom. This style is referred to as “moe,” meaning “budding,” meant to embody the feel of youth and a rebellion against authority and its social expectations. Despite the cheery and playful images in Mr.’s art, his pieces are often layered with darker and more serious meanings reflective of negative emotions such as angst, anxiety, and perils of everyday life.

Mr.’s painting “Making Things Right,” 2006, acrylic on canvas, 118 x 177 in. (Photo courtesy Galerie Perrotin)

Mr. explained that post-war Japan was left in a cycle of self-doubt that spurred a longing for innocence and lack of bearing responsibility brought on by a tumultuous history.

“The psychological trauma caused by various wars travels across generations,” Mr. said. “In the case of Japan, this trauma has developed over time into a strangely morphed, peculiar culture that is now captivating the world in the form of anime and games.”

This will be the first anime exhibition at the SAM since a Hello Kitty themed installation in 2002, and the first in a series of Japanese contemporary artists to be featured at the museum.

The museum hopes this exhibit will be a success especially with Seattle’s Japanese population and anime fanbase, drawing in a larger and and younger demographic while breaking down the stigma that SAAM only features traditional art. Wu hopes this exhibition will surprise patrons with its deep themes of societal distress shrouded in a seemingly superficial candy-colored exterior.

This exhibit runs from Nov. 22 through April 15 in the Asian Art Museum’s Tateuchi Galleries. To purchase tickets visit: http://tickets.seattleartmuseum.org/public/show_events_list.asp