Way Out East

Some of the most memorable pieces in "Time" are Hitoshi Nomura's photos of the heavens. Using a very fast shutter speed, Nomura takes one shot after another on the same piece of film. For the "Analemma '90" group, for instance, he put his camera in a fixed place and recorded in color the movement of the sun across the sky.

Given the ephemeral nature of their work, it could be argued that both Satoh and Nomura really belong in the "Memory" section. And that last section could use them, because it's the least satisfying of the three.

"Memory" starts with an installation that should push any number of buttons: Nobuyoshi Araki's "Shikijo," which incorporates more than 100 color photocopies attached directly to the gallery walls. The photocopies depict prostitution in Tokyo, including still-life scenes of dirty ashtrays and unmade beds along with shots of partially clad or completely nude young women. The piece has been installed in a secluded hallway--which Fudge says reflects Araki's intentions and not a reticence on the museum's part to address this controversial material. Either way, the piece relies more on shock narrative than aesthetic vision for its impact.

Emiko Kasahara also contributes a failed installation to "Memory"--the scale model of a grass-covered field with sheep grazing on it. In the background, a billboard displays a black-and-white photo of a bed. The image, of course, is about counting sheep. Yawn.

Kasahara is one of only two women in the show; the other is Miran Fukuda, who is represented by both her photographs and her acrylic paintings on panel. One of those paintings is "Mrs.," a double portrait of a woman in Western clothes taken from a department-store catalogue. Another commentary on the banality of the Western world comes in 1990's "Tablecloth," a commercially produced color photo of a scene in Switzerland of the type seen on placemats around the world.

The show ends with a laugh--Yosumasa Morimura's drag self-portraits, in which the artist has morphed himself into historical Western paintings. In "Daughter of Art History (Princess A)," a 1989 color photograph on canvas, Morimura's painted face appears in a detail of the princess from Diego de Velazquez's seventeenth-century work "Las Meninas" (The Maids of Honor). Fukuda has engaged in a little morphing of her own, inserting herself into "Las Meninas" and copying several other Velazquez paintings. Why all the interest in Velazquez? Fudge explains that the Spanish baroque master is especially revered in Japan.

Fudge also has an explanation for Morimura's affection for drag, a decision she says reflects the gender-bending tradition of Japan's Noh and Kabuki theaters, in which men play both the male and female roles. But those Noh and Kabuki actors in Japan aren't just a bunch of guys in dresses--they're frequently known to live both on and offstage as women. So, Fudge's fancy footwork aside, Morimura does appear to be using drag to raise issues related to sexual identity--just as Western artists do.

Photography and Beyond in Japan is the first major photography show in nearly a decade at DAM. And it's the first opportunity in two decades for Americans to get a good look at contemporary Japanese photography. That amounts to a rare opportunity for gallery-goers--and not just the photo hounds. Don't miss it.

Photography and Beyond in Japan: Space, Time and Memory, through January 5 at the Denver Art Museum, 100 West 14th Avenue Parkway, 640-4433.

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