Futoyu’s yellow-neon sign is part of “2.46 and Thereafter,” a show of Japanese artists’ responses to the March 11, 2011, earthquake and tsunami and the subsequent nuclear calamity.
“The artist is totally apolitical. So when he did this, I was very surprised,” says Kazuko Aso, general director of DANDANS, the Tokyo artists’ cooperative that organized the show. (The name combines the Japanese word for group, “dan,” with the French one for in, “dans.”)
But, Aso adds, “having this exhibition without mentioning the nuclear plant is not possible.”
More than 15,000 people died during the earthquake and tsunami, and more than 100,000 were displaced, a number of them permanently. So, of course, some of the art in the show is somber. But there’s a wide range of styles and outlooks among the 18 artists’ work, which includes both modern and traditional Japanese elements — and whimsy as well as sorrow.
“2.46 and Thereafter,” whose title refers to the minute when the disaster began, is DANDANS’s first show outside Japan. Twenty percent of the proceeds from any art that’s sold will go to relief efforts. (The number was 50 percent when the group displayed art on the same theme in Japan, but the costs of mounting an exhibition in the United States are higher.)
The show is a collaboration with D.C.’s Transformer, a nonprofit visual arts organization. DANDANS and Transformer were introduced to each other by Yoriko Fujisaki, wife of Japanese Ambassador to the United States Ichiro Fujisaki.
“We did this all via e-mail,” marvels Transformer Executive and Artistic Director Victoria Reis, looking around the gallery.
Foreboding and mourning
The theme and certain cultural references aside, the work resembles the sort of art generally made by American artists today. It’s eclectic and conceptual, yet emphasizes craftsmanship as much as ideas. Futoyu’s reminder of the civic cheerleading for nuclear power is about as strident as the show gets.
Yuya Fujita, for example, has painted two large, photorealist apples. The fruit is grown in the area hardest hit by the calamity, known as Tohoku (literally, “east north”). But Fujita writes that the two glossily rendered apples, titled “The Orderly New World,” also salute the systematic, unpanicked way Japan dealt with the crisis.
Yasushi Ebihara’s “Afternoon,” also realist and representational, depicts a woman lying in a tatami-mat room. Her long hair floods the small room, buffeting toy houses, airplanes, cars and trucks. The presence of an oversize praying mantis, nearly as big as the woman, is quietly ominous.