Review: Kohei Yoshiyuki Exhibit

18Sep07

Kohei Yoshiyuki

On Saturday, I went with my friend O. to see art galleries in Chelsea. I particularly wanted to check out Kohei Yoshiyuki’s exhibit at the Yossi Milo Gallery.

It featured nightime photos from the 1970s that he’d taken in Tokyo parks using infrared film to record the crazy sex acts that took place there. Although you could imagine what was happening, the photos weren’t as explicit as I imagined they would be. In fact, they were pretty tame. No genitalia was shown. What was really shocking was the group dynamic, people sauntering up and joining a couple in the act, for instance.

The exhibit connected thematically with Araki, whose work I recently was reintroduced to via the Arakimentary movie. Araki, in fact, was featured in an interview in the exhibition book, an English version of an earlier Japanese edition that accompanied the exhibit when it originally was exhibited in Japan in 1980.

Why it took 27 years for the exhibit to make its way to the US probably has a lot to do with the changing US perception of Araki and similar ero-photography as “art”, a change that has mirrored the growing acceptance of this genre within the mainstream on both sides of the Pacific, albeit in the more puritanical US, this evolution obviously occured later.

The photos themselves are technically interesting, when you think about the challenges and dangers of photographing in the dead of the night such taboo (not to mention illegal) acts by desperate, depraved, poor, and probably high people, perhaps all of the above at once.

The exhibit helps to show another side of Japan other than the cute, fuzzy, Hello Kittified version that so many Westerners have come to fetishize. In that sense also, it is a welcoming addition to the picture we have of Japan, hopefully making it more 3D for people than the current Western media cliches available.

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