I was trapped in Galerie Perrotin by sheets of torrential rain. Summer in Paris this year is grey, cold, and wet. It's ridiculous to imagine how we all used to fantasise that global warming would bring balmy southern-style weather.
The upside of the situation was the Aya Takano exhibition. In these circumstances the otherworldly lightness of her work proved to be welcome relief from the deluge outside. My enforced immobility also gave the opportunity to judge these works against a criteria that I, at one point, considered to be the true measure of a painting's worth. The question of how one's experience of a picture develops over an extended viewing period is an interesting one: does it settle into the background, disappear as such? Or does it develop, continue to open, to maintain a life of its own? It's what we might call 'the living room wall' test. It seemed the right thing to do in the circumstances.
And Takano's work stands up well to this kind of viewing. It's easy – enjoyable -- to spend half an hour in front of one piece: there's something in the composition, the elusive sexuality of it, the lack of tension between internal elements, the way one thing sits on or alongside another. It is comfortable and natural, a welcoming experience, at the same time very strange and very friendly -- and it doesn't settle over time.
Aya TAKANO, "Present", 2011, Acrylique sur toile / Acrylic on canvas, 150 x 260 cm; ©2011 Aya Takano/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved / Courtesy Galerie Perrotin
I was also struck by a surprising reaction. In our globalised world it doesn’t really happen any more, but I couldn't help but feel how different Takano’s work is. It's so Japanese, but not within what we comfortably label 'Japanese'. I don't know if it's the femininity, or the references that elude me, but there's a definite otherness -- one that is more charming than repellent, that again mystifies without pushing the viewer away. It might be something to do with the stability within the work, the coherence of the internal world it creates: the work possesses a dreamlike quality and invites you in.
The feeling was further accentuated by the particular selection of work on display here. As a show, To Lose Is To Gain focuses more on Takano's fantastic paintings: there were no supermarkets, or kitchens, or girls in pop-music clothing. One room served as a kind of walk-in sculpture: diamond shaped canvases on the wall and small diamond shaped pieces suspended from the ceiling; while the other showed paintings full of jungles, animals, fantasy cities, and a strange Australian aboriginal piece. They worked well in contrast to one another; one best served by a slow meandering stroll while the other favoured static viewing. It was nice to pass from one to the other and then back again (the rain continued to overflow the gutters).
Aya Takano, "To Lose Is To Gain", Installation view, Galerie Perrotin; ©2011 Aya Takano/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved.
In the end, after a few hours, I decided that the thing I appreciated the most about these pictures was their lack of judgement, the absence of a hierarchy. The pink-limbed girls, the tigers, and all the other elements depicted aren't fetishised -- they're just there. And it's something I'd never really thought about the Superflat movement: not only are the perspectives kind of flat, but also the values assigned to the individual elements of the image. It's a free space and I can see how it connects with the idea of adolescence, like the time when you can see and recognise things, but before opinions and judgements have hardened and become entrenched. The corollary seems to be the blank eyes of Takano's characters, eyes that see everything but judge nothing.
The exhibition’s title is To Lose Is To Gain, and while I don't want to tie everything up too neatly, I would say that after losing some hours in here it is certainly true. And it did eventually stop raining.
(Image on top: Aya Takano, Hathor, 2012 , Oil on canvas, 39 1/2 x 39 1/2 inches; © 2012 Aya Takano/Kaikai Kiki Co., Ltd. All Rights Reserved / Courtesy Galerie Perrotin)