So here's what I had been planning to write about yesterday, before getting sidetracked by Rudyard Kipling and his son Jack. I wrote back in October of last year about the essay I had been asked to write as a part of the text for a catalogue for an exhibition of Masami Teraoka at Sam Freeman Gallery in Santa Monica. The show finally opened at the weekend, and Ellie and I were there to greet Masami--an old friend who once showed at Ellie's gallery, back in the early 1970s--and to see how the work looked in its installation.
I was in awe. Much of the work I'd written about I had seen only in reproduction--either in hard copy, in books, or online. As I told Masami, what I saw was much, much better than what I had written about. Quite different, in fact, in many respects.
First, the scale. These are massive, mural-sized paintings, many of them, and as imposing as their size would suggest. They dwarf the viewer, and demand to be experienced as physical presences, not simply as visual objects on the wall: to actually see them, you have to walk with them, end to end, following their "story" and their multiple incidents. Taken as a whole, the installation gives a whole different sense of the artist's intentions: the gallery space, with its calibrated lighting and high ceilings, becomes a cathedral--or in the case of one small side galery, a chapel--in which art occupies a quasi-sacred space and invites that kind of attention. Sacrilegious though many of the paintings might appear in theme and image, they refer the viewer indisputably to the traditions of Renaissance religious painting, and carry that weight with them.
Satirical, parodic, scatalogical, erotic, Teraoka's paintings mock the holy cows of present-day society and expose its myriad hypocrisies. He takes on Bush and politics, the Pope and sexual abuse by Catholic priests, food fetishes and exercise fads, sado-masochist perversions and sexual stimulants. He explodes violence, sexism, and corporate greed with gleeful passion and often bawdy humor (take note, in "Cloning Eve/Viagra Falls," above, of the curious projections from the loins of mummified corpses--giving a whole new meaning to "rigor mortis!)
The work, then, is at once spiritual in intention and highly irreligious. It celebrates human diversity and the joys of art and culture even while poking fun at all hypocrisy and pretension. It is deeply engaged in life, even as it refuses to allow us to sweep death under the carpet of distractions. With its constant, bemused references to the ubiquity of twenty-first century technology, it celebrates the inventiveness and creativity of the human mind, even as it deplores the results to which some of our greatest achievements are put. Its vision is lively, voracious, wildly comprehensive, charged with irrepressible energy and, yes, compassionate toward our wayward species.
All of which it to say that if you live in or near Los Angeles, you should not miss the opportunity to see this show. Knowing how frequently important work gets overlooked in the welter of what is fashionable in the art world, I'm hoping that this one receives the attention it deserves. I know, I know, I wrote the catalogue. I'm not exactly an impartial witness. But I'm asking you to trust me on this one anyway.