Tetsumi Kudo retrospective at WAC
The exhibition of Tetsumi Kudo, at the Walker Art Center is called â€śGarden of Metamorphosisâ€?. This is a one person retrospective of thirty years or so of Tetsumiâ€™s artistic career. The exhibition follows his career chronologically, from its beginnings in Japan in the sixties, his travel to France, where he spent roughly twenty years, and his return to Japan. The exhibition contains easily over sixty pieces of work, possibly much more, and spans several rooms. Almost all of his works are mixed media sculptures. Recurrent objects in his work are colored strings, human hair, wood, plastics and resins, as well as many pre-made objects such as birdcages or plastic flowers. Only one work was simply an oil painting, which resembled a Pollok piece, it consisted of interweaving drips of oil paint. All other works were either free standing sculptures, wall sculptures, or, one of his major works, â€śPhilosophy of Impotenceâ€™, an installation.
The exhibitionâ€™s name could come from several places. A recurrent theme in Tetsumiâ€™s borderline graphic work is metamorphosis and change. Also his work changes over this career, gradually dealing with different themes. Many of Tetsumiâ€™s works appeared almost human in nature, and the struggle of humanity plays a role in his art. A recurrent image, which begins in the late part of his early career, epitomized in â€śPhilosophy of Impotenceâ€?, is a limp, often shriveled looking phallus. Tetsumi used it as a symbol not of sexual power, but of impotence, and as a symbolic chrysalis, implying change and growth. Much of Tetsumiâ€™s work deals with population growth, technology, and waste. A concept of overpopulation meets wasteland, meets potential for more and different growth.
One of Tetsumiâ€™s late works, entitled â€śMary in Hellâ€? which was created in 1980, reminded me of Chris Ofiliâ€™s work â€śThe Holy Virgin Maryâ€?. This work is a mixed media wall sculpture, shaped in a rectangle like a painting. It is made of wood, cotton, fake soil plastic, polyester resin, a Mary and baby Jesus figurine, conch shells, string, and rosaries. It consisted of several shriveled and twisted phalluses, reminiscent of tadpoles or worms, among conch shells, and rosaries. The conch shells generally arranged in a sun or star shape were colored yellow, and the rosaries hung both directly off of the phalluses and off of the green and white fake soil background. Atop the work is the figurine of Mary and baby Jesus covered in yellow strings like moss, or vines. Like Ofiliâ€™s work, â€śMary in Hellâ€? is another artistic re-examination of a historically relevant religious symbol. Religious iconography is unusual among Tetsumiâ€™s work, and only appeared late in his career. An examination of faith was prompted by an unspecified health crisis he had just been through. The impotent phallic symbols again signifying change, or metamorphosis, keep the work connected to the theme of his career.
I would recommend this to a friend who had the time to spend taking the entire exhibition in. Being a retrospective of an artistâ€™s entire career, and because of the graphic intensity and highly symbolic meaning throughout the works, one would best interpret the exhibition over a long period of time. At first some things may seem offensive and difficult to bear, but as the viewer gains an understanding of the artist, and the meaning of the symbols, most obviously the highly recurrent impotent phallus, individual works become more intriguing than repulsive. The way back through the gallery, from the more recent to earliest works may be the most rewarding, because of the understanding gained from Tetsumiâ€™s progression.