Critics’ Picks

Masako Ando, The Garden of Belly Button, 2010, oil on canvas mounted on wood panel, 75 x 55”.


Masako Ando

Hara Museum of Contemporary Art
4-7-25 Kitashinagawa Shinagawa-ku
July 12–August 19

Masako Ando’s first museum exhibition, “The Garden of Belly Button,” gathers seventeen paintings and drawings that offer nuanced observations of tender moments, wrapped in a growing awareness of sensual maturity. Ando’s works are intimate—single portraits of young adolescent boys and girls seen reflecting on some newly arrived at self-discovery or depicted in a state of dreamlike contemplation, majestically interpreting some unknown event that is about to unfold. The figures are sometimes topless, which suggests a latent provocativeness, but one that is stumbled upon in a state of reverie. Often, austere fauna, insects, animals, or other mysterious accoutrements, which appear as though they have been carefully preserved, surround the youngsters. As a result, the works are cryptic and yet seem accessible, like a lucid fantasy. Part of this is due to Ando’s attention to detail and her keen ability to render in pencil and oil a surface quality that is truly remarkable.

A similar attention to surface quality can be appreciated in the works of other well-known Japanese artists, such as Yoshitomo Nara and Takashi Murakami. Ando—who, along with Nara and many others of note, studied with Nobuya Hitsuda—stands out because her images thankfully sidestep the obsession with youth and pop culture that is such a mainstay of contemporary Japanese art. Her output, moreover, seems just as developed as those artists’, yet its quiet and introverted tone makes for an even stronger impact. While the drawings and paintings on view here are impeccable in their execution, one could never accuse them of being slick or pandering to a commercial sensibility. The entire exhibition strikes a chord of personal dedication, introspection, and reflection.