Critics’ Picks

View of “Jonathan Meese,” 2009.

View of “Jonathan Meese,” 2009.


Jonathan Meese

Tomio Koyama Gallery
6-5-24, Roppongi, Minato-ku complex665 2F
September 5–October 3, 2009

For his solo exhibition “Mishima Is Back,” Jonathan Meese has installed a riot of visual materials celebrating “the dictatorship of art” in the gallery entryway. These include printouts of photographs of the actress Scarlett Johansson, crude pencil drawings, trading cards of famous dictators, provocative phrases painted onto the walls like revolutionary slogans, and a video relaying a manic performance in which Meese, brandishing an antique pistol, forces an older man to make repeated Nazi salutes.

If this is by now trademark Meese, the exhibition expands on previous work by focusing on the figure of Yukio Mishima, the celebrated novelist, obsessive body builder, and right-wing ideologue who in 1970 committed ritual suicide after failing in his attempt to incite a military coup. Among the clutter, Dr. MISHIMA (M.) Is Totally Back (all works 2009) is a large black-and-white poster of a shirtless Mishima brandishing a samurai sword, over which Meese has added his own details in paint. This image in turn serves as a meme that evolves across a group of paintings hung in an orderly row in the main gallery, morphing from a monochrome, cartoonish approximation in Radiant Mishima to a glowering, fuchsia abstraction in The Archknight Laughs 3.

Whereas Meese’s use of Nazi iconography probes still-tender sores in Europe and the US, the contrast between the corpulent, pallid artist and the sculpted Mishima underscores the sense that Meese’s intent is to caricature fascist aesthetics. Yet the effort feels thin when considered alongside an accompanying hand-scrawled manifesto that hyperbolically declares in German, MISHIMA IS TOTAL METABOLISM OF TOTAL ART. The absurdity of Mishima himself, as well as Meese’s outsize admiration for him, suggests a rich vein of material for deeper exploitation.