Critics’ Picks

Tetsumi Kudo, Philosophy of Impotence, or Distribution Map of Impotence and the Appearance of Protective Domes at the Points of Saturation, 1961–62, mixed media, dimensions variable.


Tetsumi Kudo

MOMAT- The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo
3-1 Kitanomaru-koen, Chiyoda-ku
March 4 - March 30

This long-awaited Tetsumi Kudo retrospective gathers a staggering range of works from international collections. Often grotesque, his sculptural moldings of skin and body parts (such as Eugène Ionesco’s face or a penis) stand in for the impotence of the cultivated human, surfacing in his self-righteousness. For over half a century, Kudo’s work has elaborated his dialectical approach to what he considers obsolete humanist values: He inaugurated this practice in his groundbreaking 1961–62 installation Philosophy of Impotence, or Distribution Map of Impotence and the Appearance of Protective Domes at the Points of Saturation , which attacks both intellectual rationalism and its critique as limiting concepts derived from a European history of ideas. This key mixed-media installation fills a room at the beginning of the current exhibition, and sets the mood for the entire show.

The exhibition also features an almost complete restaging of Kudo’s 1972 solo show at the Stedelijk Museum, showcasing some of his most famous “portrait” pieces such as Your Portrait, 1964; Your Portrait May, 1966; and Your Portrait, 1963–65. The show culminates in a presentation of late works, including Sur la Structure du système japonais - La Trou noir sacrè (The Structure of the Jomon Period = The Structure of the Emperor System = The Structure of Contemporary Japan) [On the Structure of the Emperor System - The Sacred Black Hole], 1983. Here, multicolored threads wrap up around small plastic objects as if to weigh or hold them down, thereby offering a contemplative comment on power structures.

Kudo projected a postdystopian ecology in place of the new economy ultimately established by the Internet age. As a chronological overview that groups his bodies of work, this show falls in line with his biography. Yet this narrative—although (or perhaps because) it is most carefully arranged—feels too linear here. Meanwhile, the sensory attraction of Kudo’s fleshy aesthetics and his acrid critique are persistently striking.