Critics’ Picks

Tai Ogawa, Escape from New York, 2014, water color, collage, spray paint, airbrush acrylic on board, 23 1/2 x 19 3/4".

Tai Ogawa, Escape from New York, 2014, water color, collage, spray paint, airbrush acrylic on board, 23 1/2 x 19 3/4".

New York

Tai Ogawa

Kai Matsumiya
153 1/2 Stanton Street
November 9–December 31, 2014

In a 2005 commencement address at Kenyon College, David Foster Wallace noted our present culture lends the “freedom to be lords of our own tiny skull-sized kingdoms,” which is also say, the liberty to be very alone. This is certainly the case for the figures depicted in the work of Tai Ogawa: The Tokyo-based artist paints people in watercolors and then cuts each of their bodies out of the page like paper dolls. He adheres them to sheets of paper that he has sprayed with DayGlo hues; eight of these works are on view in his US debut, along with over a dozen watercolors. Some have houses and skyscrapers with figures zipping about on motorcycles. Others are more abstract—Technicolor dreamscapes where faces float with fishes in an endless sky (see Cattle Mutilation, all works 2014). Cars, boats, trains, airplanes, and buses are everywhere. Everyone seems very busy, and everyone has a place to go.

The actors of Ogawa’s world never interact. They are gods of themselves, as bright and as oblivious as ever to the isolation of their self-sufficient worlds. Ogawa once said that human interaction makes a life real, and that the people in his work are atomized, which essentially means they lack life. In Escape from New York, each figure is flanked by a shadow, which drains the neon out of the neon background in the shape of a body. Death lurks at each person’s heels, while zest and color masks a fatal proposition: What does it mean to die while still alive? The walls of the gallery have been painted black like a cave, and the show is titled “Edge of Life.” The moral seems clear: Be careful not to amplify the life out of life. You will be left with nothing but a body.