Critics’ Picks

View of “Shuntaro Tanikawa,” 2018.

View of “Shuntaro Tanikawa,” 2018.


Shuntaro Tanikawa

Tokyo Opera City Art Gallery
3 Chome-20-2 Nishishinjuku
January 13–March 25, 2018

“I’m a short, baldheaded old man.” This exhibition begins with a series of first-person proclamations with an impassive if slightly self-deprecating tenor, as decals on rectangular pillars. Ever suspicious of poetry after Barthes killed the author, celebrated poet Shuntaro Tanikawa grapples here with an ambivalence about being historicized in an exhibition context. And yet the show, comprising poems, notes, ephemera, audiovisual installation, and videos (all untitled and undated, excepting poems), pieces together autobiographical fragments that amount to a necessary extension of the poet himself as well as his life’s work.

Twenty themes, including “Family,” “Nonsense and Anti-Authoritarian,” “Anonymous,” and “Radio,” humbly illustrate facets of his life with corresponding objects—such as a collection of tube radios and family pictures—placed on large shelves. His words continuously loosen the terms of explicative biography, coalescing with the objects into a kind of osmosis of consciousness. Here is a partial translation of the poem “I Am Me” displayed as a spread on a voluminous book, which is both a sculptural and lyric experience: “I’m a little bit grass. / I probably am a little bit fish. / I don’t know the name of it, / but I’m also a shimmering ore. /And of course I’m almost entirely you.” With the plainest language—nearly naive yet penetrating in precision—Tanikawa traverses quantum consciousness, Romanticism, New Age spirituality, object-oriented ontology, electricity, portraiture—all to arrive at “you.” And you’re almost transparent, a terminal of the universe, full and supple, sublimating with things and nonthings alongside him. The poem prompts the question: Where did this cascade of an exhibition, beginning with the “I,” actually begin?