Nobuyoshi Araki

Apt Gallery

While the West has reluctantly reconciled itself to the idea that the Japanese esthetic has two poles, namely the acceptable and distantly austere Zen side, and the gaudy (loosely derived from esoteric Buddhism), it has remained blind to the underbelly: the raucous, seamy, sexual, funky, and gritty, where most people dwell. Nobuyoshi Araki dwells there too, and he documents and celebrates this side of life. At first glance, Araki’s photography is primarily concerned with the denizens of the sex shops from Tokyo’s Shinjuku district. More importantly, however, his work is an accumulation of data. His recent works, such as Tokyo Monogatari (Tokyo story, 1989)—the title is an obvious take on the chaste Ozu film—Shashin Ron (Theory of photography, 1989), and especially the works in his book, Heisei Gannen (The first year of Heisei, 1990) are fascinating documents of life in the new Babylon. In many ways, Araki’s work is very simple; he simply wants to document everything he sees.

This show was in honor of Araki’s recent book, Tokyo Lucky Hole, 1990. The title refers to a sex shop where young men enter a booth with one wall bearing an outline of a very buxom woman, her head the photograph of an “idol singer” (read: teenybopper), and in the center a hole into which he inserts his penis. Presumably, on the other side there is someone who services his fantasy. There were numerous photos—of flowers, of pudenda, of faces—smeared with white, spermlike paint. Certainly the most humorous was the self-portrait of the artist spewing sperm from his mouth, nose, and eyes. Then too there were the usual shots of sex-shop customers. These latter are often shot in a semi-filmic style, a dozen or so photos in sequence.

What merits attention in Araki’s work is the concealed aspect of the seamier side of life and the matter-of-fact accumulation of it all: Araki demonstrates a great tolerance—especially for all sexual inclinations—and humor as well. There is a naiveté in much of his work, and a great tenderness. His work is suffused as much with his own desire to act out his fantasies as it is with both subjective and objective longing, the endless lamentations for the changing city.

Arturo Silva