New York

Tomiyaki Yamamoto

Akira Ikeda Gallery | New York

If there is any future to abstract painting, then Tomiaki Yamamoto’s paintings strongly suggest one: a mannerist direction—the theatrical reconciliation of stylized contradictions. Many abstract artists think that this century is only the start of abstraction, whose development will probably be as long as the development of the figure. Though Mannerism may seem to have arrived prematurely, this is to be expected: in modernity every development is sped up and condensed, as though consuming itself.

The flamboyant, ingenious triptych Festival, 1993, a veritable extravaganza of gesture and geometry—of simulated abandon and control—says it all. The huge central panel is a field of red—its upper corners clipped and its lower corners notched to suggest that it is an open passage or spread kimono, or both (other Yamamoto works use gateways explicitly). The lower part is in the process of being invaded by a field of black, which seems to be spreading rapidly, like a malignant cancer. The upper-right surface has also been eaten away, but by more benign turquoise. Gestural blobs of color—predominantly yellowish, with bits of the red, black, and turquoise suspended in them—float on the surface, like eccentric soap bubbles. The red continues onto a separate left panel, the turquoise onto a separate right one, and the gestural blobs are common to both. But surprisingly, both side panels are dominated by a dramatic, fanlike grid with raised edges. This “construction” or “architecture” theoretically extends infinitely. In fact, “within” the work it terminates in a number of pointy yellow parallelograms that block the allover flow; “outside” the grid’s orthogonals implicitly converge at a point beyond the canvas, in a kind of inside-out perspective.

To call Yamamoto’s works decorative, as has been done, is to miss their point: they are both synthetic (in both senses of that term) and spectacular systems. Indeed, they are spectacularly artificial and artificially spectacular: staged “demonstrations” of structure and surface in a staged juxtaposition and seamless integration of delicacy and vigor, subtlety and drivenness. But perhaps the main point is that the whole thing has the self-stereotyping appearance of a computer-generated image. It is based on an abstract program, as it were. Thus, just as art historians speak of certain history paintings as “machines,” so Yamamoto’s works must be understood as abstraction machines.

Once-sacred abstraction has become secularized, high-tech abstraction—decadent abstraction. In a sense, in Yamamoto’s paintings abstraction has returned to its origins in decadence: the pursuit of exquisite, unexpected effects—but with the symbolism replaced by a refreshing high-tech eloquence. No doubt there is some connection to a certain experience of nature, as has been argued, but it is a rationalized, technocrafted, seemingly machine-produced nature, like the “naturalness” of miniaturized plants. Yamamoto’s Along a Creek-Song for T. N., 1991, demonstrates the extremes of preciousness, perfectionism, precision, literalism, and theatricality that can be achieved with such a method.

Donald Kuspit