Teppei Kaneuji

Teppei Kaneuji gained public recognition with his unusually early retrospective at the Yokohama Museum of Art in Japan in 2009, when he was just thirty-one. Hailed as a representative of a new generation of Japanese artists, Kaneuji uses laborious craftsmanship to dissociate banal products from their habitual contexts. He has been best known for sculptures and collages using everyday products in series such as “White Discharge,” 2002–, quasi-architectural constructions assembling action figures, plastic food models, and other inexpensive small objects, covered with white-painted resin, or “Sea and Pus,” 2003– , collages made from cutouts of photographed images of dripping cream pasted onto photographs of such anonymous places as junkyards and woods littered with heterogeneous debris. These and other series reflect Kaneuji’s idea of taking things out of the customary structures in which they are trapped in order to allow them to be seen in a new light. His effort to obliterate the individual identities of objects endowed these works with a strong symbolic presence: A tower of action figures and other toys covered with white resin suggests a town on the verge of annihilation at the arrival of a new ice age; the multiplied images of dissolution, including stains, pus, and flooding, reinforce Kaneuji’s view of the world as a junkyard—both in its chaos and in its potential for new creation. This metaphoric representation of a world in dissolution immediately determines the spectators’ response, imposing a rigid symbolic interpretation, despite the artist’s intention to liberate intention from preconceived meaning.

Kaneuji’s latest gallery show testified to his progression to a more conceptual focus and the dematerialization of the artwork. Many of the works at Shugoarts functioned more as vehicles for perceptual experience than as autonomous objects: Model of Something, 2010, a sculpture featuring acrylic boxes of decreasing size, each nested within another and bearing colorful marker stripes, created shifting optical effects for spectators as they walked around the piece; Day Tripper, 2010, a towerlike object consisting of cutouts of photographed images of dripping oil paint, embodied a paradoxical interplay of flatness and three-dimensionality, real and represented. In The Eternal (Various Patterns), 2010, the arrangement on the wall of cutout pieces of wrapping paper and magazine and book pages, and the surrounds from which they were cut, evoked a pictorial composition in which the boundaries between the figure and the frame, a concrete shape and its trace, were breaking down.

Instead of assuming formal autonomy, Kaneuji’s objects are fully realized only through the elusive perception of the spectator, who is seduced by the works’ optical effects. With this shift, Kaneuji in his own unique manner pursues the same dematerialization of sculpture and painting that was already attempted, in the late 1960s and ’70s, by Japanese avant-garde artist Jiro Takamatsu. Likewise considering his contemporary world as a “gigantic junkyard” in which things and phenomena lost their authentic meaning through their instrumentality, Takamatsu recognized the authenticity of existence only in its indeterminacy. Indeed, after his interventionist activities as a member of the group Hi Red Center, Takamatsu began systematically using everyday materials such as string, cloth, bottles, and postcards to create “mere objects” with no identifiable form or context and whose presence was meant to release the spectator’s mental energy. Kaneuji has embarked on a similar pursuit of the indeterminate, and this may truly be the collective task of Japanese artists today, signifying the endless and ongoing effort to free the imagination from reification.

Midori Matsui