In Deadend Street (1978), the viewer is greeted with an unusual pairing of images: Two photographic canvases depicting a street under a railway are paired with two canvases painted black. The center of the piece remains hollow, drawing the viewers in. What continues to surprise the viewers upon close inspection of the work is the replication of the texture of the two depicted streets on to the adjacent black canvases. The black canvas next to the wet street is glossy, whereas the one next to the dry street has a matte texture. The empty central panel balances the understated trompe l’oeil effect formed as a result of this optical structure.
The blurring of boundaries, characteristic of the period and seen in many of the works in the Grey Art Gallery’s exhibition For A New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968-1979, is integral to the understanding of the work and its innovative spirit. The images of the street form the photographic element, while the texture of the canvases and the framing of the work have a sculptural touch. The painterly quality of the piece with its critique of the medium of painting–the emptiness in the center creates a space that painting has traditionally occupied–brings forth the question, “Is this a photograph, a sculpture, or a painting?” and the answer is that it is in fact all three.
For A New World to Come: Experiments in Japanese Art and Photography, 1968-1979, is currently on view at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery through December 5, 2015. The New York presentation of this exhibition is shared with Japan Society Gallery.