Exhibitions and Installations, J. Paul Getty Museum, Photographs, Film, and Video

An Intimate View of Tokyo

Getty Museum exhibition In Focus: Tokyo presents startlingly personal glimpses into the lives and cityscapes of the Japanese megalopolis

Picnic #2, 1998, Masato Seto. Silver-dye bleach print. The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2006.34.1. Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council. © Masato Seto

With over 36 million people, Tokyo is the most populous city in the world. The new exhibition In Focus: Tokyo features more than 30 photographs from the Getty Museum’s collection that portray Japan’s capital city as a dense and hyperreal megalopolis—but capture an intimacy from which it’s hard to look away.

The show features the work of four artists who “find ways to portray their city at human scale,” in the words of exhibition co-curator Amanda Maddox. Each artist’s work engages with different aspects of life in Tokyo, from the city’s anonymous residents and towering buildings, to its serene parks and frenzied nightlife.

Picnic #32, 2005, Masato Seto. 16 15/16 x 21 7/16 inches. J. Paul Getty Museum. Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council. © Masato Seto

Picnic #32, 2005, Masato Seto. 16 15/16 x 21 7/16 inches. J. Paul Getty Museum. Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council. © Masato Seto

Photographer Masato Seto’s series picnic, produced between 1996 and 2005, takes a particularly intimate approach. Seto’s photographs get inside Tokyo’s private pockets of outdoor space, a highly coveted respite from the busy thrum of the Japanese urban lifestyle. They give us a glimpse of the hard-won leisure of local couples escaping the cramped quarters of high-rise living for the scarce green space of public parks.

The couples’ reactions to the camera’s intrusion range from shielding their faces to outright defiance, to simple staring curiosity. We feel like we’ve caught them in the act of doing something that we shouldn’t see.

Representing one family, couple, or individual at a time, Seto situates his subjects in a detached reality of their own. He creates what critic Hiro Koike referred to as “invisible rooms”—plots of grass often defined by the customary plastic sheet—in which intimate moments have been openly displayed and captured.

Accompanying Seto’s picnic series is the work of three other talented photographers reflecting different sides of the same city—surrealistic moments by Daido Moriyama, deceptively casual street views by Shigeichi Nagano, and intimate, color-saturated portraits of strangers in public spaces by Mikiko Hara.

Picnic #2, 1998, Masato Seto. 16 15/16 x 21 7/16 inches. J. Paul Getty Museum. Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council. © Masato Seto

Picnic #2, 1998, Masato Seto. 16 15/16 x 21 7/16 inches. J. Paul Getty Museum. Purchased with funds provided by the Photographs Council. © Masato Seto

In Focus: Tokyo is on view in the Center for Photographs at the Getty Center through December 14, 2014.

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      gettypubs:

      COBALT

      The histories of many colors are amazing, but cobalt may well have the most brilliant of them all. From the Ming Dynasty to Renaissance Italy, cobalt was a popular glaze for porcelain and other ceramics. Cobalt ink is invisible unless exposed to flame, which turns it a vivid green. In the 17th century, this quality made Europeans believe it was witchcraft, but decades later it was used as a neat trick on fire screens. It wasn’t until 1802 that painters added cobalt to their palette. 

      It is this little tidbit from cobalt’s history that saved master forger Han van Meergeren’s skin after WWII, when he was tried for collaborating with the Nazis. Want to find out how some art history sleuthing and smart science got him a not guilty verdict? Hint: Don’t try to forge a Vermeer with cobalt! 

      Read all about it in The Brilliant History of Color in Art!

      Images, clockwise:

      Glazed earthenware dish with a marchant ship, Italy, about 1510. 

      Glazed earthenware tile floor, Spain, about 1425-50.

      Porcelain lidded vase, China, about 1662-1772.

      All objects from the J. Paul Getty Museum. 

      12/18/14

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