Fri. Jun 2nd, 2023

Masaya Chiba’s solo show “Sideward Exhibition” shifts the gallery space ninety degrees. Hanging sideways along the ceiling, floor, and walls are ten diptychs. Each pairs an oil-on-canvas still life of a sculptural contraption with smaller oil paintings precisely placed within cuts of wood panel covered with Japanese paper and branded with QR codes.

Chiba’s approach involves multiple planes of perception. He takes abstract ideas or elemental structures, such as the family unit or the solar system, and translates them into sculptures of wood or clay, which he then reproduces on canvas. While the artist’s previous paintings tend toward maximalism, this body of work is sparser, thematically centered on these singular objects, delicate odes to structure that seem precariously balanced at best. More than consider the actual physics at work, these images question the function of the appearance of stability.

A QR code collaged into the diptych Like Multiple Object Intersecting as They Grow #7/Drawings with Ghosts (all works cited 2023) leads to the video Sage Sophie, which is built around a picture within the picture. An embedded frame features a black-and-white clip of a rakugo performance, a traditional Japanese genre of storytelling in which a solo performer uses modulations in pitch, tone, and the body to move between characters. In this excerpt, a man pleads with a death god, while the larger frame of the video contains an anthropomorphic wooden sculpture attached to a dog’s leash. As the rakugo performer delivers his final entreaties, the dog leaps away and the sculpture collapses. The forward fold of its demise signals a pitiful failure, its legs persisting in standing even after disconnecting from the torso they cannot support. The object refuses to lie flat, to give up.

Chiba’s approach, too, is dogged. However, in choosing to display the works sideways, he betrays the paintings’ aims. These pictures, whose fundamental existential threat is the vertical axis of gravity, no longer risk falling. The tension of their unstable construction relaxes. The sideways stance suggests rest and resignation, but also a kind of gleeful defiance of dominant narratives. Chiba, in going against the directional pull of his own paintings, wants to have the last say.

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