I've already written about Aoshima's City Glow at the MFAH for the Chronicle last Sunday, but a blog is the perfect place to put in all the less relevant, more polemic bits that didn't make it into the newspaper.
Every nice thing I said in the paper is true, it's beautifully made, and hauntingly strange. My main gripe against the piece is it's decadence. Aoshima doesn't genuinely believe civilization is coming to an end any more than you or I, but we can amuse ourselves imagining it. Cloaked in cute, it allows us to feel tragic and trendy at the same time.
In the newspaper, I didn't get to make a full critique of the BLT I ate while watching Aoshima's piece. Like Aoshima's piece, it was decadent. The baseball-sized wad of bacon Cafe Express crams in there to justify the sandwich's high price is false luxury. The essence of a good BLT is balance.
The filename on the MFA's press release misspelled Aoshima's name. This is significant not for sloppiness, since everyone needs to check spellings of unfamiliar names, and everyone makes mistakes, but because it underscores the alien-ness of Aoshima's art and the culture that produced it. The party line is that Aoshima is a pop artist, taking things from Japanese low culture and making them high art. It's difficult to tell. I didn't recognize any explicit bits of consumer culture, but then I'm not a Japanese consumer. At least there were no ads for Toyota, Nikon or instant ramen noodles.
There are obvious art-historical precedents. Japanese folding screens and scroll paintings, and their postwar low-culture counterparts Japanese comic books and animated films, which you must never forget to refer to by their Japanese names: manga and anime, lest you imply that they are somehow anything less than an autonomous world, truly understood only by its fans, and insulated from criticism by outsiders.
Exotic=glamourous, like the strip of metal embossed with the word "kerosene" nailed across the forehead of that African Mask in the Menil Collection.