Perrotin Brings 'Toilet Paper' to Tokyo

- By Sophie Arni


Marizio Cattelan and Pierpaolo Ferrari have been collaborating since 2012 on a magazine entitledToilet Paper. It could be interpreted either as a durational art piece or a commercial art stunt. Essentially, Toilet Paper is a magazine featuring collages from existing images. Printed in Switzerland and distributed by fine art printing presses, the publication’s sheer weight and paper quality suggests it stands as some sort of derisive coffee-table book rather than a ‘zine.’

I was personally excited to visit this show, in the middle of Tokyo’s art hub Roppongi. The name Perrotin is overheard in many Asian Contemporary Art circles. Emmanuel Perrotin’s heavyweight gallery, now at 7 outposts worldwide, has propelled the careers of Takashi Murakami (Perrotin was the first gallerists to show his works outside Japan), Lee Ufan, MADSAKI, and many more. This exhibition’s line-up -- Cattelan and Ferrari -- was also very promising. I was impressed with the production of the exhibition space, its attractive red wall design, and the quality of prints on display.

Toilet Paper's visual vocabulary takes from the fashion industry, given Ferrari’s experience as a fashion photographer. His 'found images' are made up of ads for lipsticks, beach resorts, featuring white blonde models in revealing clothing. But there are also some wonderful conceptual collages: lighters lifted by toe-fingers, in a hue of bright primary colors, or a dog smoking from a Magritte pipe. Because of the bright colors and eye-catching content, each frame asks for the same amount of attention and receptive labor as the previous ones. This process is similar to scrolling social media feeds: there is no such thing as visual hierarchy on Instagram with images uniformly rendered in JPG format. In bright magenta, strikes of yellow, and seas of blue, no image seems more important than the other.

The setting felt quite aristocratic and opulent too. The walls were painted a vibrant tomato red color, perfectly suited for the Christmas and holiday seasons. The transparent glass walls of the Perrotin Tokyo gallery reflected red and gold from afar, which coincidentally matched with the building’s decorations. The gilded frames elevated what would otherwise be fun prints on a white wall, minimally displayed in a standard modernist way.

The exhibition’s installation is striking, as the viewer sees the evolution of media from print magazines to sculptural decorative object, but the content remains essentially the same.

But this idea of image circulation in the age of internet proliferation, social media sharing, and Photoshop is – in my opinion – too important a topic today, and has had too much of a profound impact on the state of visual arts to be treated superficially. The exhibition’s installation is striking, as the viewer sees the evolution of media from print magazines to sculptural decorative object, but the content remains essentially the same. These bright images are not necessarily raising relevant social, political or cultural questions pertinent to Tokyo in 2017. Neither does the visual vocabulary, taken for the majority from European advertisements dating from at least a few years ago.

All in all, the show was well-produced but its artistic concept seemed a little off its time and place. I find Hito Steyerl's visually violent and theoretically critical works on 'circulationism', a term she coined, closer to the current state of image-borrowing and commodification of visual experience.

Unless specified otherwise, all images are taken by Sophie Arni at the exhibition venue.

#japan #eastasia

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