press release

To kick off 2007 the Mori Art Museum is proud to present two exhibitions dealing with laughter. “The Smile in Japanese Art: From the Jomon Period to the Twentieth Century,” examines the many faces of the smile in Japanese art from the prehistoric Jomon Period until the Taisho Period (1912-1926). “All About Laughter: The Role of Humor in Contemporary Art,” looks at the multifaceted role of humor in contemporary art across the whole world. Start 2007 with a double does of laughter at the Mori Art Museum.

All About “All About Laughter”

Contemporary artists often look at the world from slanted perspectives in order either to highlight or counteract the conservatism of social norms, systems and thought. In doing this they imply alternative systems and approaches. A similar role can be attributed to humor, the source of laughter, which may include jokes, parody, comedy, irony, satire and nonsense. The creation of a perspective that distorts “normal” views of the world may have the effect of exposing people’s real intentions, or it may enable an issue or situation to be viewed from multiple angles. Under certain circumstances it can also serve to illuminate nearly forgotten sources of pain, still evident in the dark corners of society. The laughter that results from such distortions, or shifts in perspective, acts like an opaque filter, softening the glare of a direct confrontation with something that might otherwise be unpleasant. The very act of laughing relieves stress, tension, and even fear. Today's world is full of tensions and anxieties, both visible and invisible, but laughter has the power, momentarily, to release us from ingrained realities. It is like a distant star that brings a glimmer of hope for the future when the way ahead is still in darkness.

A joke cannot exist in isolation; it needs to be supported by ideas and thoughts. The same can be said of contemporary art in that it is also dependent on background to engender emotions and ideas that have not been previously experienced. "All About Laughter: Humor in Contemporary Art" focuses on the central role that laughter plays in contemporary art – a role that has previously been regarded as peripheral. The works presented here and the ideas behind them are varied, ranging from spontaneous slapstick to much more complex works that involve a scrupulous build up of narrative and context. All of the works in the show, however, employ ingenious strategies in their depiction of a subject as well as in the different ways they distort the perspectives through which they look at it. These include not just visual, image-based strategies, but also performance, texts, playful narratives, and game-like characteristics that are designed to encourage visitor participation. What triggers laughter is personal, differing from individual to individual, but it is related to shared experience, memory, and feeling. There may be cases where humor is not transferable but, more often than not, as laughter spreads through public spaces like art museums, it infects other people, amplifying the original effect.

The exhibition is arranged into four parts. The first, "Anti-Art and Avant-Garde Laughter," covers the postwar counterculture active at the end of the 1950s and through the 1960s. Works have been chosen with particularly strong links to Fluxus artists or to the Tokyo-based Hi-Red Center group. The spirit of these movements continues to have a significant effect today.

The second part of the exhibition, "Everyday Laughter," shows contemporary art from the 1990s, and particularly concentrates on art that builds on 1960s attempts to fuse art with the everyday. In the early 1990s, when Cold War ideologies had failed, many artists became interested in elements of everyday life. For example, societal norms and routines were viewed from unconventional angles to produce a wry type of humor. Artists often selected small phenomena as their central themes and have used simple materials. In so doing they have altered the meanings of these phenomena to set visual traps that surprise and confound viewers' expectations. Artists represented here include Marcos Chaves, Peter Land and Mads Lynnerup.

The third part of the show, "The Flip Side of Laughter," presents works from the 1990s onwards that highlight in a humorous and ironical way the impact of multiculturalism. Laughter has always been used as a tool to make sense of difference. Now, as more and more societies open their doors to different cultures, the frequency with which people must deal with difference has increased. The effects of this shift can be seen in contemporary art, where many artists now deliberately focus on the humorous peculiarities of their own cultures, or on the difficulties of intercultural communication. The same treatment is often given to the art world itself, with some artists producing exaggerated or satirical accounts of the art world’s esoteric practices. Artists shown here include Aida Makoto, Robin Rhode, Torimitsu Momoyo, Sislej Xhafa and Tamy Ben-Tor.

The fourth and last part of the show, "Deviant Laughter," brings together a number of artists who use their imagination to deviate from the laws and practices of the real world. Diving freely into their imaginations, they blur and extend the boundaries between the real and imaginary, creating fantastic stories that might incorporate imaginary characters such as talking animals or strange beings. Language also plays an important role, used in unconventional ways to emphasize the works’ narrative elements. Such divergence from the confines of reality into the limitless expanse of art may occasionally conceal a sense of delusion or loneliness, but it also gives the imagination a clean slate on which to envisage a possible new world. Artists in the fourth part include Peter Land, Carsten Höller, Olaf Breuning, Kaneuji Teppei and Simon Evans.

All About Laughter:
Humor in Contemporary Art

Künstler: Allora & Calzadilla, Carlos Amorales, Ay-O , Tamy Ben-Tor, The Blue Noses Group, John Bock, George Brecht, Olaf Breuning, Maurizio Cattelan, Marcos Chaves, Simon Evans, Robert Filliou, Rodney Graham, Hi Red Center, Scott Hyde, Carsten Höller, Matt Johnson, Patrick Killoran, Peter Land, Tim Lee, Mads Lynnerup, George Maciunas, Makoto Aida, Christian Marclay, Natsuyuki Nakanishi, Yoko Ono, Tsuyoshi Ozawa, Jock Reynolds, Robin Rhode, Willem de Ridder, Porntaweesak Rimsakul, Peter Rösel, Will Rogan, Yamamoto Takayuki, Teppei Kaneuji, Momoyo Torimitsu, Ben Vautier, Wang Gongxin, Wang Nengtao, Robert Watts, Emmett Williams, Erwin Wurm, Sislej Xhafa, Zhou Tiehai ...