If I were living in ...
Feb 24th – Apr 3rd, 2022
Time and place
All artists must contend with art history. Some do it by adopting classical forms; some do it by subverting them. Others grapple with history by rejecting it, which is still a form of engagement.
In this body of work by Oscar Oiwa, we find an altogether unique approach, a conceptual meeting of the past and the present. In a practice that utilizes time travel, role playing, writerly conjecturing, and sheer artistic technique, Oiwa transposes himself into some of the headiest milieus that art history has to offer.
From times and places like Paris in 1910, Milan in 1925, Mexico in 1934, and São Paulo in 1956, Oiwa cleverly reveals his own annotated history of twentieth-century art. What are the most important movements and milestones to Oiwa? They are represented by the places he chooses to go in his fantasies. Osaka in 1959, New York in 1965, Tokyo in 1992… these are the moments that stand out to Oiwa in his subjective chronology.
There’s a virtual pantheon here too, located in the fictive element Oiwa brings to this project. Each work carries a complementary text in which, with irony and wit, we meet characters such as Pablo Picasso, Giacomo Balla, Diego Rivera, and Andy Warhol. Not only is Oiwa lucky enough to trip through time—he also manages to get involved with the prime movers wherever he goes!
Each era and location is expressed by Oiwa in two different forms of media. First there are masterful, large-scale oil paintings that portray the art studio he would have had in each of his chosen times. Through meticulous detail and subtle stylistic variations, Oiwa shows us the ideal workspace eight times over.
Complementing the visions in the paintings are 3D digital renderings of each space, which place an avatar of Oiwa himself in them. These uncanny scenes of temporal dislocation, accompanied by uniquely tailored soundtracks from seven-time Grammy nominee Zé Luis, are like daydreams given life. Each digital studio will be sold as an animated NFT, imparting these imagined pasts a solid element of virtual contemporaneity.
The capstone to this series is Oiwa’s painting and rendering of his current studio space in Long Island City, New York, where he has been working for the past ten years. This completes our journey through history by landing us in the present day. In that part of the city, which has undergone rapid and alarming gentrification, Oiwa plans to hold strong and continue making his work, synthesizing then and now.
My Studio in Osaka (1959), 2021, Oil on canvas, 44 x 90 inches
My Studio in New York (1965), 2021, Oil on canvas, 50 x 60 inches
— An interview with Oscar Oiwa
Please tell me a bit about how you chose the locations and eras for your imaginary studios.
I chose these places and periods because I feel that they each embody moments when society was changing—or at least trying to change—to create a good context for something new to be born. I believe an artist can do nothing alone, that we need an environment in which to create something new. Artists need collectors and institutions like governments, corporations, and museums to develop their art. And in these locations and eras this was happening—the ground was fertile for the arts to develop. Another criterion in choosing these places and times was simply that I am familiar with them.
If you had to pick one of them to live in, which would it be and why?
Well, two of these eight studios come from my personal history. Studio in Tokyo (1992) was my first apartment after finishing college and moving to Japan. The text for this studio is a real story. Studio In New York (Long Island City) is my actual studio now, so it’s my everyday reality. But if I had the chance to choose my life, I’d want to live in Paris in 1910, and be born into a very wealthy family. It seems to have been a fun-filled time.
In these pieces, you’ve identified some of the hallmark characteristics of being an artist in each of your chosen settings. If you were to apply the same thought process to New York in 2022, what would that accompanying text look like?
It’s always easier to analyze the past and to write about it than it is the present moment because we can fact-check the past. But if I needed to send a message to myself today I would say something I say often to younger artists around me: “This is not an easy city to survive in. You should work hard and smart, and don’t forget to smile after you finish each piece.”
There’s a variety of media used in this show: painting, digital rendering, writing. How did you decide that this theme asked to be expressed in all these different ways?
I have a certain facility in working with many types of materials without ever having gone to art school or having a teacher. So usually I have an idea and then start to think about how to realize it and what kind of media will be the best to express it. For this studio series the main media are oil painting, digital modeling, and short texts talking about the context. I’m not so good at 3D digital rendering, so a designer helped me with that element.
Which medium do you feel most at-home with?
Drawing is part of my body. I have done it since I was a toddler. As an adult I’ve spent most of my artistic life doing big oil paintings. But I don’t consider myself a painter. If I need to choose a title, I’ll go with “visual artist.”
Oscar Oiwa was born in São Paulo, Brazil. He received his B.F.A. (1989) from the School of Architecture and Urbanism, São Paulo University. He experienced contemporary art during this time in nearby galleries and became an assistant at the São Paulo Art Biennial. Oiwa held his first solo exhibition while he was still in college and thereafter participated in the 21st São Paulo Art Biennial (1991). He has received several awards including Pollock-Krasner Foundation grants, John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation Fellowship (2001) and Asian Cultural Council in 2002. Recently (2019) received the Medal of Honor from His Imperial Majesty, the Emperor of Japan. He currently lives and works in New York City. His works has been shown widely throughout the United States, South America, Asia, and Europe., including solo exhibitions in institutions like: Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (2007), Japan House São Paulo (2019) , Kanazawa 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art (2019), University of Southern California Pacific Asia Museum(2020), Maison de la culture du Japon in Paris (2020), among others. Selected public collections: The National Museum of Modern Art, Tokyo (Tokyo), Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo (Tokyo), Mori Art Museum (Tokyo), Yokohama Museum of Art (Kanagawa), Toyota Municipal Museum(Aichi), Hiroshima City Museum of Contemporary Art(Hiroshima), Hyogo Prefectural Museum of Art(Hyogo), 21st Century Museum of Contemporary Art, Kanazawa(Ishikawa), Utsunomiya Museum of Art (Tochigi), Phoenix Museum of Art(Arizona), Arizona State University Art Museum (Arizona), University of Southern California Pacific Asia Museum, University of São Paulo Museum of Contemporary Art (São Paulo).