Daido Moriyama is everywhere to be seen these days. The exhibition Tights and Lips at Michael Hoppen Contemporary prepares the ground for the photographer’s appearance alongside with William Klein at Tate Modern in October. Books by Moriyama were also available to see and touch at the Photographers’ Gallery this summer. This overarching presence makes it really pleasant to visit the Michael Hoppen show. Every gallery offers a different facet of his work.
The new ground floor gallery at Jubilee Place hosts the Tights only. The hang plays with scale and size and with the motif’s repetition to create a kaleidoscope-like room. This feels like the “catch” room, with the choice of Moriyama’s best-known image repeated ad infinitum and in several sizes to please every passing customer.
It is true that these almost abstract images are striking and beautiful, and that it would have been silly to separate them.
However, when you go upstairs, it feels like a different show altogether.
The Lips occupy the flat wall, while the rounded wall opposite hosts a whole other series of older images. These are less visually appealing than the Tights or the Lips. They have a whole other purpose, it seems.
Their smaller scale and their enigmatic presence also differentiates them from the brightly-lit ground floor gallery. A scary, white, pierced face looking directly into your eyes, a wild boar, a naked woman lying in the grass, striving to reach a corner of sky, a close-up of the beautiful design of cabbage leaves, a fish… These images from the 1970s, many of them vintage prints, could be interpreted like an inventory of the world, or like the keys to a strange narrative.
They were, to me, the most interesting part of the exhibition, if also the part left out from the title. I did start to look out in them for a lip theme, which is an interesting endeavour, before realising that the actual Lip series was on the opposite wall, in perfect grids.
These are a lot easier to look at. They are close ups, playing with superposition and reflections. The artists obviously became obsessed with the repetitive motif. He describes the luscious, advertisement lip, the object of sexual desire and unattainable beauty.
They totally compliment the Tights, insofar as they are also an object of desire and beauty, and a feminine attribute, taken in black and white and close up. But they are also a whole other story. The Tights are impersonal and all alike. In the lips, you can decipher the model behind the mouth, you see teeth or no teeth, they bring you towards different levels of desire.
Finally the nice surprise at the back of the room was the presence of a large concertina book in which Japanese images should be discovered. Of course you cannot touch or open it, which is a shame but also museums and galleries biggest challenge. But you still get an idea of what it feels like, the scale of it, the quality of the paper.
It is a beautiful object.
This show left me with an impression of intimacy with the works, and led me to think about these in-between images that neither fit with the Tights, nor with the Lips, but lead you somewhere visually interesting anyway.
Daido Moriyama | Tights and Lips | 7 September 2012 – 20 October 2012 | Michael Hoppen Contemporary