|M E M O
N O ! a r t
Toyo Tsuchiya — 'Six O'Clock Observed'
Review by HOLLAND COTTER
|Asian America Arts Center | 26 Bowery | New York | Lower East Side | Through June 26|
|Published in: New York Times, June 18, 1999|
The photographer Toyo Tsuchiya moved from Japan to New York in 1980. This modest midcareer survey is a sampling of the kind of pictures he took in the city -- part diary, part document -- almost daily from the moment of arrival.
The show starts with a series of Polaroid-size black-and-white images that will look familiar to anyone who lived a semi-shoestring life in New York, circa 1980-81. They include shots of apartment interiors, the city under snow at night, New Year's festivities in Chinatown, the Manhattan skyline seen from the Staten Island Ferry. Each image is specific but slightly ghostly, like a still-life version of daily events, viewed from a distance even when shot close-up.
By contrast, the work from a few years later, when Mr. Tsuchiya had become involved in the art scene that was emerging on the Lower East Side, has a charged, in-the-thick-of-things immediacy. His subject wasn't the professionalized East Village gallery phenomenon but the fringe activity taking place in the working class, primarily Hispanic neighborhood centered below Houston Street on Rivington Street.
There art, music and performance intermingled; graffiti and Neo-Expression held their own after their vogue had passed elsewhere. The atmosphere was squatter-anarchic; artists, collectively referred to as the Rivington School, met in clubs and worked in the street. One tangible result of their loosely communal spirit was the so-called Sculpture Garden on Rivington, an immense and fantastic construction of welded scrap metal and other found materials that entirely filled an empty lot. (The city leveled the piece in 1987.)
Nothing remotely like this scene with its macho, improvised, beer-drinking, brain-pounding energy, exists in today's placid Manhattan art world. Mr. Tsuchiya's photographs, often pasted together into wall-filling collages, feel like reports of life on another, hipper planet, of which little trace would remain were it not for his persistent and attentive recording eye.