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Maximalism

Hiro Yamagata's "NGC6093" at Ace Gallery, NYC

May 15th through July 28, 2001
275 Hudson Street, NYC
Reviewed by Flash Light

This show is noteworthy for being, if nothing else, the most over the top installation ever seen in a NYC gallery. Yet the first object of excess is the basic cube: thousands of mirrored cubes spinning in conjunction. And the second object of excess is the refractive panel: thousands upon thousands of which cover almost every inch of the gallery's walls, ceiling and floor. What makes it totally surreal is the lighting which constantly changes between spot lights, scanning lasers, strobes, and other effects, disorienting the viewer and prompting a warning sign in the entrance, advising those with epilepsy, weak hearts, etc. to seek a physician's advice before entering.

Artists have remarked to me that they didn't know what to make of it, but I knew instantly. To anyone who has ever studied disco lighting design, the aesthetic issues were immediately recognizable. It was the problem of achieving the "psycho-kinetic effect," and Yamagata succeeded brilliantly in inducing this effect in the viewers, driving many to run from the gallery in fear or horror.

I applaud the end of distinctions between high and low art. The issues explored by disco designers in the 1970's seem as potent as those explored by the Impressionists a century earlier. Disco designers were investigating the potential of light as an art medium, continuing the work begun in the 1960's by groups such as USCO and the Electric Circus.

The aesthetic question was: what can the artist achieve when his/her canvas surrounds and envelops the viewer with a multi-media environment? What disco designers achieved was the "psycho-kinetic" effect, a visceral response to multi-media stimuli, which became integral to the disco phenomenon that swept our nation. It is admirable to me that Ace Gallery is willing to support this work as fine art. I especially appreciate Yamagata's decision to forego disco sound, and rely purely on spinning cubes and light.

Thomas Wilfred eliminated sound when he brought his light art into the gallery world. Wilfred's work in the early 1900's had been an inspiration to the lightshows of the 1960's. I appreciated Yamagata's homage to Wilfred, in Gallery #3, featuring a "Lumia" effect Wilfred pioneered: swirling cloud-like projections of light, here superimposed by Yamagata over a field of phosphorescent star patterns to simulate an aurora.

I lost interest in disco design when the dominate theme became, as Graham Smith of Digital Lighting Corporation put it back then, "More is more." If one mirrored ball was good, twelve were better. I failed to see the point of iteration. However, Yamagata has taken iteration to a new limit, and now I understand. If one spinning cube is interesting, a thousand spinning cubes are something else. I am grateful now that Yamagata has taken disco design to its logical limit as an artform. The philosophy of "More is more," achieves its culmination in this installation, and the word that occurs to me to describe it is "Maximalism."

Maximalism, like Minimalism, uses geometric form to avoid representation. Where Minimalism implies reduction, Maximalism implies approaching the limits. In this case, not just in the number of objects, the cubes, and not just the gallery surface treatment, the refractive plates, but even in the gallery lighting, here taken to extremes.

Perhaps there are some who relish strobe barrages, like worshipers who stare into the sun until it blinds them. Those must be the candidates for Yamagata's brightest strobing room (The Ace Gallery Project Room) which is blinding, and evokes the sensation of staring into the sun from the sun's surface.

That said, if Maximalism proves to be a viable new art movement, it may be as unstoppable as the forces of nature which Yamagata professes to be his inspiration.

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