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Saturday, Dec. 16, 2000


Letting the genie of art out of its bottle

It was 112 years ago when Vincent van Gogh sat down to paint his bedroom in the famous yellow house at Arles. After a few hours of frantic work, the three-dimensional room had been transformed into a two-dimensional masterpiece.

Vincent van Gogh's room at Arles is restored to three dimensions.

Finding the room "preserved" in this way, Japanese artist Seiichi Aoki set about releasing it once more, like a genie from a bottle, into the fullness of three dimensions. Using all his painting, sculpting and woodworking skills to make the bed, the walls and the furniture, he created a convincing 3-D representation of van Gogh's vision.

Along with the "Bedroom at Arles" (1888), his current exhibition at the Plus Minus Gallery also features 3-D representations of Cezanne's "The Basket of Apples" (1895) and Rousseau's "The Football Players" (1908), all works from the early period of modern art. Is he obsessed by this period?

"Not really," the artist says. "For this show, I just wanted to have a good balance, collecting some items from the same period. I don't chose the work according to the artist or period, but depending on what work inspires me. Choosing the correct subject is actually the hardest part of my job. After that I choose the method and materials. I fit the techniques to the individual painting."

This is evident in the work on display. Cezanne's proto-Cubist apples and bottles are rendered in 3-D by using slotted-together sections of flat plywood. The naivete of Rousseau is captured using flat figures of differing sizes and even a flat football, set up in a shallow box, rather like a puppet theater. Van Gogh's slightly bent-looking room is reproduced in realistic detail but colored with the original artist's Impressionist sense.

Seiichi Aoki with his "Cezanne Kit"

An interesting aspect of his works are the way they are set up to look like enormous model kits, complete with giant cardboard boxes and model frames.

"As a boy I liked making models," Aoki says. "I like to show people everything, including the frame where the parts come from. Also, the kit format allows me to assemble my works completely or to stop in the middle, to suit the exhibition."

So, not only are these works explorations of famous paintings in 3-D, but they can also work as deconstructions. Some might decry such work as derivative and gimmicky. Aoki denies the charge.

"I'm always doing my best with sincere feelings," he insists, "so I don't think those famous painters are getting angry with me up in heaven."

If they do get angry, it might be for different reasons. Sometimes, taking such a close look at these masterpieces turns up faults and errors. He readily agrees that one of the paintings with which van Gogh decorated his picture of his bedroom is terrible.

"Yes, that's right, but I don't try to improve things like that."

Then again, something that looks a little odd can reveal hidden depth:

"Initially I thought Cezanne's strange-looking table in 'The Basket of Apples' was wrong, but then I realized that he made such a table with two levels on purpose. Also, I discovered that van Gogh's square-looking room actually wasn't square."

For a new twist on well known art, Aoki's work merits the fullest attention.

Seiichi Aoki, Famous Art in Three Dimensions, until Dec. 28 at Plus Minus Gallery, (03) 3575-0456, in the TEPCO Ginza Bldg. 2F, 6-11-1 Ginza, Tokyo

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