Art review: Matsumi Kanemitsu at Sabina Lee


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This exhibition of intimate works — both in scale and subject matter — by Abstract Expressionist painter and printmaker Matsumi Kanemitsu is resolutely a product of its time. Most of the works on view at Sabina Lee Gallery date from the ‘60s and early ‘70s, and dwell on Kanemitsu’s preoccupation with the female form. The confluence of macho gestural abstraction and breasts and buttocks results in what seems now a tiresome cliché of heterosexual mastery. However, Kanemitsu, who died in 1992, sometimes leavened this script with playful Pop references, suggesting that he never took himself too seriously.

His delicate line drawings of nudes seem to prefigure the woodcut-like paintings of Masami Teraoka, but are bluntly interrupted by impertinent postage stamps strategically collaged between the women’s legs. It seems like a casual marking — signed, sealed, delivered, perhaps — but it’s also a device that brings viewers back to the picture plane and denies further access to the reverie.


Elsewhere, visual equivalences emerge in Kanemitsu’s obsessive use of a pair of curves that in some cases signifies upturned buttocks and in others, Mickey Mouse ears. These two interests come together in a series the artist made at Tamarind Lithography Workshop. “Mikey Mouse” from 1970 is a series of lithographs in which Kanemitsu explores different gestural takes on those emblematic ears. The forms bounce and morph through the prints, almost like frames in an animated film, alternately squeezed to suggest testicles or folds of fat, or stretched into more fluid, indeterminate landscapes. –- Sharon Mizota

Sabina Lee Gallery, 971 Chung King Road, L.A., (213) 620-9404, through Dec. 18. Closed Sunday through Tuesday.

Images: ‘Nude’ (San Francisco), 1968 (top), and ‘Self Portrait.’ Courtesy of Sabina Lee Gallery.