10/27/23 – URSULA issue 9

Friendship as a Way of Life: A consideration of the collective and individual work of fierce pussy

….If history is a scab, Yamaoka is determined to scratch it. Intrigued by what happens when one doesn’t follow a medium’s technical protocols, she experiments continuously with the unpredictable nature of material behavior, rubbing and peeling reflective surfaces, reinterpreting spaces of presumed error as spaces of serendipitous potential. She often returns to older pieces and reworks them, challenging the idea that artworks are fixed in time. Elsewhere in the gallery, a thin sheet of white urethane resin, Skin (2021), hangs like a mask freshly peeled off a face, the body implied by its absence…..                                   —Ksenia M. Soboleva

02/17/2023 – ARTNEWS

Carrie Yamaoka Doesn’t Want Her Category-Defying Art to Become Another ‘Selfie Opportunity’

Carrie Yamaoka still isn’t exactly sure how to describe her category-defying art. Nearly three decades into her career, the Japanese American artist, who received a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2019, has continued to produce work that blurs the boundaries between sculpture, photography, and painting.
“I’m not interested in the perfection of the perfectly glossy, polished surface,” she told ARTnews in a recent Zoom call from Paris, where she is installing an exhibition of work by the queer art collective fierce pussy opening this month at the Palais de Tokyo. “I’m more interested in that dynamic between the object and the viewer and what the viewer makes the object into through their encounter with it. Error and defect and traces and residue of perhaps mistakes are things that interest me.”
Since 1995, Yamaoka has been using materials like reflective mylar, vinyl, resin, and wood to create contemplative and reflective abstract works that intentionally play with light and shadow. Her long-time interest in these materials and processes — as well as the chemical reactions that take place over time and her rejection of perfection — are at the center of her current show at Commonwealth and Council gallery in Los Angeles, Objects in mirror are closer than they appear, which is on view through February. Several works will also be shown at the Frieze Los Angeles art fair this week.
The title of the show comes from the phrase found on the sideview mirrors of cars and trucks. Yamaoka said she is fascinated with how the “brain teaser” contradicts a viewer’s perception and the way it confers agency on those who interact with her work.
“They make the picture,” she said. “I’m only setting up the situation for them to constantly create a picture that is constantly changing that’s always fleeting, that they can never really hold on to.”
Yamaoka created over half the works in the show by rethinking and reworking earlier pieces that had been sitting in a “purgatory” area of her studio, which she treats like a lab. Often, she will transform a piece through destruction, reconfiguration, or other methods.
“Now it no longer fits into my protocol or my practice, because either it feels like it’s too blank, or feels like it’s a little too pristine,” she said the older piece. “Now I welcome accident, error, and defect way more wholeheartedly than, let’s say, twenty years ago, when I wanted all of that kind of emptied out and barely present in my work.”
Kibum Kim, a co-owner of the gallery, said Yamaoka’s living, ongoing approach to her previous work, some of it from the early 2000s, is especially compelling.
“The fact that the artist herself went back, and reworked some of these pieces felt like such like a poignant way of marking time to something that she has been doing for almost three decades,” he told ARTnews.
One of the reworked pieces, 68 by 32 (stripped), uses fragmented mylar to distort a viewer’s visual experience. Yamaoka said that she deliberately chose to thwart the viewer’s desire to be reflected. “Nothing you see represents where you are and who you are,” she said.
The ways in which Yamaoka’s work are interactive, reflective, and constantly changing are very different than the selfie-prompting spectacles associated with artists like Jeff Koons and Anish Kapoor. That Yamaoka started making these works in 1995, when the queer community was still grappling with the losses from the AIDS epidemic, is not a coincidence, said Kim.
“She wants to make artwork that inherently rejects image making, and words or language,” he explained. “The fact that they’re kind of ever changing, reflecting back to us what is happening now, there’s a real strong political edge there too.”
In fact, Yamaoka considers photographs of her work “a kind of a failure” because they only capture one particular moment in one particular site from one particular angle.
When Yamaoka was told that a piece of hers on display as part of MoMA PS1’s 2015 group show Greater New York was the most photographed work in the show, she was slightly horrified. It also prompted a change in her work.
“I want to make it a little more complicated for the viewer, rather than just to present a selfie opportunity,” Yamaoka said. “It’s a hard balance, actually, to achieve that. I feel like my work is adamantly involved with materiality and presence and actual formal concerns that have to do with process and concrete things in the world.”
In addition to her work at Commonwealth and Council and Frieze LA, Yamaoka also currently has a solo exhibit at the Ezra and Cecile Zilkha Gallery at Wesleyan University, Seeing is forgetting and remembering and forgetting again, on view until March 5. She is also taking part in Exposed, an upcoming exhibition on what the AIDS epidemic did to artists at the Palais de Tokyo in Paris (February 17 – May 14) through a new chapter of the project arms ache avid aeon: Nancy Brooks Brody/ Joy Episalla/ Zoe Leonard/ Carrie Yamaoka: fierce pussy amplified.
It’s a lot of places to be in at once but Yamaoka said she decided six months ago to say yes more often and see what happens. At this point in her career, Yamaoka feels she has enough experience and confidence in her ability to keep discovering new things, even under additional pressure.
“Ultimately, what I love in the studio is to be surprised.”

         — Karen K. Ho

Carrie Yamaoka, ULTERIOR GALLERY, 172 Attorney St. NY
September 15-October 20, 2019

Carrie Yamaoka makes subtle, chancy works about the dead ends of depiction. For this show, the artist, who’s long operated at the junction of photography, sculpture, and painting, digitally transferred a four-year cycle of eighteen photograms begun in 1991—the same year she cofounded the feminist collective fierce pussy with Nancy Brooks Brody, Zoe Leonard, and Joy Episalla. Pinned side by side across the gallery wallsand titled Archipelagoes (2019), the twenty-three acromatic, malformed reproductions (five of which were produced this year) array an alphabet of captivity; Yamaoka impressed most prints with the names of United States carceral sites, from Angel Island—a center in the San Francisco Bay that detained and processed Asian immigrants following the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882—to Val Verde, a private prison in Texas that is currently contracted by Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Tule lake, an internment camp for Japanese Americans during World War II, appears above Tornillo, a sprawling tent city near the US-Mexico border that caged thousands of migrant children last year.

         Over time, Yamaoka’s photograms have warped and faded, their defects pickled by digital facsimiles. Archipelagoes’ overlaid text includes both half-legible words and letters, for this alphabet is deliberately incomplete—a language we continue to hazard. A white O floats in grayness, like light at the end of a tunnel, or an unblinking eye. If the American landscape is Yamaoka’s subject, her durational process suggests that its tattered memory is her true focus: what remains, what doesn’t. The Ulterior show, which runs concurrently with a retrospective of the artist’s work at Seattle’s Henry Art Gallery, is called “Panorama”, as though Yamaoka sought to pit her stealthy pictures against traditional landscape photography, to stress their material and technical restrictions. Note also that Angel Island, whose station once crowded numberless refugees under appalling conditions, is now a national park best known for its 360 degree view of the San Francisco skyline. They say it is beautiful.

         — Zack Hatfield

Carrie Yamaoka’s solo exhibition recto/verso is literally reflective.

In Carrie Yamaoka’s art, you are integral to the completion of the work. Yes, you. With all your awkwardness, pudge, and poorly fitting clothes. Some of her paintings skip the traditional canvas, opting instead for polyester film and resin, giving the surface of her works a reflective and molten-like finish.

         The New York artist’s first solo museum exhibition, recto/verso at Henry Art Gallery, reflects 30 years of work. It’s a huge and impressive show. Yamaoka’s work is largely process-based, meaning it focuses on the process—the act of creating the art—as its main subject. It’s creation unobscured, placed front and center. And in emphasizing the work’s creation, it can help us (the artist and the viewer) think about things like time, transience, movement, beginning and ending.

         See Yamaoka’s Aluminum works. Arranged in a three-by-three grid, these nine paintings look somewhat like a map of a lunar surface—all gray and static. The abstracted flashes of silver on the surface of the paintings are the result of aluminum powdered pigment responding to the temperature of the resin as it cures, creating an image that’s not quite readable or controlled. It’s an image of chance and circumstance. And heat. Played out nine times.

         Photography is one of Yamaoka’s inspirations, especially the process of developing the prints, the moment the image emerges in the developer, not quite becoming anything recognizable. She refers to it as “the moment of suspension, between the process of becoming visible and the legibility of form.” This notion of legibility, visibility, and liminality is helpful to keep in mind when taking in her other works.

         The most striking piece to me was 72 by 45 (deep blue #3), 2011/2017. Yamaoka has a habit of returning to her works, the two dates representing when it was first finished and when she came back to it, challenging the idea of completion. The painting is composed of reflective polyester film over urethane resin on wood panel, colored a lapis lazuli blue. It’s enormous, taking up nearly an entire wall in the airy and commanding gallery, with skylights that let in the softest, most placeless white light.

         When looking at deep blue #3, one is forced to become a part of it. Observing is participating. The painting and its reflection distort the viewer in the prettiest of ways. This is my ideal self, I thought as I looked at the painting. Because in marveling in Yamaoka’s work, you also marvel in yourself. It’s representation in the purest of senses, in that you can literally see yourself in her work—not an abstracted label of your body, say, or your identity, but your body and your identity. Your participation completes the piece.

         What’s brilliant about this aspect of Yamaoka’s work—the reflection, the distortion, the element of chance in how the painting comes out—is its iterative nature. If I go in and look at deep blue #3 tomorrow, the painting will contain a different version than the Jasmyne who gazed at it for the first time. Yamaoka’s paintings remind us viewers that our relationship to art mirrors our relationship to ourselves—always changing, never static, not quite capturable, but always there.

         — Jasmyne Keimig

New York Galleries: What to See Right Now The leaden circles dissolved in the air,
Through Aug. 25. TRANSMITTER , 1329 Willoughby Avenue, Brooklyn

Carrie Yamaoka and Joy Episalla are both New York artists who work in the murky borderlands among photography, sculpture and painting. Their joint show at Transmitter Gallery in Bushwick, Brooklyn, “The leaden circles dissolved in the air” is named for Virginia Woolf’s recurring evocation of the striking hours in “Mrs. Dalloway.” And the objects included—stained reflective films; a flickering, black-and-white, abstract video installation in a corner—do all revolve around the passage of time. Because the two artists are also a long standing couple, though, I couldn’t help seeing the show mainly as the portrait of a marriage.

         The “foldtograms” (folded photograms) by Ms. Episalla, more or less crumpled sheets of glossy black photo paper, encapsulate the creative power of commitment. Simply by choosing to keep and display these particular sheets, the artist charges all the little accidents time has inflicted on them—the wrinkles, the cracks, the discoloration—with identity and meaning.

         Ms. Yamaoka’s “untitled photograph 1,” on the other hand, which shows Ms. Episalla stretched out naked in bed, demonstrates how to be honest about your own limitations: By aiming her camera at a warped piece of reflective Mylar, instead of directly at her partner, Ms. Yamaoka manages to include herself, and her own position, in the picture. She also distorts the whole with handsome wobbles that remind you of the medium’s incompleteness and ambiguity without actually interfering with what the piece communicates—love, trust, obsession, and bravado.

         — Will Heinrich

10/02/2018 – ARMS ACHE AVID AEON: Nancy Brooks Brody/Joy Episalla/Zoe Leonard/Carrie Yamaoka: fierce pussy amplified (Chapter One) at BEELER GALLERY, CCAD, Columbus, OH

Carrie Yamaoka’s Archipelagoes (1991 – 94) is a set of 18 chemically altered gelatin silver prints that maps a landscape of detention, quarantine, incarceration, and internment in the systematic brutal policies of recent human history. Operating as both image and text, the abécédaire moves from Angel Island to Ellis Island, from Heart Mountain to Sing Sing, punctuated by interruptions and voids. These dulcet names are cautionary tales. Exhibited only twice, theirdisplay accelerates the process of deterioration, thereby acting as invocation and confrontation of the current political moment. An updated digitally-produced edition will appear in future chapters.

         Since the mid-1990s, Yamaoka has vacated language towards an investigation of the capacity of paintings to foreground the instability of subjectivity and perception. Silver mylar film and resin, and the poured and marred surfaces formed by their alchemy, absorb, reflect, conform to, but also repel and distort their surroundings. All of Yamaoka’s paintings are titled according to their dimensions. Five paintings, three from the striated series, which uses defective mylar as a base, 14 x 11 (2015); 45 x 45 (2011); 52 x 52 (2011),are accompanied by 72 by 45 (black) (2018) and 68 by 32 (lift-off) (2017). Together, the rule-breaking strategies she employs embrace accident and dislodge binaries: improvisation and intention, methodology and intuition, surface and depth.

         With an emphasis on tactility and materiality, time’s traction and expansiveness pervade. Yamaoka has recorded the surface of the gallery’s floor and walls, taking rubbings which serve to question their ostensible blankness, to generate artworks for future chapters. Smell the flowers while you can (2018), titled after a line in the late artist David Wojnarowicz’s Close to the Knives: A Memoir of Disintegration (1991), is a work conceived on-site. A fresh sheet of mylar on the floor exposes the girding of the drywall and reflects the lighting above, projecting rays onto the wall and the corner. Like a feedback loop, it reveals the reveal, and continues to stake out a terrain that renders visible the invisible, harkening back to the quiet resistance running through Yamaoka’s work.

         — Jo-ey Tang


Within Carrie Yamaoka’s canvases lie galaxies of sediment and color, in patterns faint and lustrous. Staring at them feels like peering into an abyss–though in truth they are preserved in bedrocks of plastic, or mounted on wood panels. Notice, too, how they catch the light, altering slightly at every angle. This, Yamaoka explains, opens up a new world: not quite ours, but not far apart.

         For a solo show at PK Shop, the retail-based extension of Paul Kasmin Gallery, about a dozen pieces line the compact space’s walls. Daylight floods in from the glass front, letting details glint and flicker. Called “Are You Experienced,” after the Patti Smith cover of the Jimi Hendrix song, the exhibition includes wood panel and cast resin pieces. Two works capture the texture of bubble wrap, created as the artist rubbed away a superimposed layer of reflective mylar.

         In Yamaoka’s mind, viewers should see, or search for, whatever they’d like. “I’m not interested in composing a picture,” says the artist, who does not use paintbrushes. “I leave room for the viewer to complete the picture in the end.”

         It is difficult, though, to make sense of the smooth surfaces, which sometimes pucker and undulate beneath a solid translucent layer. And Yamaoka gets a lot of technical questions. “People get caught up in the mystery of how it’s made,” she shares. “But that demystifies the whole thing. In the long run, you’re seeing something, right? You’re seeing something that’s just there: the result of the process.”

         Materials, in states of suspended animation, seem to be moments away from taking shape. “Have you ever worked in a darkroom, in the analog days, when you worked with chemicals?” Yamaoka asks. “You know the moment when you stick the blank photo paper into the developer tray? And the image starts to come up? It’s the moment when you’re seeing something emerge, but it’s not readable yet. That’s the moment I’m interested in.”

         — Rachel Small

Carrie Yamaoka: Are You Experienced?
PK SHOP, 511 West 27th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan, through April 19, 2014

When you come across a mirror it’s nearly impossible not to look in it. But what happens when the reflective surface is an artwork — when looking at yourself precludes looking at it, and vice versa? Carrie Yamaoka’s exhibition at PK Shop, titled after the Jimi Hendrix song “Are You Experienced?,” is reminiscent of the cognitive illusions of the young girl and the old woman or the rabbit and the duck, in which the same image suggests two different interpretations to our brains and we have difficulty apprehending them simultaneously. With Yamaoka’s work, I find myself caught in a complex intermediate space in which I must consciously decide where to focus my attention — on myself or on the exquisite material surface that keeps tempting me back to my own reflection. And there’s the ironic fact that while my own reflection is a pictorial representation, the artwork itself is defiantly not one; it is, rather, an attempt to reflect the indeterminate moment before apprehension coheres into image. That moment has a parallel in the tension I feel as my focus vacillates between the surface of the artwork and the image of myself that coheres on the surface, if I allow it to.

         When we catch our gaze in a mirror, we’re simultaneously aware that we are looking at an object and at ourselves. In a way, Yamaoka’s paintings (and I call them “paintings” advisedly — she says they are “a hybridized zone between painting and sculpture and drawing,” according to artist statement) do something similar by creating an ambiguous pictorial space with an indeterminate depth so that our gaze is constantly being redirected.

         Many of these works are created by using mylar — a form of film — and casting resin onto it. In some cases the resin rests below the sheets of mylar, and in others above it. While Yamaoka uses film to create the work, she’s more interested in the compression of space than she is in pictorial outcomes. One curious result of her process is that from a distance her images can reveal great striations and fluctuations in color, but as one draws nearer to inspect these details, they vanish. In front of Yamaoka’s larger works, one tends to behave as if before a sculpture, evading one’s own reflection by walking around the works and sizing them up from different angles. The artist described these pieces to me “a film plane where the shutter is always open.” They are reflective surfaces, and at the same time they’re absorptive: one has a sense of real physical depth below the surface, and as one gets closer and closer to the surface, the intimation of depth overtakes the search for detail.

         Henri Cartier-Bresson coined the term “the decisive moment” to describe both a photograph he had taken in 1932 called “Behind the Gare Saint-Lazare” and what he believed made a photograph come to life: “If the shutter was released at the decisive moment, you have instinctively fixed a geometric pattern without which the photograph would have been both formless and lifeless.” Bresson’s famous phrase comes to mind when looking at Yamaoka’s work because her ambition seems to be the diametric opposite — that is, to leave time unfixed, with fixer being the chemical that preserves the photograph and the decisive moment that Bresson aspired to. She’s more interested in slowing time down and getting us to pay attention to materiality.

         Photography has traditionally been about the play of light on the plane of an unexposed sheet of film. Rather than recording with light, Yamaoka records with touch. Many of her works begin as rubbings: the surface of a wall, or her studio floor, or a sheet of bubble wrap is indexed onto a sheet of mylar by the simple process of rubbing the mylar against it. But while these surfaces are legible and physical, Yamaoka wants to arrest us at the moment before legibility occurs — a moment we’re rarely aware of, when we’re still processing but haven’t yet come to a cognitive conclusion.

         In one pairing in this exhibition, two works hang side by side: a silver reflective surface and a black surface. As it turns out, Yamaoka created both works from the same material — a sheet of reflective vinyl film — but in one case the surface has been built on the front side of the vinyl and in the other on the back, almost as if a mirror has been dissected, separating the back that enables the object to exist from the front that enables us to see ourselves. An interesting divorce. Saul Bellow once said, “Death is the dark backing that a mirror needs if we are able to see anything.” Yamaoka gives us that black backing as well as our reflection, leaving us with an opportunity to see.

         These works do one other thing that an artist would be unlikely to declare about her own work: they ignite covetousness; they make us want them for ourselves. And that desire to have stems from the beauty of the objects Yamaoka creates. When I was in art school, “beauty” was a dirty word. And yet, it’s undeniable that whatever fluctuations exist across cultures, people have a notion of beauty and they respond to it, whether the current ideology approves or not. Being able to create a beautiful object that is at the same time complex, compelling, and demanding is not an accomplishment to underestimate.

         — Susan Silas

12/19/2009 – LE BEAU VICE BLOG, Until 23 December 2009
Carrie Yamaoka in Brussels,  I will have been there after you have already arrived
Works 2004-2009, AEROPLASRICS GALLERY, 32 rue Blanche, Brussels BE

In Carrie Yamaoka’s paintings, hung along the staircase and in all the second-floor rooms of Aeroplastics Gallery in Brussels, there’s something that constantly eludes our grasp: colour, surface, depth, total apprehension, proximity, reflection, the absence of reflection… mastery. Yes, that’s it, in this “maison de maître”, where the gallery has elected for its home, the mastery eludes the viewer—scrutiny is a function that thus becomes problematic. Captivated by the glistening beauty of the tableaux that you see, try for example, to photograph them: move sideways, to the limit-point of being able to take in the whole, and right away precisely your image is inscribed in the interior where all becomes blurred. In a way that the works then exercise, upon you, their “right to look”.

         There are no real secrets as to fabrication: one of the artist’s techniques, since some dozen years, “consists of pouring the melted resin into a mould lined with a sheet of reflecting Mylar”. (Faye Hirsch in the catalogue. She also underlines the thinness of the paintings’ profiles, no more than a fraction of a centimetre for the resin layer.) In certain tableaux, there is no added pigment; in others the artist has inserted a cloud of colour and sometimes much more, going towards the opaque even if the identification of the tint remains indecipherable and changeable.

         Some of them lie stretched out, others comprise a corner, extending their format laterally across two adjoining walls, and very often imperfections punctuate, less to do with the surface than the production process, of the sort that one never knows at what level the eye is to look, scan, classify. Here one thinks of certain works by Bernard Frize: Carrie Yamaoka works, as well, beyond the usual binaries of painting (surface/plan, optic/haptic, for example) and remits colour towards other powers than its position on the spectrum.

         What is extraordinary is that the corporality of these tableaux are not truly or solely material. To the contrary. One could say, if pushed, it is all which is not material that renders the corporality: all these effects produced by the most minor of movement on the viewer’s part, that effect the painting and are effected in return; but also, owing to the imperfections inscribed in the process, the undulation of reflections, or their veil. The connection between Carrie Yamaoka and all these artists from Felix Gonzalez-Torres to Roni Horn, who have extended and inverted minimalism, is often underscored, that it has do with a rapport of specific objects of Judd, the use of reflection as with Larry Bell (according to Faye Hirsch), of a “reverent dissection of monochrome” à la Ryman or of a “parodist approach, like Rauschenberg’s White Paintings, which convoke the viewer’s shadow” (according to Roberta Smith). Less of a connection has been made with dance, and this is perhaps a pity.

         Above all, left little emphasized are the implications of this practice in questions regarding identity, genre, sex and sexuality. It is striking indeed that what opens here is a literally vertiginous space between the factual and the image, deliberately withdrawn or delayed and plays with an “imaginary corporality” where one presses the theoretical limits with, or rather against, the Stade du Miroir (the mirror stage), the one said to be critical to “the formation of the ‘I’.”

         Carrie Yamaoka, whose exhibitions date back to the 1980s, has been (is) very strongly involved in the crisis opened by AIDS, at the heart of ACT UP and Fierce Pussy (with Joy Episalla, Nancy Brooks Brody, Zoe Leonard, among others, and which, for that matter, makes a return today, nearly twenty years later). The critic Dean Daderko, including works by the artist in his exhibition Side X Side (Visual Aids, 2008), rightly cites the words of Gregg Bordowitz in 1988: “The AIDS movement, like other radical movements, creates itself as it attempts to represent itself.” Even if it is not easy to link the tableaux of Carrie Yamaoka and the matter of her political, social and sexual activism, this articulation nonetheless exists, as this text attempts to demonstrate.

         (*): “I will have been there after you have already arrived” was the title of the exhibition of Carrie Yamaoka at Torch Gallery in Amsterdam, in 2007. It is reprised here for the title of this post.

         — Elisabeth Lebovici

06/25/2004 – THE NEW YORK TIMES
Carrie Yamaoka – ‘World Hotel’
DEBS & Co. 525 West 26th Street, New York, NY

Carrie Yamaoka’s show, her fourth solo with this gallery, forms an unusually beautiful farewell for the Debs & Company partnership, which is closing its public space. Ms. Yamaoka’s sumptuous yet unassuming paintings constitute a kind of Situationist Minimalism. They are physically specific and implacable, yet so vague they can almost disappear, especially if you become involved with the blurry ways they reflect their surroundings.

         The mirrored surfaces of these works, which are usually made of resin on wood, range from nearly machine-made perfection to the random, bubbly roughness of fired glaze; from small to rather large; from silver to deep blue or green. Some hang on the wall like paintings; others are tucked in corners or on the floor. No two are alike. None are exactly as simple or as uniform as you first assume.
Like Robert Ryman’s work, Ms. Yamaoka’s is a reverent dissection of the modernist monochrome, but she also partakes of a more parodistic approach, exemplified by Robert Rauschenberg’s ”White Paintings” from the early 1950’s, in which the viewer’s shadow becomes part of the work. Yet its seeming embrace of accident can be connected to the much older tradition of Japanese ceramics. However you parse them, her efforts intimate a rejuvenation of Minimalism, spurred by new materials, more refined techniques and fresh ideas.

         — Roberta Smith

Galleries Chelsea, Pick: CARRIE YAMAOKA
DEBS & Co., 525 W 26th, New York, NY

Think of her impossibly glossy Mylar and flexible resin monochromes in “World Hotel”— indigo blue, pale green, silver— in terms of the reflective liquidity of fun-house mirrors or shifting moirés. Or think of them in terms of minimalism’s secret heart of illusion. Through 6/26.

         — Kim Levin

06/17/2002 – THE NEW YORKER
Galleries Chelsea: Carrie Yamaoka
Through June 15, DEBS & Co, 525 W.26th St., New York, NY

It’s hard to tell if Carrie Yamaoka’s candy-colored Mylar panels coated in slick, glowing resins are sculptural paintings or painterly sculpture. Simple as they are, their toxic yet alluring surfaces are crowded with associations, from the mirror boxes of Dan Graham to the fetish finished on hot-rod cars. It’s a gimmick— a single, bravura idea that’s a little too dependent upon the glossy properties of the raw materials. But they are pretty, and as Wilde said, “it is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances.”

Carrie Yamaoka
DEBS & CO. 525 West 26th Street, New York, NY

Beauty never did become the big issue that the critic Dave Hickey, a decade ago, so eloquently predicted it would. Yet the pursuit of beauty remains an urgent motivation for many artists — Carrie Yamaoka, for one. The beauty in Ms. Yamaoka’s medium-to-small-size paintings is of a purely sensual sort that calls to mind California Fetish Finish, but without the look of machine-made perfection. Layering poured coats of translucent color and clear acrylic over silvery Mylar, she creates glossy surfaces resembling those of lovingly lacquered custom cars. Some have the saturated color of rock candy; some are in acidic yellowish greens; some are almost completely clear.

         In time-honored Modernist style (think Robert Ryman), Ms. Yamaoka also toys with the physical support, calling attention to the painting as a hand-made object. Freed of stretchers or underlying panels in most cases, the paintings have undulating surfaces on which you find yourself reflected as in fun-house mirrors. Some have edges fringed by plastic drips; some hang low and bend at the floor. It all adds up to a seductive marriage of voluptuous materialism and rigorous formalism.

         — Ken Johnson

05/23/2002 – TIME OUT NEW YORK
Carrie Yamaoka, blue x clear + 2:1
DEBS & Co., through June 15.

In an increasingly relativistic world, it only makes sense that more and more artists are using or referring to reflective surfaces that warp and bend images. James Rosenquist recently painted forms as they appeared on mirrored cones; Steve Mumford made a series of landscape paintings reflected off the body of a car. Now, Carrie Yamaoka has made small works, in a series called “Kool-Pop,” that consist of rippling Mylar sheets in various colors mounted onto panels with resin.

         Since these pieces are diminutive and seemingly half-baked, the fun-house whirl that one might anticipate when looking into Yamaoka’s panels never materializes. In some instances, a viewer’s belly might dance or, say, morph into a giraffe; and the variations in color create different moods. But Yamaoka, it seems, has bigger fish to fry than simply entertaining one’s inner child. Rather than create a spectacle, her low-tech materials appear to deflect or defer the idea of visual representation. She seems to be asking, Why bother to depict anything at all? It’s a cool-handed approach that recalls machine-artist Andy Warhol’s Mylar balloons. Yet Yamaoka’s sangfroid runs even deeper and is almost ice-cold in its psychology; the “Kool” in the series title has associations with Kool-Aid, summoning to mind a cheap sugar rush or bright colors or drugs.

         On the other hand, many of the panels seem situated in the gallery to extend the space visually. Such positioning imparts a certain Donald Judd-like obdurateness to them. In fact, one piece titled Corner is blunt enough to suggest that Yamaoka is more interested in elaborating upon the concrete world than in opening a window to another realm. One can’t help wondering whether the works are Pop or Minimalist, site-specific or toss-away. This uncertainty is the pleasant twist in Yamaoka’s strange little reflections on reality.

         — Robert Mahoney

Carrie Yamaoka

Carrie Yamaoka’s glazed slabs of deliberately imperfect luster appeared to break free from the neutral context of gallery walls, animated by the viewer’s gaze and reflected presence. Occasionally tinted, they are composed of Mylar sheets applied to wood and fixed with a relatively deep surface of poured epoxy resin. As objects they are further activated by a random agitation set just beneath the resin, an effect of air pockets caught between Mylar and wood at the time of glazing. This pleasing deformation allows them to assert individual claims to unique identity.

         Yamaoka’s radical paintings maintain a position among those rather racy art objects that mediate between painting and sculpture. They superficially resemble John McCracken’s ideal, unsullied abstractions of polished steel or polyester resin on wood, but with a reflective surface more found than sought, a consequence of their support rather than a long labor process. The sheen is not dependent on how the material is worked up or burnished, although the works do in various ways reveal the presence of the artist’s hand. Yamaoka is more engaged with size and color, what the viewer imagines to be the control of the pour, and the incidental effects of their making —the controlled arbitrariness of induced defects. But the artist has other things in mind.

         A handsome brochure with photographs by Yamaoka produced for this exhibition seemed to indicate how she would like these objects to be viewed. Taken in a studio context, the photos contain more information than the pristine condition of a gallery permits. The photographs, not the objects or installation, are the intended achievable ideal. Beautiful in themselves, the images look like dreamy Richter paintings, or ceramic tiles, or deliberate representations composed of reflected objects, including other paintings or gilded screens. They recall the idealized image on a food package that attempts to portray a desirable —and attainable— consuming experience.

         In the rear gallery shuttered with white blinds, the intense violet-blue of an impossibly clear late January afternoon framed the edges of the windows, incandescent with a Chelsea slice of reflected Hudson River sky at sundown. This perfect light, equal to the challenge of Yamaoka’s photographs, was reflected in the paintings nearest to hand and quietly resonated on from there, instilling the gallery with a fleeting warm blue glow in which these works seemed right at home.

         — Edward Leffingwell

01/15/1998 – TIME OUT NEW YORK
Carrie Yamaoka
DEBS & Co, through Sat 17

Carrie Yamaoka makes paintings that are essentially mirrors. Her process is simple enough: She coats Mylar sheets with layers of resin. The Mylar is reflective and provides some color, while the resin occludes the surface just enough to make things visually interesting.

         On paper, this should all sound very familiar: The mirror as art is hardly news. In the ’60s, Michelangelo Pistoletto made mirror pieces, and Lucas Samaras mirrored whole rooms. Warhol employed the blank, all-encompassing quality of silver Mylar to great effect. And high-gloss resin finishes have been the seductive staple of L.A. artist John McCracken for a couple of decades now. In recent years, Andrea Rosen and Tom Jones have curated strong shows of younger artists using the mirror motif. So why is Yamaoka’s installation so stunningly fresh?

         Yamaoka works in a few different formats, which correspond roughly to head, body and standard painting sizes. She’s installed her pieces in quirky combinations that enliven Debs and Co’s choppy architecture, the distortion effects stopping just short of fun-house frivolity.
In Big Bubbly, a blurry surface is regularly interrupted by blisters in the Mylar. In each bubble, your image snaps back into crisp focus, and bug-eyed versions of your face are multiplied dozens of times over. In another work, gentle veils of smoky resin allow you to see yourself as if you were about to surface from a clear, dark lake.

         Admittedly, some viewers will swing quickly through the show, stopping only to fix their hair or cruise the stranger behind them; they’ll see no difference between Yamaoka’s restrained art and the thing hanging in the bathroom. Other gallerygoers won’t be able to think about anything but how the lines around their eyes reflect their hard lives.

         What I find most compelling, though, is that the image in the mirror is always determined by someone other than the artist; Yamaoka, in effect, has given up control of her work. Yet somehow she still winds up inscribing herself upon the whole parade of random events forever reflected in these vessels.

         — Bill Arning